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68 years after Auschwitz, survivor explains why she forgives the Nazis

April 14th, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life

Story & Photos by Dani Hayes

LOGAN—In 1995, exactly 50 years after the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland, Eva Kor released a “Declaration of Amnesty” to all the Nazis and to any of their supporters. The 418-word document from one of the few remaining Auschwitz survivors is one of forgiveness—forgiveness not for the perpetrators’ sake but for her own, because it gives her the power to move on.

Eva Kor from Forgiving Dr. MengeleKor presented her lecture of forgiveness Thursday night on the campus of Utah State University in a classroom overflowing with people who spilled into the hallway. Her presentation—part of the USU Religious Studies program’s “Responses to the Holocaust: Religious, Cultural and Personal”—had no pictures or video, just Kor’s words telling her story of how she survived Auschwitz.

Eva Kor talks to Utah Public Radio.

When she was 10, Kor was on her fourth day of traveling in a cattle car train from Romanian to an unknown destination with parents, two older sisters and her twin sister Miriam. When the train stopped, all she could see was barbed wire and gray sky. It was May 1944.

“As soon as we stepped down from the cattle car onto a little stripe of cement called the ‘selection platform,’ my mother grabbed my twin sister and me by the hand,” said Kor in her thick, rolling Romanian accent. “We were her youngest children and she thought that as long as she could hold on to us, she could protect us.”

The selection platform measured 85 feet long and 75 feet wide.

“I don’t believe that there is another stripe of land like that anywhere else on the face of this earth that has witnessed so many millions of people being ripped away from their families forever,” Kor said.

She stood there in her “childish curiosity,” she said, trying to figure out what was happening in the whirlwind of commotion. After 10 minutes, “I realized that my father and my two sisters had disappeared in the crowd. I never ever saw them again.”

While she was holding onto her mother for “dear life” she heard the Nazis yelling, pointing in their direction, “Zwillinge! Twins!”

“All I remember,” she said, “was my mother pulled in one direction and we were pulled in the other direction. She was crying. We were crying. I never got to say goodbye to her. I really didn’t understand that this was the last time that I would see her.”

She and her sister Miriam now had only each other. “No more family. We were alone.”


EVA KOR points to her Auschwitz concentration camp tattoo: ID #A-7063. DANI HAYES photo

They became part of a group of all girls, all twins, ages 2 to 16. They were rushed into a barracks and were ordered to strip naked. And there they sat most of the day. Eventually they received short haircuts and ragged dresses with a painted red cross on the back showing they were part of the medical experiments. Next, they were sent to be registered and to receive their ID tattoos.

“I decided to give them as much trouble as a 10-year-old could,” said Kor, now 79.

She had to restrained by four adults, two Nazi guards and two women prisoners, before searing A-7063 onto her left arm, and on her sister’s, A-7064.

The Kor twins were now a number.

They were marched to another barracks, Kor said, but unable to sleep because of rats, she went to the latrine.

“As I entered the latrine, there on the filthy latrine floor where the scattered corpses of three children,” she said. “I had never ever seen anyone dead before, but for me, the message was clear. That could happen to Miriam and me unless I did something to prevent it.

“So right then and there, I made a silent pledge that I would do anything and everything that was within my power. I never let any doubt or fear enter my mind. From the moment we left the latrine, I did everything instinctively right. I had an image in my mind of Miriam and me walking out of this camp alive, and I never let go of that image until the day we were liberated.”

The next morning she met Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz doctor who was behind the camp’s medical experiments, and who was obsessed with twins. Kor remembers him as always well groomed and well dressed. He looked like a Nazi, she says.

Then they had breakfast. “Breakfast at Auschwitz was nothing more than a brownish liquid, bitter and lukewarm, that they called coffee,” Kor said. “At noon, we would be given white stuff. It looked good, it looked like Cream of Wheat, except we couldn’t cut it, spoon it or swallow it. So I’m sure it was not Cream of Wheat. I image today that they gave that to us just to torment us. At night they gave us a piece of bread about 2-½ inches. It was dark but it tasted pretty good and it would fill our stomachs.”

After breakfast, the twins were led to the labs. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays lab attendants measured them in every way imaginable, and then compared the findings to charts and their twin.


A STANDING-ROOM-ONLY crowd turned out at USU to hear Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor’s story. DANI HAYES photo

“These experiments were not dangerous but they were unbelievably demeaning,” Kor said. “I had difficulty coping with it. How would any of you cope if you had to stand naked, or sometime sit, for 6 to 8 hours in order to live? That was the price, in order to live.”

Kor said she blocked it out of her mind, and as a result, doesn’t remember a lot of details, only that it took “forever.”

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the twins would be taken to what Kor called the “blood lab,” where experimenters would tie each arm to restrict blood flow. On the left arm, they would extract large amounts of blood, on the right, they would inject a minimum of five injections. Kor never knew what was being injected and after one experiment she fell extremely ill. She tried to hide it.

“Rumor was that if someone got sick and went to the hospital, they never came back,” she said.

