KRAKOW, Poland — Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who founded the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, died during a trip to Poland on Thursday. Her son, Alex Kor, spoke with CBS4 from Poland to share a more intimate perspective of his mother.
"She was a great mother, funny person, smart, tenacious," Alex said. "Had incredible qualities as far as being kind to people. She was tough, but she was fair."
Kor said he watched in awe as she connected with all age groups, especially children. He choked up when he recalled a time Eva told him about answering the questions of a 10-year-old child.
"She had a group of 10-year-olds, and they couldn't understand how she knew what to do at Auschwitz," Alex explained. "How did she survive? How could she survive? I mean, I don't know where she learned this. She went up to the kid, really close, like almost touching his face and he backed up. She said, 'Well how'd you know to do that?' And he said, 'Well, you got too close to me so I had to back up.' She said, 'Well that's how I survived Auschwitz, I just did things instinctively.'"
The longtime Terre Haute resident was on an annual trip to the country and died peacefully. The Jewish native of Romania was sent to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944, where most of her family was killed. She and her twin sister survived; both were subjected to medical experiments.
"For me as a son, it's the last place I wanted her to pass away, the very last place besides Auschwitz itself," Alex said of his mother dying in Poland. "For her to die at Auschwitz would have been worse, but this is a close second."
On Wednesday, one day before her death, Alex said Eva was at the selection platform at Auschwitz doing what she loved: educating people. This platform is the last place she saw her mother, father and two of her sisters.
"She gives a lecture, it's a very moving thing," Alex said. "She's talking to her parents, she has a letter she reads her dad and a letter she reads her mom."
Alex said someone listening was overcome with emotion.
"She says, 'Why are you crying?' They say, 'It's sad,'" Alex said. "She says, 'I'm alive, I'm still kicking. I'm going to make a difference.'"
Alex said the Los Angeles Children's Choir also found his mother while they were visiting Auschwitz yesterday. He said they serenaded her, even singing her favorite song, "Man of La Mancha" from the "Impossible Dream."
"She had the biggest smile on her face," Alex recalled. "We were in the middle of Auschwitz, it was like angels. I mean now it's like scary how crazy that was. I mean I found it really weird; the kids' voices were just so beautiful."
Years after the war, Eva and her husband settled in Terre Haute. Over the next few decades, she would share her story with millions of people around the world and become a beacon of forgiveness.
"Through Dr. Munch is the reason my mom forgave," Alex explained. "She didn't realize the benefits to her of forgiving this one Nazi doctor who had already been cleared of all charges."
Dr. Hans Munch was a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz who watched the selection process and death of thousands of people.
Alex said there will probably be a public memorial ceremony for his mother sometime this month. Those plans have not been officially made nor announced.