‘There is always hope after despair’
The tattoo on her left forearm is an indelible reminder of Eva Mozes Kor’s time in Auschwitz, as are the illnesses, aches and pains she still suffers from the torture inflicted on her and her twin sister in the Nazi death camp 70 years ago.
For the 80-year-old Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, though, the emotional pain is gone, healed by forgiveness.
In an interview ahead of a Thursday evening talk at C.B. Pennington Auditorium in Baton Rouge, Kor said she has been able to live a normal life because of her ability to forgive the Nazis for their treatment of her and her family, most of whom died at Auschwitz.
Kor said she wanted to share that message of the healing power of forgiveness with the people of Baton Rouge.
As a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp and the infamous experiments of the Nazi “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele, Kor has plenty of reasons to hold nothing but hatred for her tormenters. She said she would rather offer forgiveness, which she describes as “the best revenge.”
By forgiving, she said, victims take power and control of their lives, resulting in self-healing, self-liberation and empowerment.
But, in order to forgive, Kor first had to survive.
Her journey began in 1944, when she was taken from her home in Romania, forced into a railway cattle car and hauled away to a concentration camp.
“We were cooped up like sardines. No room to sit, no provisions, stopping only to refuel,” Kor recalled.
Eventually, she set foot on solid ground — at Auschwitz. Her world fell apart in the 30 minutes that followed. She and her 10-year-old twin sister, Miriam, were torn from their family, crying, and not knowing what was going to happen to them.
Twins, they would soon learn in painful and horrible ways, were a favorite of Mengele and his human experiments.
Kor recalled her first night in the camp, walking to the latrine over the dead bodies of children.
In that moment, she knew she would have to discard everything she was before and focus on surviving.
“I made a pledge I would do anything for Miriam and I to walk out of this camp alive. I kept that image in my mind until we were liberated.”
Survival meant leaving behind the life she had known up until then and accepting the reality she would never again see her parents and older sisters.
It also meant listening to Mengele laugh sarcastically at her bedside as he proclaimed she had only two weeks to live after injecting her with a deadly germ.
“I knew he was right, but I decided I was going to prove him wrong,” Kor said.
Too weak to walk, she crawled for the next two weeks to get a drink of water from a faucet across the barracks, fading in and out of consciousness.
Eventually her dream of being liberated would become a reality. Kor and her sister, who died of cancer in 1993, both survived their days in the Nazi death camp and Mengele’s experiments.
Kor now travels, telling others of her struggles in the hope that they will be inspired to persevere through struggles of their own. While she no longer chooses to live in fear, she is concerned something like the Holocaust could happen again.
“There are signs in the world that we need to pay attention to,” Kor said.
Bad economies and leaders who divide people and point fingers are dangerous, she said. She also said appeasement should never be an option when dealing with terrorists. “Hitler was not supposed to have an army. What on Earth happened?” she said.
Kor said even in today’s world, how to prevent racism and genocide is “the million-dollar question.”
Because nobody initially stood up to Hitler, she noted, he swept through Europe in less than a year causing destruction in his wake while the world stood by.
Kor knows she can’t heal the entire world, as she has healed herself through forgiveness, but said she “can heal one little piece at a time.”
A resident of Terre Haute, Ind., Kor keeps herself busy traveling to give lectures, running a Holocaust museum and visiting the place that started it all, Auschwitz.
Kor informs those who listen about the beauty of forgiveness and the need for perseverance to lead a happy life.
She said forgiving has allowed her to live at peace, without having to constantly feel like a victim.