Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and/or tragedy. It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.
Forgiving is not forgetting. It is in many cases impossible to forget events that deeply affect us. They shape our lives for better or worse. In the case of the Holocaust, it is important to remember and educate so it cannot happen again.
Forgiving does not mean that we condone the evil deeds of the Nazis and/or other perpetrators, nor does it mean we wish them to be granted amnesty or political asylum. The question of justice is separate from the issue of forgiveness.
This concept of forgiveness has little or nothing to do with the perpetrators. It has everything to do with the need of victims to be free from the pain inflicted upon them.
This concept of forgiveness has nothing to do with any religion. All people yearn to live free of the pain and burden of the past. If it is confined to one religion, or any religion, then some people will not be able to access it.
Each person can forgive only in his or her own name. One cannot forgive in the name of all Holocaust survivors, nor can one forgive someone for something he or she did to someone else. One can only forgive for what was done to him or her. It is a personal act.
Forgiveness is not a way to counteract violence, to provide safety in the midst of violence or to advocate non-violence necessarily. When we feel our lives are in danger, most people will do everything they can to maintain their lives. Forgiveness is something to consider after the trauma has occurred.
Forgiveness is more than “letting go.” It is proactive rather than passive. We become victims involuntarily, when a person or entity with power takes away our power to use our mind and body in the way we choose. Something was done to us that put us in a position of feeling powerless. Thus the conscious choice to forgive provides healing, liberation, and reclamation of this power.
“Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
Eva Kor, Auschwitz survivor
The following is a speech delivered by Eva Kor, opening the "Biomedical Sciences and Human Experimentation at Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes—The Auschwitz Connection" symposium, June 7, 2001, Berlin.
Dear Fellow survivors, Dr. Markl, Dr. Sachse, Doctors, Scientists, Researchers and Guests.
Fifty-seven years ago I was a human guinea pig in Auschwitz. Much progress has been made in order for us to be here at the KWI/MPS, the institute that was in charge of our experiments. I thank you for holding this symposium. I hope we can all learn from the past and begin to heal our pain.
Twenty years ago, I began thinking about the other Mengele Twins and started actively searching for them. From the time I began to the time that we made our historic trip to Auschwitz and held the Mock Trial in Jerusalem in 1985, I have mailed out nearly 12,000 letters looking for my fellow survivors. With the help of my late twin sister, Miriam Mozes Zeiger, in 1984 we succeeded in locating 122 individuals/survivors of the Twins' experiments.
I care deeply for the Mengele Twins. Even though I am the founder and the President of CANDLES, I am not a spokesperson for all the twins. I am speaking today only for myself. I know that some of my fellow survivors do not share my ideas. But, we are all here to be honest, learn the truth and learn from this most tragic chapter of human history.
My speech is divided into two parts: 1: How I survived Auschwitz and how it felt to be a child guinea pig in Mengele's lab. 2: The lessons that I have learned from this tragedy.
It was the dawn of an early spring day in 1944 when I arrived in Auschwitz. Our cattle car train came to a sudden stop. I could hear lots of German voices yelling orders outside. We were packed like sardines in the cattle car, and, above the press of bodies, I could see nothing but a small patch of gray sky through the barbed wires on the window.
Our family consisted of my father, age 44; my mother, age 38; my oldest sister, Edit, age 14; my middle sister Aliz, age 12; and Miriam and I, who were only ten years old.
As soon as we stepped down onto the cement platform, my mother grabbed my twin sister and me by the hand, hoping somehow to protect us. Everything was moving very fast. As I looked around I suddenly realized that my father and two older sisters were gone—I never saw any of them ever again.
As Miriam and I were clutching my mother's hand, an SS hurried by shouting, "Zwillinge! Zwillinge! Twins—Twins?" He stopped to look at my twin sister and me because we were dressed alike and looked very much alike.
"Are they twins?" he asked.
"Is it good?" asked my mother.
"Yes," nodded the SS.
"Yes, they are twins," said my mother.
Without any warning or explanation, he grabbed Miriam and me away from Mother. Our screaming and pleading fell on deaf ears. I remember looking back and seeing my mother's arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled in the opposite direction by an SS soldier. I never got to say "good-bye" to her and I never got to do so because that was the last time we saw her. All that took 30 minutes. Miriam and I no longer had a family. We were all alone. We did not know what would happen to us. All that was done to us because we were born Jewish. We did not understand why this was a crime.
We joined a group of about eight sets of twins and waited at the edge of the railway tracks under SS supervision. Eight more sets of twins and one mother joined our group.
We were taken to a huge building and were ordered to sit on bleachers naked while our clothes were taken away. It was late in the afternoon when our clothes were returned with a big red cross painted on the back. Then our processing began.
