Eva Kor: From Pain and Loss to Forgiveness

Posted on: July 4, 2019, by :

By Joe Brown (edited by Jeff Turner)

Eva Mozes Kor, who died today at the age of eighty-five in Krakow, Poland, did more in one life than most ever will. She was an inspiration for her ability to overcome so many tragic events. She told a very painful, personal story to millions. Hers was one of catastrophic loss, rebirth, and then destruction. Each time she rebuilt, renewed, and continued to tell her story, as well as forgive her oppressors.

Eva Kor was born in Romania. Romania was ruled by a cruel fascist government during World War II, one that allied itself with the Nazis. Eva was taken to Auschwitz, where most of her family was murdered. She was cruelly horrifically experimented on by Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele, known as the “Nazi Angel of Death,” was the most notorious of the Nazi doctors, obsessed with eugenics and creating what he considered the “perfect German.” He believed that he could do this by experimenting on human beings that were “inferior.” And Auschwitz gave him the perfect opportunity to conduct his experiments without fear of repercussions. Eva had the misfortune of being one of his patients, or rather test subjects, both she and her twin sister Miriam. Mengele did possess a bizarre fascination with twins, whom he would single out for experiments, and conducted horrific medical tests on both Eva and her sister. Her sister would ultimately die from complications of these experiments in 1993. Auschwitz was eventually liberated, but Dr. Mengele managed to flee to South America after the war. He would die in a drowning accident in Brazil in 1979, never answering for his unspeakable crimes or being brought to justice.

After World War II, Eva served in the Israeli Army for eight years, fighting in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. It was in Israel that Eva met the love of her life, Micky Kor. Micky was also a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania, vacationing in Israel at the time he met Eva. She went back to Terre Haute, Indiana with Micky. He had settled there because that was where the army officer who liberated him during the war lived.

Eva became a realtor, rebuilt her life, and raised a family. She rarely discussed her experiences in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Then she saw how people reacted to a television series about the Holocaust that aired in the 1970’s. The interest in the event, as well as the pain she saw from a younger generation, inspired her to start teaching about her personal experiences. She opened CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute. It is the only Holocaust Museum in Indiana.

CANDLES Holocaust Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana.

Eva became a somewhat controversial figure amongst other Holocaust survivors due to her stance of forgiving the Nazis, namely Mengele, and those responsible for her suffering during her time in Auschwitz. In 1969 Simon Wiesenthal, famous Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor himself, wrote a book entitled The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. In Wiesenthal’s opinion, forgiveness was simply impossible for those who participated in the Holocaust. However other philosophers, scholars, theologians, and political figures weighed in with their own thoughts on the subject. Wiesenthal would publish their correspondence. Eva Kor on the other hand took a very different stance. She believed that granting forgiveness was cathartic and healing for her, despite her many critics.

The CANDLES Holocaust Museum was firebombed in 2003, and burned to the ground. It is believed that the attack was perpetrated in response to the death of Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh who was executed in Terre Haute’s Federal Prison in 2001. Millions of dollars were raised to rebuild the museum. Due to this effort, two years later it was reopened, and even bigger than the previous one, allowing larger groups to attend. Eva, her husband Mickey, as well Walter Sommers, another Holocaust survivor and longtime Terre Haute resident, continued to curate at the museum, the foundation of which, according to their website, is “Holocaust education, the Mengele Twins, and personal forgiveness.”

Eva continued speaking about the horrors and trauma she witnessed in her youth, and.was the subject of many documentaries and news stories. And even in death, her story continues to inspire. An ordinary woman who overcame great tragedy and loss, her ability to forgive people as evil as Mengele and the Nazis should serve as a lesson to us all.

May your memory be a blessing ז״ל

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