As an unreformed and unapologetic history junkie, I have had the opportunity to attend lectures given by some fascinating people. I listened to presentations delivered by veterans, actors, athletes, Nobel Prize winners and former presidents. But a recent presentation by an 81-year-old Terre Haute resident might be the most powerful that I have seen.
On Aug. 31, the Bartholomew County Library Associates Speaker Series hosted Eva Kor for a compelling account of her life. Kor told a packed house about her journey from Auschwitz to forgiveness.
Her story is not a tale of woe. Instead, it is a powerful message of strength, survival and ultimate inner peace. I was delighted to see that this was a standing-room only crowd at The Commons. Hundreds of people from the community turned out to learn about history and life from Kor.
She recounted her early life growing up in Romania. When Kor was 10 years old, the Nazis captured her family and sent them to Auschwitz. She endured a four-day train ride without food, water or even room to sit down. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the Nazis separated Kor from her mother, father and two of her sisters. She never saw them again.
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Nazi doctors under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele spared Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, so that they could use them for horrific medical experiments.
She talked about how death, filth, starvation and brutality were present every day at Auschwitz. Kor told the attentive audience about how she managed to survive. She had a plan. Kor visualized that someday she would walk out of Auschwitz with Miriam. To get to that day, she would have to be careful and strategic at every moment.
Kor knew that the Nazis were in trouble when she saw an airplane flying overhead with an American flag emblazoned on its side. To her, the flag is much more than a car decal. Finally, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz in January 1945.
Eva and Miriam Kor were two of the approximately 200 children who survived. After the war, Eva Kor sought refuge in Israel. There she went to college and joined the Israeli Army. She met an American citizen on vacation in Israel, fell in love and got married. She moved from Tel Aviv to Terre Haute. Unfortunately, Miriam had health problems that resulted from her time at Auschwitz. Eva donated a kidney to her sister, which prolonged Miriam’s life.
In the 1990s, Eva Kor tracked down a Nazi doctor to provide evidence about Auschwitz. She did this to combat those who deny the Holocaust. Remarkably, she found one. Dr. Hans Münch was in charge of confirming that prisoners in the gas chambers were dead. Münch confessed to her that he had been plagued by nightmares since his days at Auschwitz. Münch also signed testimony confirming what the Nazis did at Auschwitz. Eva Kor wrote a letter of forgiveness to the doctor. She admitted to the audience that she would not have been able to even consider forgiving Nazis earlier in her life. But forgiveness helped her to heal, break a cycle of anger and move on from this tragedy. She refused to let her time at Auschwitz define her.
Eva Kor started the Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, which operates a museum in Terre Haute. She has also written books about her life.
She gave us a few lessons to use in our own lives. Kor urged us to dream and survive every day no matter what we might be facing. You do not know what will happen in the future, so embrace hope.
Kor also urged us to renounce hatred and prejudice. Hatred and prejudice, after all, are what start wars. She admitted it was hard for her to avoid having preconceived notions all of the time, though. She does not like it when men have pony tails or wear baggy pants. She also concedes that she makes judgements about those who wear clothing that is too revealing. These comments brought laughter and maybe a few cheers from the audience.
Her last lesson was that we need to try to forgive when we feel wronged. Forgiveness brought peace and serenity to Eva Kor. It brought her a sense of power over her life.
I learned a lot in an hour and a half.
Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an assistant professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to [email protected].