When my turn came, I decided that I would not allow them to do to me whatever they wanted, and fought back. When they grabbed my arm to tattoo it, I began to scream, kick, and struggle.
Four people—two SS and two women prisoners—restrained me with all their strength, while they heated a pen-like gadget to red hot, then dipped it in ink and burned into my flesh, dot-by-dot, the number capital letter A-7063.
We were taken to a barrack filled with girls, all twins, ages 1 to 13 years old. Shortly after our arrival, everybody rushed to the front of the barrack where the evening meal was being distributed. The food consisted of a very dark, 2½ inch slice of bread and a brownish liquid they called coffee. Miriam and I looked at each other and although we had not had anything to eat or drink in 4 days, there was no doubt in our minds that we could not eat that bread because it wasn't kosher.
Then we offered our portions to the two girls who were showing us around. They grabbed it before we changed our minds, and laughing at our innocence, said, "Miriam and Eva, you can not be fussy here. You have to learn to eat everything if you want to survive."
After the evening meal, the two girls briefed us about everything in the camp. It was then that we learned about the huge, smoking chimneys and the glowing flames rising high above them. We learned about the two groups of people we had seen on the selection platform and what had happened to them. We learned we were alive only because Dr. Mengele wanted to use us in his experiments.
It was late in the evening when Miriam and I lay down on the bottom bunk bed to sleep. I could not sleep even though I was physically tired and mentally drained. As I was tossing and turning, I noticed something big and dark moving on the floor. I began counting—one, two, three—four…five… I jumped up from my bunk bed screaming, "Mice. Mice." I was always scared of mice when I encountered them on our farm in Transylvania.
"Those are not mice, they are rats. You will have to get used to them because they are everywhere," yelled out a voice from the top bunk bed.
Before trying to sleep again, Miriam and I went to the latrine at the end of the barrack. There on that filthy floor were the scattered corpses of three children. Their bodies were naked and shriveled and their wide-open eyes were looking at me. Then and there, I realized that could happen to Miriam and me unless I did something to prevent it. So I made a silent pledge: "I will do whatever is within my power to make sure that Miriam and I shall not end up on that filthy latrine floor.
From that moment on, I concentrated all my efforts, all my talents and all my being on one thing: survival.
In our barrack, we, the children, huddled in our filthy beds crawling with lice and rats. We were starved for food, starved for human kindness and starved for the love of the mothers we once had. We had no rights, but we had a fierce determination to live one more day—to survive one more experiment. No one explained anything to us nor did anyone try to minimize the risks to our lives. On the contrary, we knew we were there to be subjects of experiments and were totally at the mercy of the Nazi doctors. Our lives depended entirely on the doctors' whims.
Nothing on the face of the earth can prepare a person for a place like Auschwitz. At age 10, I became part of a special group of children who were used as human guinea pigs by Dr. Josef Mengele. Some 1,500 sets of multiples were used by Mengele in his deadly experiments. It is estimated that fewer than 200 individuals survived.
In Auschwitz, we lived an emotionally isolated existence. During the whole time I was in Auschwitz, Miriam and I talked very little. All we could say to one another was "Make sure you don't get sick" and "Do you have another piece of bread?" It took every ounce of my energy to survive one more day, to live through one more experiment. We did not cry because we knew there was no help. We had learned that within the first few days.
I remember being hungry all the time. I had a big decision to make very night when we received our daily ration of bread approximately 2½ inches. It was an agonizing decision each night when I would ask myself, "Should I eat the bread tonight? If I do, then I will have a whole day tomorrow without any food." The days seemed to be very long and without any food, they were even longer. While I was awake, I could feel the hunger—a pang in my stomach that sent pain through my skinny body. It was logical that I should save the bread for the next day. But If I put it under my head, by the next morning, it was gone—stolen or eaten by the rats.
I became very ill after an injection in Mengele's lab. I tried to hide the fact that I was ill because the rumor was that anyone taken to the hospital never came back. The next visit to the lab, they measured my fever and I was taken to the hospital.
The next day a team of Dr. Mengele and four other doctors looked at my fever chart and then declared, "Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live."
I was all alone. The doctors I had did not want to heal me. They wanted me dead. Miriam was not with me. I missed her so very much. She was the only kind and loving person I could cuddle up with when I was hungry, cold, and scared.
I refused to accept their verdict. I refused to die!
I made a second silent pledge, "I will do anything in my power to get well and be reunited with my sister, Miriam."
In the hospital barrack, we received no food and no medication. People were brought to this barrack to die or to wait for a place in the gas chamber. I was very ill, burning up with fever, between life and death. I remember waking up on the barrack floor. I was crawling because I no longer could walk. I wanted to reach a faucet at the other end of the barrack. As I was crawling, I faded in and out of consciousness. I kept telling myself, "I must survive. I must survive."
