Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor delivered a keynote lecture on the importance of forgiveness yesterday as part of the Cummings / Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education.
Kor was introduced by Neubauer Executive Director of Hillel Rabbi Jeffrey Summit and Joe Philipson, the Mayerson Social Justice Fellow at the Hillel. Philipson spoke of the importance of students hearing Kor’s survival story.
“Whether you know a lot about what you’re about to hear tonight, or you know a little, it’s absolutely a moral imperative that you came and it’s a moral imperative that you keep coming because these kinds of atrocities don’t get committed over time,” Philipson, a junior, said. “They take careful planning and I think a lot of the warning signs are things that many of us look around the world and take for granted every day, even now.”
Kor began with the story of her time in Auschwitz, explaining that she arrived as a 10-year-old in the spring of 1944. She discussed how she was separated from her parents upon entering the camp and never saw them, or her older sisters, again.
“We stepped down from the cattle car onto a little cement platform called the selection platform I measured it in 1995 and it measures 85 feet long by 35 feet long,” she said. “In my opinion, there is no other spit of land like that anywhere on the face of this earth that has witnessed so many millions of people being ripped apart from their parents forever.”
Kor, who had an identical twin sister, spoke extensively about their time as subjects of Doctor Josef Mengele’s experiments on twins. She explained that three days a week, the two of them would be stripped and inspected for eight hours at a time. The other three days a week, they would have significant amounts of blood taken and be given injections of unknown chemicals. One day Kor became extremely ill and was taken to the prison’s hospital and separated from her sister.
“The next visit to the doctor, they didn’t take any blood tests, they didn’t give me any injections and they measured my fever,” she said. “I knew I was in trouble. They took me to the hospital … The next morning Doctor Mengele appeared with four other doctors. He never ever examined me and even then it seemed strange, all he did was look at the fever chart and, then … he said, ‘Too bad, she has only two weeks to live.’ I knew he was right, but I refused to die, and I made a second silent pledge that I would prove Mengele wrong and I would survive.”
Speaking of her liberation of death camp, and how she never spoke of Auschwitz with her sister until the 1980s, Kor explained that she learned important life lessons from her experience, including to never give up on her dreams. Kor also encouraged the attendees to remove their prejudices.
“Prejudice is one of the reasons Hitler was successful in rising to power,” she said. “Prejudice, as I look around the world today, is rampant.”
An advocate for forgiveness, Kor also spoke extensively about the letter she wrote to Doctor Hans M?nch, a Nazi doctor who did not work on her, but who was affiliated with Mengele at Auschwitz.
“What I discovered about myself was I had the power to forgive nobody could give me that power and nobody could take it away,” she said. “Forgiveness is nothing more, nothing less than an act of self-healing, self-liberation … It costs no money, every person could do it and it has no side effects.”