The day I forgave the Nazis, privately I forgave my parents whom I hated all my life for not having saved me from Auschwitz. Children expect their parents to protect them; mine couldn’t. And then I forgave myself for hating my parents.
Eva Kor, now 81, is a survivor of Auschwitz with her twin sister Miriam, both were held hostage for experimentation by Dr. Josef Mengele. Eva and Miriam’s two older sisters and their father and mother were murdered at Auschwitz; the twins survived the selection on the platform off the cattle cars, they were a prized commodity.
There is a rather lengthy back story to my personal interest in Mrs. Kor so I was pleased and surprised that she agreed to meet to discuss forgiveness with a small group of KE students. She had a very busy agenda during her visit last week to Denver, she was the keynote speaker at the ADL sponsored Governor’s Holocaust Memorial program and gave a number of local press interviews. Mrs. Kor does not have an entourage; she travels alone and travels a lot, speaking as often as she can about her experiences and about forgiveness.
Many are incredulous hearing Mrs. Kor speak about her forgiving the Nazis and specifically, forgiving Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death” [see her documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1017643289/.] Mrs. Kor states clearly that she is not speaking for or on behalf of anyone else. Her forgiving Mengele, which she struggled with for many years, is a private decision. “At first I was adamant that I could never forgive him but then I realized I had the power now, the power to forgive. It was my right to use it. No one could take it away.” She finds freedom in forgiveness and encourages others to find freedom as well. Her method is simple: write a letter to those that hurt you and then close the letter by forgiving them. She wrote such a letter addressed to Dr. Mengle. She wrote such a letter to each of her parents.
When I asked Eva about her parents whom she hated she initially gave the same answer that is the more public answer—they did not protect her and her sisters from the Nazis, they did not survive to take care of her and Miriam after the war was over. She then shared with candor that her Rumanian childhood was abuse filled, among the Mozes sisters, Eva was singled out by her father for harsh treatment. Her father’s abuse, and the lack of intervention by her mother or other adults led to both a smoldering hatred of her father and the development of a defiant child who would either outsmart him and avoid corporal punishment or stand up to him and exacerbate the beatings. She could not know that her father’s mistreatment would harden her resolve to defy and outsmart her Nazi captors; that she could only understand much later in life, and it still did not alleviate her hurt and anger toward her father. That is until she forgave Dr. Mengele. The wisdom in forgiveness she discovered is not about forgiving the other; it is about releasing the self.
Eva’s father never forgave her for being a girl. Mr. Mozes was blessed with two healthy girls, but he wanted a boy. Eva narrates about her birth: “When the midwife delivered Miriam she tried to lift my father’s spirits, ‘Don’t despair Mr. Mozes there is another one!’ He never forgave me for not being a boy.” Forgiveness has been and continues to be her theme—from her first breath to present ones. Eva Mozes Kor did not die in Auschwitz. She breathes on with a message so worthy of our attention: We can forgive even those that are unable or unwilling to forgive us. It is a freedom she wrested by writing a letter—and engraving the wisdom of forgiveness in her heart.