After two weeks, my fever broke and I began to feel stronger.
I decided to devise a plan that would show a gradual improvement in my condition. So, when the so-called nurse would come in and place the thermometer under my arm and leave the room, I would take it out, read it and if it was too high, I would shake it down a little. Then I would stick it back under my arm with the end sticking out. After three weeks my fever showed normal and I was reunited with Miriam. What a happy day that was!
Would I have died, Mengele would have killed Miriam with an injection to the heart and would have done comparative autopsies on our bodies. This is the way most of the twins died.
Three times a week we walked to the main Auschwitz camp for experiments. These lasted 6 to 8 hours. We had to sit naked in a room. Every part of our body was measured, poked and compared to charts and photographed. Every movement was noted. I felt like an animal in a cage.
Three times a week we went to the blood lab. There we were injected with germs and chemicals and they took a lot of blood from us.
I have seen some twins fainting from the great amount of blood that they lost. I believe the Nazis wanted to know how much blood can a person lose before it can cause death.
The experiments were in various stages and Mengele had an unlimited supply of guinea pigs in the camp. If a twin died as a result of the experiments, the other twin was injected with a phenol injection into the heart and comparative autopsies were done on both twins. When one pair of twins was lost to the experiments, another pair of twins would come in on the next transport to replace the pair who had been killed.
On a white snowy day, January 27th, 1945, four days before my 11th birthday, Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets and we were free. We were alive. We had survived. We had triumphed over unbelievable evil.
I have told you my story because there are some important lessons to learn from it: I, Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of Mengele's medical experiments have learned that human rights in medical experimentation is an issue that needs to be addressed. Those of you who are physicians and scientists are to be congratulated. You have chosen a wonderful and difficult profession; wonderful because you can save human lives and alleviate human suffering but difficult because you are walking a very narrow line. You have been trained to use good judgment, to be calm, cool and collected but you can not forget that you are dealing with human beings. So, make a moral commitment that you will never, ever violate anyone's human rights or take away anyone's human dignity. I appeal to you to treat your subjects and patients with the same respect you would want if you were in their places. Remember that if you are doing your research solely for the sake of science and not for the benefit of mankind, you have crossed that very narrow line and you are heading in the direction of the Nazi doctors and the Dr. Mengeles of the world. Medical science can benefit mankind but medical science can also be abused in the name of research.
We are meeting here as former adversaries. I hope we can part as friends.
My people, the Jewish people, are hard-working, intelligent and caring. My people are good people. We did not deserve the treatment we received. No one deserves such treatment.
Your people, the German people, are hard working, intelligent and caring. Your people are good people but you should never have permitted a Hitler to rise to power.
There is a lot of pain that we, the Jewish people, and you, the German people carry around. It does not help anyone to carry the burden of the past. We must learn to heal ourselves from the tragedies of the Holocaust and help our people to heal their aching souls.
I would like to share with you my ultimate act of healing from the horrors of 56 years ago. I do realize that many of my fellow survivors will not share, support, or understand my way of Healing. There might be some people on both sides who will be angry with me. I understand that. I believe we should not go on suffering forever. This is the way I healed myself. I dare hope that it might work for other people.
I have forgiven the Nazis. I have forgiven everybody. At the fiftieth anniversary observance of the liberation of Auschwitz, in a ceremony attended by my children, Alex and Rina and by friends, I met with a Nazi doctor, Dr. Hans Münch, a former SS doctor at Auschwitz, and with his children and granddaughter.
In July, 1993, I received a telephone call from Dr. Mihalchick of Boston College who asked me to lecture at a conference on Nazi medicine. Then he added, "Eva, it would be nice if you could bring a Nazi doctor with you." I said, "Dr. Mihalchick, where am I going to find a Nazi doctor? The last time I looked they were not advertising in the yellow pages."
"Think about it," he said.
In 1992, Miriam and I were co-consultants on a documentary on the Mengele Twins done by ZDF, a German television company. In that documentary they had interviewed a Nazi doctor by the name of Dr. Hans Münch.
I contacted ZDF to ask them if they would get me Dr. Münch's address and phone number, in the memory of my sister who had died the month before. An hour later, I had his address and phone number. A friend of mine, Tony Van Renterghem, a Dutch Resistance fighter, contacted Dr. Münch. Tony called him and then called me to tell me that "Yes, he's alive, willing to give you a videotape interview." That was July, 1993. By August, I was on my way to meet Dr. Münch.
