Just over a year ago, I was fortunate to hear an amazing woman named Eva Mozes Kor recount her experience as a Holocaust survivor. Recently, a young relative of one of my best friends had the opportunity to hear her speak as well and from all accounts, the power of her message has not diminished in the last 12 months. In recognition of today being Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’d like to reintroduce you to this incredible person.

WARNING: Some of the links in this week’s post contain graphic images.

The room was packed, the crowd much larger than expected. People filled the seats, stood along the walls, knelt in the aisles, and crammed into the small balcony and entry way. At the speaker’s request, chairs were brought onstage so everyone who needed a seat (and there were several older attendees who did) could have one.

The speaker walked out wearing a smart blue suit and a brightly colored scarf, carrying a handbag the size of a suitcase. She stopped center stage and stowed it between a leather armchair and a small table holding a vase of yellow tulips. Then she said in heavily accented English, “I would like the lights turned up, please. I want to see everyone who came to see me.” The moderator, surprised, complied. The old woman smiled, sat down and began to talk. She is Eva Mozes Kor, a 78-year-old Romanian-born Jew and a Holocaust survivor. She was 11 when Auschwitz was liberated and she didn’t speak about what happened to her there until 1985. Eva has told her story hundreds of times since then and this week, I was wedged into a space along the crowded back wall of Meier Recital Hall on the campus of Black Hills State University to hear it.

When my husband asked why I was driving 3-1/2 hours to hear Eva Kor speak, I said simply, “Research.” For the last several months, I’ve been working over an idea for a WWII novel about a half-Jewish American broadcaster who ends up in a concentration camp and is forced to do propaganda for the Nazis. This was an opportunity to meet someone who had survived the horror of Auschwitz. But I also had another more selfish reason for going: I’ve been in a writing slump as of late, and I needed to hear a story that would slap me across the face and say, “LISTEN.” I got one.

You won’t find Eva’s whole story here; it’s hers to tell and it’s compelling when she tells it, as you’ll see when you check out the links. She’s sharp and funny, a spitfire at 78, grown from the firecracker she was as a child. Not even Auschwitz could extinguish that spark.

Eva was 10 when she and her parents Alexander and Jaffa, and her three sisters Edit, Aliz and her twin Miriam stepped off the cattle car at Auschwitz. They quickly became separated: Alexander, Edit and Aliz herded one direction, Jaffa, Miriam and Eva another. A Nazi came down the selection platform looking for twins and noticed Eva and Miriam were dressed identically. He asked Jaffa if they were twins. “Is that good?” she asked. He nodded. “They are twins,” she said. The girls were grabbed from Jaffa and led away. The last sight they had of any of their family was their mother screaming and reaching out for them. And Eva and Miriam Mozes became Mengele Twins.

Liberation of Auschwitz

Eva and Miriam Mozes are the two children on the right in this photo taken when Auschwitz was liberated. (from http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/)

During the course of World War II, Dr. Josef Mengele conducted atrocious experiments on approximately 1,500 sets of twins between the ages of 2 and 16. The experiments were a daily occurrence; Eva recounted spending 6-8 hours a day naked, being measured, probed and injected. For others, the experiences were even worse. The experiments finally came to an end shortly before Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets in 1945.

What happened to Eva, Miriam and the other Mengele twins is unthinkable. But what Eva did in 1985 in response to it is even more astounding. She publicly forgave Dr. Mengele and the Nazis for what they did to her and her family. Her controversial act (which drew criticism from Holocaust groups and other survivors) is chronicled in the documentary “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”.

The standing ovation at the end of Eva’s presentation was well-deserved. Her message of forgiveness, whether you agree with it or not, was profound. This should be the part of the post where I say that her speech was an epiphany for me, one that shattered my writer’s block and led me to produce page after page of the best prose I’ve ever written. Didn’t happen. I didn’t go there expecting an epiphany; I expected information which is what I got – specific details about how the gas chambers worked, what the prisoners were fed, what it was like on that winter morning when the Soviets in their white camouflage uniforms stepped out of the snow and gave the starving children chocolate. But I left there with something else I hadn’t expected – a sense of perspective about the power we have over our own survival and that to move past the obstacles in our lives, even those as small as the occasional bout of writer’s block, takes forgiveness, and sometimes that means forgiving ourselves.

To find out more about Eva Mozes Kor, visit: CANDLES Holocaust Museum,  “Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz”

Who is an enlightening speaker you’ve heard and what did you take away from the experience?

  1. What a strong person she must be and what a story she has to tell! I am glad you went and found more than you were looking for. That prose will come when you and it are ready. As far as speakers go, I haven’t heard that many. I tend to read more than haul my butt even an hour away to listen. I have seen some interesting speakers on ted.com. I wish I had a better answer to your question!

    • I’m glad I made the trip, for many reasons. I shot some video of her presentation which I had intended to post here on Wire but I couldn’t figure out how to upload it! I’ll keep trying, though, because you need to hear her speak. There aren’t many opportunities to hear speakers like Eva Mozes Kor in Pierre but I’m keeping an eye out for places I can drive to for that purpose. If there’s one in your neck of the woods, I’ll take you with me!

      • I went to the link you gave for the trailer of Forgiving Dr. Mengele. I have some thoughts on the forgiveness thing, I think most of the antagonism over it comes from miscommunication. I would love to go to speakers with you!

  2. Nisha says:

    It takes a real hero to forgive someone who put them through so much misery. I still hold resentment towards a few kids who teased me in school. Talk about perspective!!!! Ha ha.

    She sounds like such an inspiring woman, you are very lucky to have gotten the chance to hear her speak…

    • Thanks for stopping by, Nisha, and I totally hear you on past resentments. I just blocked a Facebook friend request from a guy who was an ass to me in college. Yep, while I appreciated Eva’s message of forgiveness, I’m still working on putting into practice…

  3. How awesome that you got to go and hear Eva’s story. I have read many books about the Holocaust and watched some of the movies. I would have loved to go and hear this woman speak. But I will check out her websites and your links. Thanks for sharing this important information. I need to learn more, but I don’t understand why her own personal forgiveness was seen as controversial. Forgiveness is more for oneself than it is for the other person. Unforgiveness causes a person to relive and feel the pain over and over and to spend much time in sadness and other negative emotions. Still for her to have been able to forgive – that is incredible!

    • She was well worth seeing. Had I known she was holding a book signing before the presentation, I would have gotten there earlier. I agree that forgiveness is a personal choice albeit sometimes an incredibly diffcult choice to make. BTW, great post on your site about Homer and the jackalope. Guess those little buggers are more adaptable than we thought, huh?!?

  4. If you’re interested in more incredible Holocaust survivor stories, here’s a blog you need to visit: http://columbo1es.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/holocaust-revelations/#comment-11

    There’s an amazing and emotional story unfolding there and I don’t want you to miss it…

  5. Reblogged this on Hot off the Wire and commented:

    A story that bears repeating…

  6. Becca says:

    My great uncle Herman was one of the allied troops who liberated Auschwitz and he only spoke of it one time to me when I was little. It haunted me though and I think of this tall German-American manly man who emotionally told the story so we wouldn’t forget.

    • How brave of him to tell you; many veterans never spoke of their service. I remember from working the World War II Memorial Dedication that those men and women were among the most humble…and THANKFUL…people I’d ever met.

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