by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
The “kindly” doctor would often bring the children candy and tell them delightful stories before operating on them, injecting them with germs, examining them like guinea pigs and – afterwards – killing many of them.
Eva Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were lucky. They survived. In later years, Eva began to feel a sacred duty to remind people what happened 70 years ago in a camp called Auschwitz in Poland. She stunned and even angered many when, during a later trip to Auschwitz, she announced she had forgiven her Nazi tormentors.
Kor will talk about her life from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 at Ritsche Auditorium at St. Cloud State University. Everyone is welcome to attend. The theme of her talk is “From Auschwitz to Forgiveness.”
Vicki Knickerbocker of Sartell, who has come to know Kor, is determined to share her story with her students. Knickerbocker teaches a course called “The Holocaust Through Multiple Lenses” at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. She has incorporated Kor’s hideous experiences and sorrowful memories into her classes as a way to get her students to feel the awful immediacy of the Holocaust, even though it happened decades ago.
Recently, Knickerbocker and others accompanied Kor on a tour of what is left of Auschwitz, the ruins of which are now preserved as a museum and a testament to the suffering of those who labored and died there.
“Eva is inspirational,” Knickerbocker said. “She is not a bitter woman, and she even has a great sense of humor.”
Knickerbocker has known Kor since 2008 when she came from her home in Indiana to speak at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. Knickerbocker was outreach educator at that center from 2002-07. During her visit, Kor also spoke to students in Knickerbocker’s community-college class.
Kor and her sister were two of the twins who became human “guinea pigs” of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi officer and doctor who operated a special section within the concentration camp of Auschwitz. The camp was one of many set up by German Nazis throughout eastern Europe during World War II. Such camps were designed as forced-labor camps for Jews and anyone else Hitler’s Third Reich designated as enemies of the state. In those camps, an estimated total of six million people (men, women and children) starved, died of disease or were exterminated in every manner, most commonly in gas chambers.
Deported from home
Eva (Mozes) Kor and her twin were born in 1934 in a little town in Romania. The only Jewish family in their village, the six members of the Mozes family were arrested one day by occupying Nazis and taken to a regional ghetto when Eva was 10 years old. Within weeks, they were transported by cattle car to the camp, located in occupied Poland, which was established and operated by Nazis under the regime of Adolf Hitler and by most accounts was the most horrible of Nazi death camps.
After a 70-hour packed train ride without food or water, the Mozes family, along with so many other deportees, arrived at the Auschwitz “selection platform,” where people were separated into groups – those to be saved for labor and those to be gassed immediately and then burned in crematoria.
As they gripped their mother’s hand, Eva and Mariam looked around for their father and two older sisters, who were gone, never to be seen again. When their mother was asked by a selection officer if the daughters were twins, the mother was quick to say yes, thinking their being twins might be a good thing in the eyes of the camp authorities. The girls were quickly snatched from their grief-stricken mother’s side, and that was the last time they saw her.
The twins were then housed in a “special” dormitory run by Dr. Mengele, where genetic experiments on twins took place. The monstrous experiments of Mengele and his assistants included subjecting twins to all kinds of operations. They included injecting dye into eyes in an effort to change eye color, amputations of limbs, injection of germs, sterilization, shock treatments, and even in at least one case sewing two twins together so they would become “Siamese twins.” After twins died of injuries, succumbed to induced diseases or were killed, Mengele would do elaborate autopsies on them and write down the medical results. Mengele favored twins for his experiments so he could use one twin as a comparison to the other. An estimated 1,500 pairs of twins endured Mengele’s diabolical experiments.
When Auschwitz was liberated by the invading Soviet Army on Jan. 27, 1945, there were 200 pairs of twins freed, including Eva and Miriam.
Mengele, along with many other Nazis, escaped to South America where he lived in hiding until his natural death in 1970. Forensic tests on his skull proved the dead man was, indeed, Mengele.
After their liberation, Eva and Miriam lived in refugee camps before returning to Romania, where they lived with a surviving aunt.
Later, they emigrated to Israel. Eva became a sergeant-major in the Israeli Army’s Engineering Corps. Many years later, she met a man named Michael Kor, who was also a Holocaust survivor who had since become an American citizen. She met him while Kor was an American tourist in Israel. In 1960, they married. Eva became a U.S. citizen in 1965, and the couple set up home in Terre Haute, Ind. with their two children, Alex and Rina.
One of the Mengele experiments on the Kor twins was a method devised to make one of Miriam’s kidneys shrink. Later in life, that cruel experiment had devastating consequences when Miriam was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Eva donated one of her own kidneys to her sister, but Miriam later died.
For many years, Eva Kor did not want to dwell on the painful experiences she had been forced to endure.
Then, one day in 1978, in her home in Terre Haute, Kor was watching a TV special on the Holocaust, and she began to wonder what happened to the twins who had been liberated from Mengele’s clutches. She and sister Miriam began a search for other surviving twins and – with the help of others – succeeded in finding some of them.
In 1995, Kor founded the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute. CANDLES is an acronym for “Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments.” In 2003, the museum burned to the ground because of an arsonist hate crime. People rallied and rebuilt the museum bigger and better than before. The facility is dedicated to all of the Holocaust victims and, in particular, to the twins who died there and the twins who survived.
Since the Kor sisters began their search, 122 individuals who survived Mengele’s experiments have been found in 10 countries on four continents.
In 1995, while standing inside the ruins of the Auschwitz camp, Eva Kor announced to a group gathered there that she had decided to forgive the Nazis for what they did to her and her family.
Her statement stunned some and angered others who feel the Nazis should never be forgiven for their monstrous crimes against humanity.
However, Kor patiently explained she forgave the Nazis only for her own peace of mind – not on behalf of others who may choose never to forgive. Kor also emphasized that to forgive is not to forget.
That spirit of forgiveness is what amazed Vicki Knickerbocker – that a woman who had suffered so much pain, heartbreak and torment could find in herself the kindness to forgive.
During the recent trip to Auschwitz, Knickerbocker was deeply impressed by Kor’s unbreakable spirit.
“She had such inspirational words,” Knickerbocker said. “She survived all of that suffering, and she still has hope. She told us not to hate our neighbors, not to stereotype people and to always believe in yourself.”
Those are heart-to-heart messages Knickerbocker hopes to pass on to her students.