VALPARAISO | Eva Mozes Kor sat on a stage in front of hundreds of area eighth-graders who gathered at Valparaiso High School on Friday morning, telling them how she summoned the will to live through the Holocaust.
“It was a spring day in 1944 when the cattle car came to a stop. I heard the German soldiers yelling outside and we were unloaded onto the inspection platform,” Kor remembered.
Her transport to Auschwitz as a Jewish prison lasted four days. She stood up the entire way because of crowding, and her life only was spared because she was an identical twin. Her sister Miriam and she were the only family members who survived on that day, the last day she would ever see her mother, father and two other sisters alive again.
As twins, Eva and Miriam were forced to endure years of experiments at the evil hand of Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death.”
“When I went to the latrine the first night I saw the scattered corpses of three children. The message I received was clear. Survive or end up dead. I made a silent pledge to myself. Miriam and I should not end up on the latrine floor. From then on I did everything instinctively and I had a mental picture of Miriam and me walking out alive,” said Kor.
She and her sister suffered from daily experiments, injections and bloodletting six of the seven days of the week. They suffered from daily starvation, infestation from lice and rats, brutality at the hands of armed Nazi guards, and mental torment beyond imagination.
Kor described being taken to the hospital to recover for weeks after receiving an injection that caused a high fever, swollen limbs and red patches on her body.
“Mengele came in and looked at me. He laughed sarcastically and said, ‘Too bad, she’s so young, she has only two weeks to live.’ I refused to die. I would prove Mengele wrong,” she said.
Dying meant that the other twin in Mengele’s experiments also would be killed, so Mengele could compare the corpses in his autopsy, said Kor, so she knew her survival meant her twin’s survival as well, and survive she did.
Crawling on the floor at night to sneak sips of water from the fountain helped to break Eva’s fever and after more than a month in the hospital she returned to the barracks.
“Dying in Auschwitz is easy. Living is a full-time job,” she said.
Eva and Miriam were only able to survive because of their strength and will to live. Eva began stealing potatoes so she and her sister could remain physically strong, and mentally Eva says her strength was renewed upon seeing an American plane fly over the camp in August 1944.
“Daily life in the camp was an endless nightmare, but this gave me hope to live one more day, to survive one more experiment,” she said.
After three months of increasing air raid frequency, the experiments stopped. The Nazis burned and blew up the camp to destroy the evidence, shot prisoners with machine gun spray, and fled. Miriam and Eva eventually made their way to an orphanage and then lived with an aunt for five years in Romania after the war.
Kor’s lessons to the students were simple.
“First, never ever give up, no matter how difficult your life is. Never give up on your dreams or on yourself. Two, everything you do in life touches every other person so judge people only on their merits and eliminate prejudice. Three, forgiveness is an act of taking power and control back over your life,” she said.
That last lesson came only after years of struggle for Kor, and not overtly but by chance after she met up with an Auschwitz doctor who had killed thousands of Jews during the war.
“I have forgiven him. I have forgiven the Nazis. I didn’t set out to, I just stumbled on that idea, but the minute I did, all the hurt lifted from me. Forgiveness is my power to use any way I wish, so if anyone has made you angry or hurt your feelings, you have the power to forgive them, not just for them, but for you. Once you’re a victim you cannot change it, but I forgive because I deserve to be free. It’s an act of self-empowerment,” she said.
Kor has lived in Terre Haute, Ind., for 52 years. She visits Auschwitz annually and has founded a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute.