Holocaust survivor speaks message of forgiveness at RIC
Eva Mozes Kor provided her firsthand account of surviving a concentration camp at Auschwitz during a lecture at Rhode Island College’s Sapinsley Hall in Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College. She and her twin sister were subjected to human experimentation under the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was dubbed “The Angel of Death” following the war.
Eva and her twin sister Miriam were born in 1934 in a tiny village in Transylvania, Romania. In a family of six, Kor spoke of her time as a child, attending a single schoolhouse of around 40 kids, where the Nazi regime was embedded into the culture, even in the lessons they were taught.
“They printed a new book that said, ‘If you have five Jews, and you kill three, how many are left?’” she recalled. “Everything in my life was surrounded, from age six, on how to catch and kill Jews.”
When she was eight, Eva said a law was passed that forbade anyone from hiring Jewish people. While living in Romania near the border of Hungary, her father remained confident in the hope that the Germans would not come to their tiny village “to pick up six Jews.” She added, “Well, Dad, I am eternally sorry, that you were one-hundred percent wrong.”
In March of 1944, two Germans came to their house and took them to a regional ghetto, guarded by guns. Surrounded by barbed wire with no buildings, they built tents out of sheep and blankets. After her father was interrogated, they were loaded onto a train and taken to a Hungarian labor camp. The guards were ordered to shoot anyone that tried to escape. Water was also in short supply.
“I came to the conclusion that people who are scared to death do not verbalize their sorrows,” she said. “I realized then, as did everybody else, that they were not taking us to a labor camp, but to Germany to be murdered.”
When they arrived, they were divided into groups of who would live, and who would die. Not 30 minutes after getting off the train, Eva and Miriam were separated from their parents father and two older sisters. Their mother held onto them as long as she could, but was pulled away in tears.
The twins never saw their family members again.
They became part of a group of 13 sets of female twins, ages two to 16. They had their clothes removed at a processing center, and were in a state of complete confusion.
“At times, I thought, ‘This cannot be happening to me, this must be a nightmare,’ and that somehow I would close my eyes and the nightmare would disappear,” she said.
The nightmare didn’t disappear.
As number 25 of 26 children, Eva said they were lined up for registration and tattooed, dot by dot. Despite giving them as much trouble as a 10-year-old could, she was restrained by four Germans and branded “A-7063.” Miriam was branded “A-7064.” Auschwitz was the only camp that tattooed its inmates.
Once they were processed, they were given bunk beds. They couldn’t sleep. Eva noticed the countless rats on the floor. When she went to the latrine, she saw the scattered corpses of three children. This was the first time she had ever seen anyone dead before.
At that moment, she made a silent pledge that her and Miriam would not see the same fate. They were starved for food, human kindness and love, but retained a fierce determination to live one more day. Every morning before breakfast they would be counted for role-call, except on Sundays, which was how they knew it was Sunday.
“That’s how we knew it was Sunday,” said Eva.
Their breakfast consisted of a brownish liquid that was considered coffee. “Zero calories,” she said.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they were placed naked in an observation lab with 50 sets of twins, where they stood for eight hours a day. Doctors took measurements of every part of her body and compared them to her twin sister. By the third or fourth session, Eva learned to block them out of her mind.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Eva said they would be taken to what she called “the blood lab.” They tied her down and took blood from her left arm, while giving injections into her right arm. After one of these injections, she became ill with a high fever, trembles, burning skin and swollen eyes and legs.
“The content of those injections, we didn’t know then, nor do I know today,” she said. Eva speculated that they were germs, diseases, and drugs – administered to her as a test of what they would do to the human body.
She was taken to the hospital, where Doctor Mengele arrived to look at her with four other doctors. Eva remembered Mengele saying sarcastically that it was too bad she was so young and only had two weeks to live.
“I knew he was right, but I refused to die. So I made a second silent pledge…that I would survive and be reunited with my twin sister,” she said.
If Eva had died in the hospital, she said that Miriam would have been killed with an injection to the heart.
After three weeks, Eva made a full recovery and was reunited with Miriam. During those weeks she was gone, Miriam was kept in isolation and subjected to experiments day and night. They wouldn’t open up to each other about what had happened until 1985.
“Dying at Auschwitz was very easy. Surviving was a full time job,” said Eva. “When I was in Auschwitz, I thought that the whole world was one big concentration camp…that everybody in the world lived like I did.”
Mengele experimented on 1,500 sets of twins. Of those 3,000 individuals, only around 180 of them survived.
By the end of August, Eva saw a plane fly by with an American flag on one of the wings.
“That gave me hope that somebody was trying to free us,” she said. “And hope in Auschwitz was in very short supply.”
The air raids and artillery continued, until one morning in January, Eva recalled it being eerily quiet. When they went outside, they saw people in white camouflage in the distance, “smiling from ear to ear.” It was the Ukrainian unit of the Soviet Army. When Eva and Miriam went up to them, they were given chocolate, cookies and hugs. They were finally free.
The Soviet Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.
Life after Auschwitz
Eva and Miriam spent nine months in refugee camps until they arrived in Romania in October of 1945. They were taken in by their Aunt Irena, and adjusted to life under Communist rule.
“I wasn’t a very good Communist, I didn’t like to follow orders,” she said.
At the age of 16, they emigrated to Israel, where Eva attended agricultural school. She joined the Israeli Army Engineering Corps, eventually attaining the rank of Sergeant Major, while stationed in Tel Aviv. Miriam was sent to the Israeli Medical Corps, and studied to become a registered nurse.
Eva eventually moved to Terre Haute, Indiana after meeting her husband. She became a U.S. Citizen in 1965, where she and her husband raised two children.
Miriam developed severe kidney infections and eventual kidney failure after three pregnancies. They discovered her kidney had never developed past the age of a 10-year-old girl’s due to the experiments in Auschwitz. Eva donated her left kidney to her sister, but Miriam eventually passed away in June of 1993.
Eva has gone on to speak about her experiences in Auschwitz, giving lectures, participating in documentaries and spreading a message of forgiveness. She even opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum & Education Center. She has since forgiven Mengele, as well as everyone else involved at Auschwitz. She called it an act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment.
Eva shared three life lessons from her experiences:
- “Never give up on yourself or your dreams.”
- Avoid prejudice. “We have to learn to treat each other with fairness and respect.”
- “Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul, and it will set you free.”
“I call forgiveness the best revenge,” she said. “Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”