Eva Kor told her story to a ballroom crammed with people—many standing along walls, sitting in aisle-ways, and spilling into the hallway as the doors remained thrown open of the Valparaiso University Harre Union Monday night. No one left and few stirred as Kor explained how she had survived the Holocaust.
As a girl, her family was taken to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Upon arrival, 10-year-old Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, held their mother’s hands when a Nazi soldier noticed they looked alike. Are they twins, the soldier said. Is that good, Eva’s mother asked. Yes, the soldier said. They are twins. Soldiers grabbed the two girls from their mother’s hands. Eva recalled her mother’s face in that moment. Eva and Miriam didn’t have a chance to say Good-bye and they never saw their mother again—she was murdered in a Auschwitz gas chamber.
Eva and Miriam had value to Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi scientist who conducted tortuous experiments on 3,000 Jewish twins. One experiment made Eva so sick, Mengele laughed sarcastically, “Too bad she’s so young—she has only two weeks to live.” But Eva Kor did not die. Every waking moment of every day, the child focused on surviving. None of the girls in her barrack became friends. None of them spoke to one another. Survival was a full time job, survival consumed their thoughts. When Auschwitz was liberated, only 200 twins were still alive, including Eva and Miriam. When Eva and Miriam returned home, it had been ransacked. A couple family photographs on the bedroom floor were all that remained.
Prejudice and hatred did not disappear from Kor’s life. She faced it in Romania and again in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she resides today. Her biggest message was about forgiveness. In 1995, Kor decided to forgive the Nazi physicians, Dr. Mengele, and her parents—whom she felt didn’t protect her when she pleaded with her father to escape to Romania before being taken. She also forgave herself for harboring so much anger and hatred that dominated her life for decades. As she pointed out, she, and she alone, controlled. When she started to forgive, the pain and hatred she had harbored for decades disappeared.
In the Harre Union ballroom, a diverse audience took in Kor’s message—VU sweatshirts, high school letter jackets, and boy scout uniforms dotted the audience of men and women of all ages. It was reassuring to see so many young people. We cannot afford to forget or overlook Kor’s experiences and her message of forgiveness is valuable. It is not easy, she will have you know, but if she can forgive Nazis who destroyed her family, who can we forgive?
Eva Kor is 84 years old now and she cannot do this forever, but she isn’t slowing down soon. She maintains the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute she and her husband started in 1995. She has a website dedicated to forgiveness. She recently finished a documentary, “The Story of Eva.” This year, she has delivered 111 speeches and had recently visited an emergency room for heart troubles. And she let everyone know, “I tweet a lot.”
Learn about Eva, share her story, and make the time to see her yourself.
Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center
The Forgiveness Project
“The Story of Eva” documentary