Perspective Online

Holocaust Survivor’s Outstanding Resilience Inspires Standing Ovation

by Rachel Williams

Although Holocaust Survivor Eva Kor’s lecture was not scheduled to begin until 6 p.m. on Friday, September 20, students, faculty and members of the community crowded into the Townsend Center an hour early. The event, “The Triumph of the Human Spirit: from Auschwitz to Forgiveness,” was sponsored by the School of Nursing, Pi Nu Honor Society and the College of Arts and Humanities. As the masses flooded into the auditorium at 5:30 p.m., those without tickets waited in the lobby to learn whether there would be room for them to attend. After the lecture, members of the audience were invited to ask questions. When Eva finished answering their queries, she had her picture taken with students from a local junior high school and then signed copies of her book, “Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz.”

Eva Kor Talks Forgiveness, Medical Ethics at Packed Event
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear about that era,” says Diane Wise, a faculty member in the School of Nursing who was instrumental in setting up the event. “Eva is an awesome lady; I just love her spirit! Her story is so pertinent to teaching our nursing students about ethics and the harm we can do if we aren’t using our skills to better peoples’ lives.”

Eva opened the event by discussing her experience in Auschwitz as a ten-year-old. She spoke of the concrete platform where thousands of families, including her own, were torn apart forever. After she and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from their mother, father and two older sisters, they were taken to a section of camp where Nazi doctors performed medical research on young female twins. The girls never saw their parents or other sisters again. Based on her years of research, Eva believes her family was taken immediately to the gas chambers.

The twins endured countless painful and humiliating experimental procedures at the hands of Josef Mengele. After one procedure, Eva became extremely sick and was taken to the “hospital,” where she was left with no food or water for two weeks while the Nazis waited for her to die. As a feverish and half-conscious Eva crawled across the hospital floor to get water from the faucet, she reminded herself over and over that she had to survive. When another prisoner working in the hospital told Miriam that Eva was dying from starvation rather than illness, Miriam saved her bread for an entire week and had it smuggled to Eva. Thanks to Eva’s iron will and Miriam’s sacrifice, Eva’s fever broke and the two sisters were reunited. In January 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, and the two girls moved in with an aunt and her new husband, both of whom were also concentration camp survivors.

Eva, Miriam and their guardians emigrated from Romania to Israel in 1950 with only the clothes they could wear. “I wore three dresses and a winter coat in the middle of the summer,” Eva recalls, prompting chuckles from her listeners. “I stood in line for that coat 20 hours, and I was not going to leave it behind!” Eva and Miriam eventually joined the military. While Miriam became a registered nurse, Eva spent eight years as a sergeant major in the engineering corps. In 1960, she married her husband, who was held at a different death camp during the war. They moved to his town of Terra Haute, Indiana, where she now runs the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Even decades after escaping Auschwitz, Eva and Miriam felt the death camp’s ripples. “I was physically liberated from Auschwitz in 1945,” Eva explains. “Emotionally, I carried it with me until 1995, when I forgave the Nazis.” The girls also suffered lingering physical evidence of their trauma. Miriam suffered from a chronic kidney infection and later with cancer, and doctors agreed that both illnesses were likely a result of Mengele’s experiments. Eva exhorted those going into the medical and research professions to carefully consider how their actions might harm others. “You have been trained to use good, cold judgment and clear logic, but you cannot forget that you are dealing with human beings. The moment you forget and cross that narrow line, you are heading in the direction of the Nazi doctors and the Josef Mengeles. You must obey the international laws. You must respect the wishes of your subject. You must remember that research is done for the sake of mankind, not the sake of science. You must never detach yourself from your patient and the subject you serve. If you do not know what to do in a difficult situation, just ask yourself, ‘Would I want to be treated this way, if I was the research subject?’ If the answer is no, then you are doing something wrong. I hope with all my heart that our sad stories will compel the international community to revise the laws and rules that govern human experimentation.”

For Eva, relief from her emotional pain didn’t come until after Miriam’s death from cancer. In 1995, Eva finally received the contact information for a former Nazi doctor. Her conversation with him triggered the beginning of Eva’s journey to forgiving Mengele and the other Nazis who hurt her and her family. “I discovered that I had the power to forgive. No one could give me that power, and no one could take it away. It was all mine to use in any way I please. Victims are always hurt, angry, helpless and powerless. I discovered that I had power I didn’t know. I realized that I even had the power to forgive the ‘Angel of Death,’ the ‘God of Auschwitz.’ I figured if I forgave Mengele, I might as well forgive everyone who ever hurt me. It made me feel really good to have any power in my life and over my future. I immediately felt all the pain relieved from my shoulders. I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz, nor was I a prisoner of my tragic past. I am hoping to send the world a message of hope, a message of healing, a message of wholeness and a message of peace.”

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