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Forgive, but never forget

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Forgive, but never forget photo 1

Eva Kor

“To Stefanie Pervos: Never ever give up!” is the phrase Eva Mozes Kor wrote inside my copy of her new book. I didn’t think much of it as I turned the page and began reading, but 135 pages and an hour long phone conversation later, I discovered that Kor was a woman who not only writes the words “never give up”; she lives them to the fullest.

A child Holocaust survivor, Kor, along with her twin sister Miriam, was just 10 years old when her family arrived at Auschwitz. Because they were twins, they escaped the fate of their parents and two older sisters, who did not survive the war, and became two of “Dr. Mengele’s twins,” subjected daily to sadistic medical experiments. Refusing to die, Kor was forced to fight for her and her sister’s survival every day. In her new book, “Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz” (Tanglewood Publishing, Inc., 2009) Kor, with the help of coauthor Lisa Rojany Buccieri, shares a true story of perseverance, survival and forgiveness in a format written for young adults.

“It’s a very simple idea that I am aware of and I know that young people relate to—growing up is very hard,” Kor said. “It’s very hard to grow up even if you live in the US and even if you have loving parents. So I am hoping as [young adults] read the story that they realize that they have it a lot better than I did. I did not give up. At times, [young adults] come up to me and they say ‘well how on earth can I give up if you did not give up?’ and that is exactly what I am hoping to accomplish.”

A resident of Terre Haute, Indiana, Kor founded an organization for surviving Mengele twins in 1985. Following the devastating death of her sister Miriam—who died in 1993 due to kidney complications from Nazi experiments during the war—she opened the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Holocaust Museum and Education Center in 1995. The museum was destroyed by an arson fire in 2003, but rebuilt and re-opened in 2005. Kor is a recognized speaker nationally and internationally on topics related to the Holocaust, medical ethics, forgiveness and peace. She also leads groups of students and teachers on educational trips to Auschwitz and visits every five years on the anniversary of the liberation, Jan. 27, 1945.

Forgive, but never forget photo 2

Eva, with her sister Miriam, being led out of Auschwitz

At the end of her book, in addition to her message of “never give up,” Kor has another lesson: “Forgive your worst enemy and forgive everyone who has hurt you—it will heal your soul and set you free,” she writes. Kor has forgiven the Nazis for what they did to her and her family, and was the subject of a documentary titled  Forgiving Dr. Mengele .

“By forgiveness, I feel that every person can reclaim their own power which we all have…Forgiveness is the best way to practice Tikkun Olam,” she said. “If anybody would have asked me 17 years ago today, if I would forgive the Nazis I would have told them to please find a really good psychiatrist.”

But then she met Dr. Hans Munch, who had worked as a doctor in Auschwitz. Kor took this once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about the experiments performed on her and Miriam during the war. Unexpectedly, Dr. Munch also shared with her the operating procedure of the gas chambers, where he worked signing the death certificates.

Kor said Dr. Munch refused to do selections in Auschwitz because he didn’t want to be in charge of who would live and who would die, so instead he worked in the gas chambers. People would be told that they were going to take a shower, he told her—remember your hanger number, tie your shoes together. Then they would walk into a luxurious shower room, and once it was packed to capacity, they would close the doors. Zyklon B pellets dropped from a hatch-like opening in the ceiling, acted like dry ice and the gas rose up from the floor. People climbed on top of each other, trying to escape the gas.

“When the people on the top of the pile stopped moving, he knew that everyone was dead,” Kor said. “And then he would sign the death certificate—never any names only numbers.”

Kor said she never knew this was how the gas chambers operated, so she asked Dr. Munch if he would join her in Auschwitz in 1995 to celebrate 50 years since the liberation of the camps and sign a document which stated this information—he immediately agreed to do it.

“Here I will have a document signed not by a survivor who witnessed it, not by a liberator, but by a Nazi who was there,” she said. “To me that was very important, so whenever a revisionist says that it didn’t happen I could take this document and shove it in their face.”

In searching for a way to thank Dr. Munch, Kor stumbled on the idea of forgiveness—so she went about writing Dr. Munch a simple letter, forgiving him for his actions during the war which she read to him when they visited Auschwitz.

“I immediately felt that all the pain that I was carrying for 50 years was suddenly lifted from my shoulders, that I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz, that I was no longer a prisoner of my tragic past; I was finally free,” Kor said. “I was physically liberated from Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945; I was completely and emotionally liberated from Auschwitz on Jan 27, 1995 by my own initiative.”

Of course not everyone agrees with Kor’s motto of forgiveness—her ideas have received some resistance from her fellow Holocaust survivors and Holocaust scholars. And, she said, she recognizes that forgiveness is not always an option, like when someone’s life is in immediate danger. But despite all this, she plugs on sharing her message of forgiveness, while making sure the members of the next generation never forget what happened at Auschwitz.

This Sunday, April 11, is Holocaust Memorial Day, a perpetual reaffirmation of our commitment to “Never Forget.” To mark the commemoration, check out these very special events to honor those we have lost:

At 1:30 p.m., the 65th annual community-wide Holocaust memorial observance, sponsored by Sheerit Hapleitah  of Metropolitan Chicago and co-sponsored by JUF, will be held at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, 8825 East Prairie Road in Skokie. At 8 o’clock that evening, WTTW-Channel 11 will broadcast the new Masterpiece Classic production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

CANDLES Holocaust Museum will hold a Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony Saturday, April 10, at 4 pm–Kor will lead a public candle-lighting ceremony to commemorate and tell her story of surviving Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele’s experiments on twin children starting at 1 pm at the museum.

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