Facing Auschwitz 

Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor visits Boise to talk forgiveness

Eva Mozes Kor (left) meets the Wild family, Victoria (middle), Rachel (right) and Stephen (back) prior to the Wassmuth Center 12th Annual Change Your World Celebration Sept. 18. Asked her age, Hawthorne Elementary student Victoria told Kor she was 11. "I was 11 when I was liberated from Auschwitz," Kor said.

Harrison Berry

Eva Mozes Kor (left) meets the Wild family, Victoria (middle), Rachel (right) and Stephen (back) prior to the Wassmuth Center 12th Annual Change Your World Celebration Sept. 18. Asked her age, Hawthorne Elementary student Victoria told Kor she was 11. "I was 11 when I was liberated from Auschwitz," Kor said.

When soldiers of the Red Army entered the complex of camps surrounding the village of Oswiecim in southwest Poland, they found something western civilization is still trying to come to grips with. On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet 322nd Rifle Division liberated what came to be collectively known as Auschwitz—in reality a string of compounds containing barracks and industrial facilities, as well as gas chambers and crematoria devoted to the mass murder of more than 1 million people between 1941-1945.

By the time Soviet troops arrived at the site, most of the prisoners had either been killed or forced on a death march to the west. Bodies littered the ground, left where they lay in a last-ditch effort by the Nazis to cover up what had transpired there. Time had been short, however, and as many as 8,500 starved, brutalized people remained to fend for themselves in the ruins.

Among those survivors was an 11-year-old Romanian Jewish girl bearing a tattoo on her left arm: No. A-7063. Her name was Eva Mozes Kor, and she and her twin sister, Miriam, No. A-7064, had come through one of the great nightmares of history—not only living to tell the story of Auschwitz, but as subjects of some of the most hideous medical experiments ever conceived of.

"I thought the whole world was a concentration camp," Kor said during a Sept. 18 gathering hosted by the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Boise. "I concentrated on staying alive."

At 81 years old, Kor travels the world giving presentations on her experiences not only as a Holocaust survivor, but one of the victims of Josef Mengele, the prison camp doctor made infamous by his genetic experiments on twins.

Rather than dwell on horror, however, Kor focuses on forgiveness. It has not been an easy process.

"If anybody told me 25 years ago I was going to forgive the Nazis, I'd have said they should find a really good psychiatrist," she told Boise Weekly in an interview ahead of her lecture at the Grove Hotel.

Kor's path to confronting her tormentors began in 1992, a year before her sister died in part from complications stemming from the experiments she endured in the camp. Taking part in a German television documentary, Kor met with 48 fellow "Mengele twins." The film included an interview with Hans Muench—one of the doctors who assisted in the genocide. Kor decided to reach out to him.

"Somehow it occurred to me that I could talk to a Nazi doctor. Maybe if I did, I could find out what happened to me," she said.

After at least one failed attempt to secure Muench's contact information, Kor was able to call the doctor. She asked him to attend a conference in Boston but he refused. Rather, she was invited to interview him at his home in Germany. Miriam had died in June 1993. Her kidneys stunted at age 10, she received a transplant from Kor but the stresses of childbirth weakened her organs beyond repair. Meeting with Muench, Kor believed, she might be able to discover what exactly had been done to the twins at Auschwitz.

Muench told Kor the twin research had been "top secret" and he knew little about it. He did, however, confirm the operations of the gas chambers.

"It's a nightmare I live with every night," he told Kor.

"I wanted to thank him," she said. "It seemed strange even to me."

The pair traveled to Auschwitz together, where Muench publicly signed a document before witnesses that victims of the Nazis were systematically tortured, gassed and burned at the camp. The admission gave Kor a sense of liberation and prompted her to write a letter of thanks to the doctor.

"No victim ever feels they have any power over their life," she said. "That made me feel like I had power."

Kor wasn't finished forgiving, though. Living in Terra Haute, Ind., where she operates a Holocaust museum, she came to realize her ultimate act of forgiveness would be toward Mengele himself. She compiled a list of "nasty words—everything in the book," closed the door and conjured the so-called "Angel of Death."

"I said to him in a clear voice: 'In spite of all that—even though you were a mass murderer, a monster of the world, I forgive you,'" she said. "It changed my life. The last moment of that relationship was with my words."

Since then, Kor has hosted hundreds of workshops and lectures geared toward helping victims realize they have a similar power to overcome past traumas. Her talk in Boise was the 142nd such event she has participated in this year alone.

"I don't think 'the more victims the merrier' should be the slogan," she told BW. "Every unhealed victim is a potential perpetrator."

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