by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “Eva Mozes Kor has lived a life of testimony,” said Craig Prentiss, director of the Visiting Lecture Series at Rockhurst University here.
“She testifies to hope in the face of horror,” he said. “She testifies to the need for remembrance in a culture that is increasingly inclined to forget.
“She testifies to the need for justice and truth in the face of evasion and dishonesty.”
“And she testifies to the power of compassion and forgiveness as a means for personal liberation,” he added.
Kor, the university’s guest speaker on Oct. 27, entered an overflowing auditorium and prepared to tell the story of how she defied the odds by surviving the Holocaust — and, with her twin sister, the experiments of Doctor Josef Mengele.
A life interrupted
“It was the dawn of an early spring day in 1944,” said Kor. “Our cattle car train came to a sudden stop.”
The doors opened and thousands poured out onto a small strip of land known as the selection platform.
This was Auschwitz.
“In my opinion, there is no other strip of land like that anywhere on the face of the earth that has witnessed so many millions of people being ripped apart from their families forever,” said Kor.
The Mozes family — father Alexander, mother Jaffa, sisters Edit and Aliz, and Kor’s twin Miriam were thrown into the confusion.
“As I looked around,” she said, “I realized that my father and two older sisters disappeared in the crowd.
“Never did I see them again.”
When one of the camp guards discovered Eva and Miriam were twins, he promptly ripped them from their mother.
“All I really remember is seeing her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away,” said Kor. “I never even got to say goodbye to her.
“But I didn’t understand that this would be the last time we would see her.”
“All it took was 30 minutes from the time we stepped out of the cattle car,” she continued. “Miriam and I no longer had a family, we were all alone and we did not know what would become of us.”
The fight for their lives
At 10 years old, Kor’s life became a living nightmare.
She and her sister became part of a group of 13 sets of twins, ages 2 to 16, and one mother. They were taken to a large building, where their clothes were taken and they sat naked for the rest of the day.
“I thought this must be a nightmare,” she said. “It cannot be happening to me.
“And a few times, I closed my eyes, hoping that, when I would open them, the nightmare would disappear.
“But the nightmare did not disappear.”
On their first night in the barracks during a trip to the latrine, the sisters suddenly realized how grim their situation was.
“As we entered the place, there on the latrine floor were the scattered corpses of three children,” she said. “I had never seen anybody dead before, but it became clear to me that in this place, children were dying.
“Right then and there, I made the silent pledge that I would do anything and everything within my power to make sure that Miriam and I would not end up on that filthy latrine floor.”
Kor had no idea how to prevent that from happening.
But, relying on her instincts, she learned. First and foremost, she formed an image in her mind of how she and her sister would look the day they walked out of camp alive.
And she clung to it.
That bit of hope was perhaps her saving grace.
“We had no rights, and yet, in spite of all that, we had an unbelievable determination to live one more day — survive one more experiment,” said Kor.
Two types of experiments were conducted on Kor and her sister.
“We would be placed [in a building] naked for up to eight hours a day,” she said, regardless of the weather. “They would measure just about every part of my body, compare it to my twin sister, and compare it to charts.”
The other experiment was conducted in the laboratory at Auschwitz, where doctors would draw blood from Kor’s arm, then give her a minimum of five injections.
“The rumor was that [the injections] were germs, diseases and drugs, and that is probably correct,” she said.
After one of the injections, Kor was stricken with a deadly illness that she believes to this day probably should have killed her.
But for two weeks, she fought through it. And both she and her sister made it to that day she had so long imagined — Jan. 27, 1945.
Kor’s dream of walking out of Auschwitz alive finally came true.
Life would never go back to normal for Kor and her sister, and they realized it the moment they returned home to Romania months after their liberation.
“One of the saddest days [was] as we were running down the hill toward our house and we were approaching the house [and saw] the house was neglected,” said Kor.
“We went inside, [and] no one [had] returned,” she added. “The house was ransacked and I found three crumbled pictures on the bedroom floor.
“That was all that was left of my family.”
But the twins found the strength yet again to carry on with their lives. Years later, they both married and had families of their own.
Their memories were so painful that they did not even speak of Auschwitz to each other until 1985.
And in 1993, Miriam passed away from a rare form of cancer after struggling with kidney problems for several years.
Her kidneys had never fully developed, likely because of the medical experiments she had been through all those years ago.
After Miriam’s passing, Kor had several breakthroughs that helped her heal from the hurt she had experienced.
In 1995, she honored her sister by opening CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terra Haute, Indiana, where she and her husband had settled.
Shortly after that, Kor had the opportunity to meet a Nazi doctor, and she did something she had never planned on doing.
She forgave him.
That extraordinary act then gave her the courage to forgive Mengele himself in her heart. At last, she was free of the chains of anger and resentment that had bound her since her days in Auschwitz.
Since then, Kor has traveled around her adopted country — the United States — sharing her story and the lessons she learned from her experience.
“I call forgiveness the best revenge because the moment you forgive, the perpetrator no longer has any power over you,” she said.
Kor’s hope for those in attendance was that they put that power to use in their own lives and demonstrate kindness wherever they go.
“I need every single one of you to help me sow the seed of peace throughout the world,” she concluded.