Holocaust survivor’s message: Forgive

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Holocaust survivor Eva Kor of Terre Haute shows Jasper High School senior Bradley Gehlhausen the serial number that was tattooed on her arm when she became a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland during World War II. Kor gave a presentation at the high school Wednesday about her experiences during the war.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Eva Kor’s message is forgiveness, and on Wednesday, she spread that message to Jasper High School and Middle School students.

Kor, who was born in Romania and now lives in Terre Haute, lost her entire family in the Holocaust when she was just 10 years old, and she and her twin sister, Miriam, were subjected to humiliating and painful experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele, but she could not fully be free until she forgave her Nazi captors.

Kor visited Jasper at the request of Stephanie Jackman-Burns, a music teacher at the high school who had heard her speak three times before. Jackman-Burns introduced Kor to the student body and the parents and community members who had packed the gym to hear Kor’s story.

“Today she is a human rights leader and an educator to countless people through her public speaking events. She is the very essence of triumph of the human spirit over adversity,” Jackman-Burns said. “She has a story to tell. You are about to hear one really strong, wonderful woman.”

Kor began with the story of how she came to be imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland in 1944. She was born into a Jewish family, and Nazi troops occupied her tiny village at the beginning of World War II. She, her parents and her three sisters were jammed into a cattle car with thousands of others and transported to the concentration camp. For 70 hours, she rode with no food, no water and no idea where she would end up.

After arriving at Auschwitz, Kor’s older sisters and father were separated from the rest of the family, and she and Miriam were torn from their mother after the Nazis determined that they were twins. Kor never saw her family again.

“I saw her arms stretched out in despair,” Kor said of her mother, Jaffa, who had tried to protect her youngest children by holding onto them tightly. “I never got to say goodbye to her.”

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper High School seniors Emily Jones, left, and Katie Krempp listened intently Wednesday as Holocaust survivor Eva Kor of Terre Haute recalled her experiences as a prisoner at the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

On the first night in the rat-infested barracks, Kor made a silent promise to herself to get out of the camp alive and with her sister. It would take nine months and a few near-death experiences for that dream to come true. Each day, she, Miriam and the 1,500 other sets of twins in the camp were forced to sit naked on benches while waiting for Mengele’s crew of researchers to poke and prod them. Kor and her sister were branded with identification numbers on their arms.

Kor held up the marked area to show the scars to the Jasper crowd.

“It was agonizing, demeaning,” she said.

Soon, Kor and her sister were being injected regularly with a mysterious substance, and Kor became gravely ill. She was sent to the infirmary barracks to die, but her fever broke after two weeks.

“I refused to die,” she said. “I would survive and be reunited with my sister.”

After months of surviving on just 400 calories per day and sleeping on hard bunks with hundreds of other sick and dying Jews, Kor began to notice an increasing number of American planes flying overhead. The Allies had invaded and the air strikes had begun.

“Hope in Auschwitz was in very short supply,” Kor said. “We could sense that someday very soon, we would be free and we could go home.”

Freedom was still a long way away for the twins. They spent nine months in refugee camps before they finally could return to Romania to live with their aunt. Even when safely home, Kor said, she was not entirely free from the horrors she had survived until she chose to let go of her anger toward her captors.

“I have forgiven the Nazis. I have forgiven everybody,” Kor said. In 1995, she returned to the concentration camp in the company of former Nazi doctor Hans Munch to sign a statement commemorating those who had died.

“Forgiveness was all mine to use however I wished. Every single one of you has that power,” Kor told the crowd. “It’s not for the perpetrator. It’s for the victim. I was free of Auschwitz and free of Mengele.”

Kor said forgiveness and perseverance are the two most important lessons she hopes young people will take from her story. In 1995, she opened the CANDLES — Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experi­ments Survivors — Museum in Terre Haute to continue to spread her hopeful message.
“Never ever give up on yourself or your dreams,” she said.

Junior Mariah Thewes left the gym silently with her classmates, turning over the messages in her mind. Prior to hearing Kor’s speech, she had watched a video about the Holocaust, which she said put her own life into perspective.

“It’s just inspirational seeing someone who has gone through so much,” Thewessaid, “Things are so much easier now. We are so lucky compared to people in other countries.”

The crowd gave Kor a rousing standing ovation when she finished her story. Eighth-grader Levi Hulsman chatted with his classmates in the bleachers about the speech while waiting to be dismissed.

“I thought it was cool,” he said of the presentation. “Be grateful for what you have.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com