Eva Mozes Kor has seen the world at its worst, but she has made peace with it and uses her experience to teach others. Diminutive in size, her voice is clear and strong, and when she spoke to members of Chavurat Shalom and a group of medical professionals, researchers and students at The Temple on Thursday, October 14, about medical ethics, she touched the heart and soul of every person in the chapel.
Kor and her sister, Miriam, were among 13 sets of Jewish twin girls between the ages of 2 and 16 that Dr. Josef Mengele kept at Auschwitz for his medical experimentation. Dr. Mengele experimented on other sets of twins as well.
Without flinching, Kor recounted in detail her family’s deportation from Romania, their trip in the cattle car, their arrival at Auschwitz and the traumatic selection process on the small concrete platform that separated the twins from their family forever.
Although they were chosen to live, they had to endure the humiliation of sitting naked most of the day and having their hair cut short. When their clothes were returned, they had been marked with large red crosses. Then they were tattooed – Eva’s number was A-7063 and Miriam’s was A-7064 – and brought to Dr. Mengele’s lab where they were used as objects for research.
The girls endured constant injections and blood tests. They were weighed and measured and compared to each other. They had no choice but to submit to the demeaning experiments and they never knew what was being done to them. Many children died.
They were also subject to hunger, cold and rat infested quarters.
Eva and Miriam pledged to each other that they would do whatever they could to survive. “Our lives depended on us being cooperating masses of cells,” she said.
When Eva took ill with a high fever, she was brought to the hospital where the doctors waited for the children to die. Eva refused to die and even crawled to a spigot on the far side of the room because her captors would not give her water.
She recovered and began to “organize” food – her euphemism for stealing. She knew it would be bad to be caught, but soon figured out she could get away with it because even if she was caught, Dr. Mengele wanted her alive. She became very good at “organizing” food and sustained herself and her sister until the camp was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945.
From her liberation through 1995, Kor experienced deep emotional pain and anger and could not be happy. She came to understand that human experimentation is sometimes necessary in the fight against disease, but it must always be discussed and undertaken with the consent of the subjects. “We can’t forget that people are human beings,” she said.
She recounted her life journey after the war, during which she went to Israel, service in the IDF and milked cows. In 1960, she said, she met a tourist from Terre Haute, IN, on a blind date. He had been a liberator during the Holocaust. She married him and moved to his homeown.
Her sister had married and had two children, but suffered from the effects of Mengele’s experimentation, which had caused her kidneys to remain the size of a 10 year old. Eva gave Miriam a kidney in 1987, but she succumbed to cancer in 1993.
Throughout Miriam’s ordeal, Eva sought Dr. Mengele’s files about the experiments. Perhaps if she knew what they had been subjected to, a better treatment could be found.
Three weeks after her sister’s death, Kor was asked to present a lecture about medical ethics to a group of doctors. They asked her to bring a Nazi doctor with her. Where was she supposed to find a Nazi doctor, she asked? Perhaps the Yellow Pages?
She recalled that a documentary had been done on Dr. Mengele. She had contacted the producers before, asking for contact information about a Nazi doctor who appeared in the film, and her request was refused. She tried again, citing her sister’s death, and this time, the company provided the information she needed to contact Dr. Hans Munch.
Dr. Munch would not agree to come to Boston for the conference, but he did agree to give an interview. The Dutch government did the filming and covered Kor’s costs to do the interview.
Dr. Munch did not work with Dr. Mengele. He administered the gas chambers, ascertaining the victims were dead and signing their death certificates.
When Dr. Munch met Kor, he treated her with respect and made her feel comfortable.
After the interview, she searched for a way to thank Dr. Munch for his help, but didn’t know what to do. Ten months later, she decided that the best thing would be to send a letter of forgiveness. “I had the power to forgive to use as I please,” she said.
It took her four months to write the letter and work through her pain. Since English is not her native tongue and she wanted to be sure everything was right, she asked a friend to correct her work. Her friend asked her to take the next step – would she consider forgiving Dr. Mengele. Kor realized, “I had the power to forgive the ‘God of Auschwitz,’” and she made the decision to forgive everyone.
In 1995, together with her son, they signed documents forgiving her tormentors, and she found for the first time that she was free of Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele.
Forgiveness, she said is a modern medical miracle. It works with no side effects or regulations, and, she continued, if you don’t like how you feel when you experience the freedom, you can always take the pain back.
Kor established the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, and it opened in 1995.
Kor’s lecture was sponsored by Norton University, the Norton Healthcare Office of Research Administration and The Temple.