Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor (L) signs copies of her book, ‘Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz,’ while Warsaw Community Schools Chief Academic Officer and Assistant Superintendent David Hoffert (R) looks on. Kor spoke to sixth- through eighth-graders from Warsaw and Wawasee schools at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, then gave a public presentation at 6 p.m. at the Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center, Grace College, Winona Lake. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor (L) signs copies of her book, ‘Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz,’ while Warsaw Community Schools Chief Academic Officer and Assistant Superintendent David Hoffert (R) looks on. Kor spoke to sixth- through eighth-graders from Warsaw and Wawasee schools at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, then gave a public presentation at 6 p.m. at the Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center, Grace College, Winona Lake. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
WINONA LAKE – Eva Mozes Kor’s story as a Holocaust survivor didn’t end when she and her identical twin sister, Miriam, were liberated from Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945.
It continued through the death of Miriam in 1993; through Eva learning to forgive the Nazi doctors who experimented on them at 10 years old; through founding the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute; and through writing her book, “Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz.”
A big part of her story, as she describes in her lectures, was discovering that forgiveness is healing and “the seed for peace.”
Tuesday, Kor brought her story to about 6,000 people over two sessions at the Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center at Grace College in Winona Lake, half of them sixth- through eighth-graders from Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and Warsaw community schools.
“It was the dawn of an early spring day. Our cattle cart train came to a sudden stop. I could hear a lot of German voices yelling orders outside. I could see nothing but a little patch of gray sky through the barbed wires in the window,” Kor stated as she began telling her story.
She and the rest of her family – her parents, two older sisters and Miriam – had been in the train for four days. As soon as they stepped down onto a cement platform, her mother grabbed the twins’ hands. She hoped that as long as she could hold onto them she could protect them.
Kor wasn’t on the cement platform but 10 minutes when she looked around, trying to figure out what the place was, and realized that her father and two older sisters disappeared into the crowd. They never saw them again.
As Miriam and Kor held onto their mother’s hands, a Nazi soldier was running around and yelling “twins.” He asked their mother if they were twins. She asked if it was good that her daughters were twins, and when the Nazi replied that it was, she admitted they were. Another Nazi came up and the girls were torn from their mom.
“All I remember is seeing my mother’s arms outstretched in despair as she was pulled away. I never even got to say goodbye to her. I didn’t really understand that this would be the last time we would see her,” Kor said.
The girls were grouped with other twins, mostly children. They were processed and given tattoos – “A-7063” on Kor’s left arm, and Miriam became “A-7064.”
A close inspection of Kor’s tattoo reveals it’s not very clear. “You might think it has faded. Incorrect. It was always like that. I was not a very cooperating victim,” she explained.
After being processed, they were taken to the barrack where they would live until their liberation. It was the filthiest and coldest place Kor had ever seen. During the night she discovered there were rats everywhere. Since they couldn’t even try to go to sleep that first night, the girls went to the latrine.
“There on the filthy latrine floor was the scattered corpses of three children. I had never seen anyone dead before and that was clear to me that in this place people were dying, and I made immediately a silent pledge that I am sure helped save Miriam’s life and mine, that I would do anything and everything within my power to make sure Miriam and I should not end up on that filthy latrine floor,” Kor said.
The twins had a daily inspection with Dr. Josef Mengele, later known as the “Angel of Death.”
“On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we would be put in room naked for up to eight hours a day. Every part of my body was measured, compared to my twin sister Miriam and compared to charts,” Kor said.
“On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, they would take us to the other barrack I call the blood barrack,” she said. There, both of her arms would be tied to restrict the blood flow. The doctors would take a lot of blood from her left arm and give her a minimum of five injections into her right arm. To this day, she still has no idea what she and her sister were injected with.
After one of those injections, she became ill with a high fever. Anyone taken to the hospital was expected to die. After two weeks in the hospital, Kor’s fever broke, and three weeks later she was sent back to her barrack and united with Miriam. Miriam was very sick, but would not tell Eva what happened to her while she was away.
In 1985, the sisters finally spoke with each other about what happened to them in Auschwitz. Miriam told Kor for the first two weeks Kor was in the lab, she was kept in isolation with Nazi doctors studying her 24 hours a day, waiting for “something” to happen. She had no idea what they were waiting for. If Kor had died, they later learned, Miriam would have been rushed to Mengele’s lab, killed by lethal injection and a comparative autopsy would have been conducted on the twins.
According to the Auschwitz Museum, Kor said, the Nazis used 1,500 sets of twins, mostly children. Only an estimated 200 survived when the camp was liberated. “I believe that most of them died as a result of the experiments,” Kor said.
After the first two weeks, Miriam told her sister, she was taken to the lab and given all kinds of injections that made her very sick. Miriam developed a cancerous polyp related to the medical experiments. On June 6, 1993, she died.
In August 1944, Kor saw her first sign of hope at Auschwitz that someone was trying to save them – an airplane with an American flag. Air raids began. As the number of air raids increased, the number of experiments decreased until there were four air raids a day and all experiments stopped.
In January 1945, the Nazis told everyone to get out of the barracks to be taken deep into Germany “to protect them from the fight.” Miriam and Eva stayed in the barracks.
The next day, when they opened the barrack doors around noon, all the guard towers were empty and all the Nazis were gone. For the next 10 to 11 days, they were on their own. One day while Eva was in the kitchen, she heard the sound of a car. Four Nazis got out of the vehicle and started spraying bullets everywhere.
“The last thing I remember was the barrel of the gun three feet from my head. And then I fainted,” Kor recalled. When she awoke sometime later, she was surrounded by piles of dead bodies. “This is when I realized I must have a guardian angel watching over me.”
Later they learned the Nazis had come back to destroy evidence – the gas chambers, crematoriums and other buildings. Buildings burned and anyone fleeing was shot.
On Jan. 27, 1945, at 4:30 p.m., a lady ran into the barrack screaming at the top of her lungs, “We are free! We are free!” The Ukrainian unit of the Russian military showed up, giving everyone chocolate, candies and hugs. It was Kor’s first taste of freedom.
While sharing her life lessons, Kor told the audience to remember “there’s always hope after despair, and there’s always a tomorrow after disaster.”
One of her life lessons was how to forgive everyone, including the Nazis.
Months after Miriam died in 1993, when Kor was invited to a Boston college and asked to bring a Nazi doctor with her, she remembered a documentary they worked on which involved one. She went to Germany to meet the doctor, Hans Münch, on Aug. 20, 1993.
Münch told Kor he knew nothing about the twin experiments but did explain to her how the gas chambers worked. He agreed to go with her to Auschwitz and sign a document about what he witnessed.
Kor later wanted to thank Münch, but decided instead to write him a letter of forgiveness.
“I knew immediately that was a meaningful gift for Dr. Münch, but what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I ... had the power of forgiveness. No one could give me that power or take it away,” Kor said.
A former English professor who corrected her letter suggested she write it to Mengele, not Münch. While trying to write the letter to Mengele, she realized she really had the power to forgive even the doctors at Auschwitz. And if she could forgive the “worst of the worst,” she might as well forgive anyone who had ever hurt her.
Once she learned to forgive, she said she was no longer a prisoner of Auschwitz or a victim of her tragic past.
“I call forgiveness a seed for peace,” she said. “Anger is a seed for war. The forgiveness is not for the perpetrator.”