During one day of experiments, her temperature was taken and she was forced to go to the hospital. “The people in there looked more dead than alive,” she said.

Mengele came to check her charts, she remembered, and with a laugh, said, “Too bad. So young. She only has two weeks to live.” Kor was determined to prove him wrong.

“In Auschwitz, dying was the easiest thing on the face of this Earth,” she said. “I had to often walk over dead bodies because they were everywhere. Surviving was the most difficult one. You had to concentrate on living, surviving just one more day.”

• See film: “Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Kor’s strength of will proved Mengele wrong. Released from the hospital after more than a month, she was reunited with her sister. They never talked about what happened while Kor was in the hospital until 1985, she said.

Miriam was kept in isolation while Kor was hospitalized, with experiments performed on her 24 hours a day. If Kor had died in the hospital, Miriam would have been rushed to Mengele’s lab, killed with an injection to the heart, and the two bodies would have gone through a comparative autopsy.

“I spoiled the experiment,” Kor said. “I survived.”

This was her goal—to survive—and her plan was to take one day at a time. It was in August 1944 when she saw her first and only glimmer of hope. It was the American flag on a plane flying low above the camp.

“That was my first realization that someone was trying to free us, “she said. “That reinforced my determination to live one more day, to survive one more experiment. That was the only sign of hope I saw in Auschwitz.”

evakor5Inside the camp, she saw signs that the Nazis were losing the war. Mengele’s experiments normally took place six days a week, but little by little they went to five, then to four, and then on one day, the experiments stopped. Kor began to think that someday they might be freed, but that only made her more alert.

“I said to myself that I didn’t like the Nazis when they were winning the war, I think they will be even meaner now that they are losing the war.”

At this point, so close to liberation, the Nazis panicked and started destroying evidence. They bombed gas chambers and crematoriums, and troops opened fire on the prisoners, trying to kill as many as possible.

“It was sad to realize the hundreds of people who were murdered so close to liberation,” Kor said. Of the 150,000 inmates at Auschwitz, only 7,900 survived.

Then there were a few days of eerie silence. No Nazis. No guards. The prisoners knew nothing of what was happening outside of camp until one day in 1945 a woman prisoner raced through the camp yelling they were free. Eva Kor, now 11, didn’t know what this meant.

“I didn’t see anything. I wanted to see something. What did it mean to be free?”

She and her sister Miriam went outside and through the barbed wire fences saw people in rain coats.

“They were smiling and they didn’t look like the Nazis,” Kor said. “We ran up to them. They gave us chocolate, cookies and hugs and that was my first taste of freedom.

“For me to realize that Miriam and I were alive, that we have triumphed over unbelievable evil, that my little promise to myself, the first night in the latrine, became a reality, was an unbelievable experience.”

After the war, Kor lived with a hated of the Nazis for decades. It affected her life daily. She grew weary of the resentment and wanted to forgive. That led to her composition of her controversial Declaration of Amnesty in 1995.

USU religious studies professor Philip Barlow says declaring forgiveness of Mengele and the Nazis is not a universally popular stance.

“There are critics—including critics of Eva on this campus and around the nation, around the world—who think the end is so big and so dark that notions of forgiveness are dangerous,” Barlow said, “that it is a slippery slope. I find Eva’s response positive and even inspiring, but it’s a tricky subject.”

Kor openly forgave the Nazis—not for them, but for her.

“I, Eva Mozes Kor, in my name only, give this amnesty because it is time to go on; it is time to heal our souls; it is time to forgive; but never forget,” she states in her declaration. “Here in Auschwitz, I hope in some small way to send the world, a message of forgiveness, a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of healing.”

Many, including other Holocaust survivors, disagree with Kor’s “amnesty,” saying that the Nazis don’t deserve it. But Kor says her statement has nothing to do with that.

“Not because the Nazis deserved it, I want to say that up up front, but because I believe that every single human being has the right to live free,” she said. “If you would have asked me 20 years ago today if I were to forgive the Nazis, I would have told you please find yourself a very good psychiatrist and have your head examined. I hated the Nazis. I hated the Germans. I hated the Hungarians.”

Her change of mind came after her twin sister Miriam died of kidney failure in 1993. She didn’t want to have resentments in her heart anymore.

“I discovered I had the power to forgive. I could use that power and no one could take it away,” she said. “It was all mine, to use it in any way I wish.

“I immediately felt a heavy weight of 50 years lifted . . . I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz nor was I a prisoner of my tragic past. I was finally free from Auschwitz, [from] which I was liberated in 1945. I was free from Mengele. I liberated myself by forgiving Mengele. Forgiveness is nothing more and nothing less than self-giving, self-liberation and self-empowerment.”



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  1. One Response to “68 years after Auschwitz, survivor explains why she forgives the Nazis”

  2. By Barry Kort on Apr 16, 2013

    It takes enormous courage to seek Truth and Reconciliation. It takes insight and wisdom to pursue Restorative Justice.

    I admire and respect Eva Mozes Kor for her courage, for her insight, for her wisdom, and for her humanity.

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