In August of 1993, I arrived at Dr. Münch's house. I was very nervous. I kept asking myself, "How would I feel if he treated me like nothing—the way I was treated in Auschwitz?" Dr. Münch treated me with the utmost respect. As we sat down to talk, I said to him, "Here you are—a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz—and here I am—survivor from Auschwitz—and I like you, and that sounds strange to me." We talked about many things. I asked him if, by any chance, he knew anything about the operation of the gas chambers. And he said, "This is the nightmare I live with." Then, he proceeded to tell me about the operation of the gas chambers and that when the bodies were dead, he had signed the death certificates.
I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, "Dr. Münch, I have a big request to make of you. Would you please come with me to Auschwitz in January, 1995, when we will observe fifty years to the liberation of Auschwitz and sign a document at the ruins of the gas chambers and in the presence of witnesses about what you have told me?" He said yes. I went home delighted that I was going to have a document about the gas chambers at Auschwitz—a document that would help me combat the Revisionists who say that there were no gas chambers.
I tried to think of a way to thank Dr. Münch. Then, one day, I thought, "How about a letter of forgiveness?" I immediately realized that he would like it. I also realized that I had the power to forgive. No one could give me this power and no one could take it away.
I began writing my letter to Dr. Münch, and friends who spell better than I do met with me to correct the letter. One of them threw a question at me. "Would you be willing to forgive Dr. Mengele?" It was an interesting question, and I thought about it and decided that I could. Well, if I forgave Mengele, I might as well forgive everybody. I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that it made me feel good inside that I had that power. In January, 1995, my children, Alex and Rina, my friends and I, and Dr. Münch with his children and granddaughter arrived in Auschwitz.
On January 27, 1995, we were standing by the ruins of one of the gas chambers. Dr. Münch's document was read and he signed it. I read my Declaration of Amnesty and then signed it. I felt a burden of pain was lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz. I was no longer a prisoner of my tragic past. I was finally free. So I say to everybody: "Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and set you free."
The day I forgave the Nazis I forgave my parents because they did not save me from a destiny in Auschwitz and I also forgave myself for hating my parents.
My latest thoughts on how to heal the pains of the past are different than most victims. As I understand it, most governments and world leaders bear a heavy burden in trying to keep the world at peace. In my opinion, they have failed miserably by not advocating, encouraging and facilitating survivors of tragedies such as the Holocaust to forgive their enemies, which is an act of self-healing.
Most governments and world leaders advocate and support one thing only—justice. Justice does not exist, and by demanding justice they condemn the victims to life long suffering.
Let's explore a possible scenario that could have changed things for both victims and victimizers.
All the Nazi criminals would have been encouraged to come forward to testify to the crimes they committed, in return for their freedom. The perpetrators or victimizers would also pay financial retribution for 5 to 10 years and those funds would have gone into a special reconciliation fund to assist the victims in rebuilding their lives. The victims could testify if they so choose.
The victimizers' testimonies would validate the victims' suffering.
As it is today, I still don't know what was done to us. But, Mengele could have solved this problem by testifying. Both the victims and the victimizers—by verbalizing their painful memories—could have started the healing at once.
As it has happened, the victims were silent and hurting. The victimizers were silent, hurting and hiding. The victims anguished in pain. The victimizers anguished in pain, shame, and fear of being caught. The added tragedy of all this is that the victims have passed on to their children a legacy of pain, fear and anger. The victimizers have passed on to their children a legacy of pain, shame, and fear.
How can we build a healthy, peaceful world while all these painful legacies are festering underneath the surface?
I see a world where leaders will advocate and support with legislation the act of forgiveness amnesty and reconciliation rather than justice and vindictiveness.
We have seen in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, that victims have become victimizers and victimizers have become victims.
Let's try something new to end this vicious cycle.
I would like to end my lecture by saying that I hope this courageous gesture of Dr. Markl and the Max Planck Society becomes an example to the world of how we might learn to cope with the past. As a German friend of mine has said, "Why can't your people and my people be friends?"
I would also like to thank Dr. Benno Müller Hill for his years of friendship and his role in pioneering this symbolic apology.
I would also like to quote from my Declaration of Amnesty: "I hope, in some small way, to send the world a message of forgiveness; a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of healing.
Let there be no more wars, no more experiments without informed consent, no more gas chambers, no more bombs, no more hatred, no more killing, no more Auschwitzes.
Dr. Hans Munch
Dr. Hans Munch was a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz who witnessed the selection process and gassing of thousands of innocent people. He was acquitted of war crimes at the Krakow War Crimes Trial in 1947. He agreed to meet with Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor at his home in 1993, where she videotaped an interview with him. After the meeting, Eva wrote Dr. Munch a letter of forgiveness. The two met in Auschwitz in 1995, where he signed documentation of the gas chambers. Eva also issued a declaration of amnesty to all Nazis.