By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate, who was a featured speaker in 2012 at the National World War II Museum and was also the subject of a featured 2018 documentary film broadcast over PBS (“EvaA-7063”), passed away on July 4, 2019, while traveling in Krakow, Poland. She was 85.
Kor, the founder of CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, had sponsored annual trips to Poland to promote her message of forgiveness for the Nazis in recent years.
Kor was a special speaker at the museum in September of 2012 during the curation of its “Deadly Medicine” exhibit, co-sponsored by the Tulane School of Medicine. A diminutive person in stature only, she vividly recalled how Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death,” had experimented on her and her twin sister Miriam while they were interned at the Auschwitz concentration camp. She and her twin were the sole survivors of her immediate family, which included both of her parents and two other sisters.
Following the war, Kor traveled to Israel and became a member of the Israeli army for eight years. She met another Holocaust survivor there and married, eventually emigrating to the United States and Terre Haute, Indiana, where she became a successful realtor for more than three decades despite not knowing initially how to speak English.
She raised two children, but had anger and bitterness roiling beneath her. She admittedly pulled away from her children at times and, occasionally, lashed out at others, such as when she complained about school officials wasting food at an Easter egg decorating event. In 1978, she recalled becoming ever more vocal following the airing of the NBC mini-series “Holocaust.” She became energized and began teaching others about what she had endured. Kor became obsessed with searching for Mengele’s files and to give visibility to what the Nazis had done to her and her sister and the other twins upon whom he experimented.
In 1986 at the Day of Remembrance held in the Capitol Rotunda, the largest-ever event recalling the Holocaust at that time, she was arrested by Capitol Hill police when she held a sign up during Eli Weisel’s speech and was dragged out of the hall screaming. No charges were filed against her.
She spoke out openly and often against the Nazis, creating teachable moments for Holocaust education where none had existed beforehand. Her efforts have been noted as shedding international spotlight on the cruel and unusual experiments conducted by Mengele on the estimated 1500 pairs of victims, almost all of whom died.
In more recent years, though, Kor became an unexpected advocate for forgiveness for what the Nazis had done. In an exclusive interview with the CCJN following her lecture in 2012, she said: “I don’t understand why the smart Jewish people do not understand that they can teach the whole world as an example.”
In a thick Polish accent, she continued. “If the Jews forgive the Nazis for all their atrocities, wouldn’t that show an extraordinary example to them that the Jews are teaching the world to heal?” she asked rhetorically.
Needless to say, many other victims were not as ready to forgive their former tormentors and murderers. “Jewish people seem to say to me that I, as a survivor, must remain a hater,” Kor responded. “What kind of a statement is that? If we want to help the victims, then the victims are the key to healing the world.”
In noting her passing, the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center that Kor founded in Terre Haute also announced that it will be closed in her honor until Tuesday, July. 9.
“The themes of Eva’s life are apparent,” the statement read. “We can overcome hardship and tragedy. Forgiveness can help us to heal. And everyone has the power and responsibility to make this world a better place. We hope Eva’s story continues to change the lives of those who hear it for many years to come.”
Information about a public memorial service for Kor are to be released at a future date.