INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Eva Kor’s descent into the hell of the Holocaust began in the spring of 1944 when she was taken by train to the Auschwitz concentration camp, separated from her family and subjected to inhumane medical experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele.
In June of 2019, Eva told her story of terror, deprivation, survival and forgiveness on a visit behind the walls of the Pendleton Reformatory as a guest of the prison’s American Legion.
A few weeks later, on July 4, while leading a group from her Terre Haute CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center on a return trip to Auschwitz, Eva died of a heart attack in Krakow, Poland.
But not before sharing her story one last time.
“My name is Eva Kor and I am a survivor of Auschwitz,” she told the assembled inmates. “I just underwent heart surgery in January that I am not fully recovered from it. I can’t walk very well but I plan to walk by next January when we are going to observe 75 years to the liberation of the camp.”
Monday, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb hosted a ceremony to mark Eva Kor Education Day at the Indiana Historical Society.
It was on January 27, 1945, after ten months of brutal treatment, Eva and her twin sister Miriam were photographed walking out hand-in-hand from the front gates of Auschwitz as they were liberated by advancing Soviet forces.
Eva and Miriam were four days away from their 11th birthday.
It was their luck to be born twins that saved the girls’ lives on the day the Kor family arrived at Auschwitz.
“I was holding on to Mother. A Nazi was yelling, ‘Twins! Twins!’” she recalled, “and he demanded to know from my mother if we were twins. And my mother asked, ‘Is that good?’ and he said, ‘Yes,’ and my mother said, ‘Yes.’ At that moment, the Nazi came and pulled my mother to the right and Miriam and I were pulled to the left and I remember seeing her arms put out in despair and she was pulled away.”
What followed was a war crimes medical experiment that consisted of injecting Eva with germs or viruses to compare the reaction with her uninfected sister.
“The next morning Doctor Mengele came into with four other doctors. He looked at my fever chart. He never examined me. He said to the other doctors, ‘Too bad, she’s so young. She has only two weeks to live,’” remembered Eva. “I kept telling myself, ‘I must survive, I must survive.’
“Dying in Auschwitz was very easy. Surviving was a fulltime job.
“I spoiled their experiment. I survived.”
After the camp’s liberation, with only her twin by her side, Eva returned to the family home in Romania before emigrating to Israel and finally Terre Haute where she married and raised two children.
Haunted by memories of the Holocaust, Eva made international headlines by her decision to forgive Mengele and her Nazi captors in 1995 while on a trip back to Auschwitz.
“Forgive your worst enemy and forgive everybody who has ever hurt you. It will heal your soul and it will set you free,” she told the Pendleton inmates. “When I decided to forgive the Nazis, which was a long-road decision, I realized I had power over my life.”
Eva spoke of an end to prejudice and the hope that the Department of Correction’s juvenile facilities could someday be closed in favor of agriculture and trade school training units.
“For you who are here in prison who committed terrible crimes, I believe that no child is a wolf and none of you were born to be criminals or born to be in prison or to be mistreated. I believe unfortunately that your early childhood was not a happy one.
“Yes, I had all the reasons to be angry with the world, and who would be suffering? It’s the dumbest thing people do, in my opinion. I realize that some people cannot forgive but forgiveness is not for the perpetrator. If it helps them, so be it, but I am thinking about myself. What can I as one human being do without hurting anybody because I never wanted to hurt anybody and make a difference in my life?
“I changed the relationship between Germans, Nazis and me.”
Eva received warm applause after her address.
“I would like to call you Ummi,” said one offender, invoking the Arabic phrase for mother. “You are all of our mothers, and what you done, it really affects us.”
Before leaving, Eva received fist bump congratulations from some of the inmates.
“I want you to think of one thing that would make a difference for good of the world that will help the world be a little better place,” Eva told the offenders. “Congratulations. You survived my lecture.”
During a ceremony honoring Eva’s memory at the Indiana Historical Society, it was announced that IHS would be the home of new exhibit of Kor family artifacts and other items beginning next year.
“Eva’s powerful messages of perseverance, hope and forgiveness will live on in this new exhibit,” said IHS President and CEO Jody Blankenship. “This is an ideal way for us to honor Eva’s memory and continue to educate people about her remarkable life and the thousands of lives she impacted all over the world. Eva’s son, Dr. Alex Kor, is donating a collection of some of Eva’s personal papers to the exhibit.”
The exhibit will also feature a virtual reality component to give attendees the sensation of actually visiting Auschwitz.