WILMINGTON – Most resources to study World War II are secondary, such as films, books and websites. But Padua Academy as part of the school’s global initiatives program recently hosted a woman who experienced the war and, more specifically, the Holocaust in a horrifying and personal manner.
Eva Mozes Kor, 84, told a rapt audience at Padua the story of how her family was forcibly removed from their home in Romania and eventually taken to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.
She and her twin sister Miriam were the only members of the family – which included her parents and two older sisters – to survive, and they were subjected to a series of medical experimentations by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele.
But hers was not a story of anger and bitterness. In her introduction of Kor, Padua’s coordinator of global initiatives, Joanna Liang, said she was in Wilmington “to share her message of survival and forgiveness.”
Kor lived in a village of 100 families, and she said they were the only Jews. Her father figured the Nazis would not come for a single Jewish family, but by May 1940, her village was occupied by the Nazi army. She remembers her math book from school, which included exercises worded similar to this: “If you have five Jews, and you kill three, how many do you have left?” Each year, new laws were put into place to make their lives more difficult.
Still, her father would not move the family to Romania.
“The rumor was that life for Jews in Romania was much better,” she said. “It turned out to be correct.”
In March 1944, two gendarmes arrived and ordered her family to pack for a trip to the regional prison, or ghetto. It was an open field surrounded by high barbed-wire fencing, she recalled. There, her father was interrogated and tortured for allegedly hiding gold. Eventually, they were moved to Auschwitz on a cattle car.
“It was so hot. We had no provisions,” she said. She remembers keeping her mouth open when water from a hose was sprayed into the train car.
“I never got more than a few drops, nothing more than to wet my lips,” she said. “They were taking us to Germany to be murdered.”
Trouble for twins
In Auschwitz, the Jewish people were taken to a strip of land 85 feet long and 35 feet wide. She and Miriam were with their mother. As she walked to that strip, she turned around to find her father and older sisters gone. She never saw them again.
Once on the “selection platform,” she and Miriam were ripped from their mother. “I didn’t even realize that would be the last time I would see her. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
The twin girls and 12 other sets of twins survived the selection platform. Each was tattooed, and Kor’s has faded but is still visible on her left arm – A7063. In the latrine near her barracks, Kor saw the corpses of children, and she pledged to herself that she would not be joining them.
Three days a week, she was taken to a laboratory, stripped of her clothing, and had every aspect of her body measured. Her numbers were compared to Miriam’s. Three other days, she received injections.
“The rumor was they were germs, diseases and drugs,” she said.
At one point, Kor became so sick she was given two weeks to live by Mengele himself, but she proved him wrong.
“In Auschwitz, dying was easy,” she said. “Living was a full-time job.”
Her persistence paid off. The Soviet army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. She and Miriam went to live with an aunt who also survived the Holocaust. She reluctantly joined the Youth Communist Party in Romania and moved to Israel in 1950. Kor was drafted into the Israeli army in 1952 and rose to the rank of sergeant major in her eight years of service.
She married in 1960 and moved to Terre Haute, Ind., where she still lives. It was a culture shock for her.
“It’s like landing on the moon. The only thing Tel Aviv and Terre Haute have in common is they start with a ‘T,’” Kor said.
She and her sister never found their files to see what kinds of things had been injected into them, but Miriam’s kidneys failed in 1987. Kor donated one of hers. Miriam died from cancer in the 1990s.
Looking back at her life, she said there are three lessons she wanted to pass along to the Padua students and anyone else she has had the opportunity to address.
The first, she said, is that growing up is very hard no matter what the circumstances.
“If you give up, nothing will happen,” Kor said.
Second, prejudice destroys communities. She encouraged the students to treat others with kindness and fairness.
“I want you to always stand with the victim,” she said.
Being kind, Kor explained, is good for your heart and can change someone else’s life.
Thirdly, Kor said, we should forgive our worst enemies.
“It will heal your soul. It will set you free.”
Kor realized as her life progressed that being angry at Mengele and the Nazis did more harm to her than good. She opened the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute in 1995. The name stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.
She spoke at Boston College with a Nazi doctor. Kor was part of the award-winning documentary “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” and she wrote “Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz.” Kor is active on Twitter and other social media, and she still travels to make presentations.
She said forgiveness is the best revenge and is empowering.
“People who forgive are at peace with themselves and the world.”