Freedom and Forgiveness
Eva Mozes Kor is scared. It is August 1993, and in front of her is Dr. Hans Münch, a former Nazi physician who worked in Auschwitz, Poland, during World War II. That’s where Eva spent roughly a year of her life, undergoing forced medical experiments in the infamous Nazi extermination camps. Yet despite their shared history, these two people have never met before.
Eva wants Münch to tell her details about the medical experiments his fellow physician Dr. Josef Mengele forced on her, her twin sister Miriam Mozes Zeiger, and roughly 3,000 other twins in Auschwitz. She wants to know specific details about why Miriam suffered severe kidney infections that were immune to antibiotics up until her death on June 6, 1993.
She doesn’t know she’s looking for something that Münch wants, too.
A MATTER OF SURVIVAL
Münch joined the Nazi party because there was no way to hold a job without party membership, according to the Jewish Virtual Library website. After obtaining his medical degree, Münch participated in bacterial research before joining the SS. While he had heard of the existence of concentration camps during the war, the Jewish Virtual Library says Münch claimed he was unprepared for what he encountered at Auschwitz.
“You had to sign a lot (of documents); that was top secret,” Münch says in reports on the website. “That was just a formality. And then my boss arrived … We had worked together in the same laboratory, and he told me everything, what it is all about in Auschwitz, and I could not understand how he could stay, how he could endure all of it.”
Münch did not perform experiments on those who came to be known as the Mengele twins. Instead, he led other medical experiments, working to prolong those experiments so that the prisoners involved would not die. Because of the way he interacted with prisoners, Münch was called the “humane Nazi,” the website says. He once gave food to a prisoner who was very ill. He also helped a small number of Jews prepare for their eventual escape from a train, giving the group a revolver and ammunition, said Dr. Louis Micheels, a prisoner who often spoke with Münch. After the war, Münch was the only one of 40 SS officers arraigned before a Polish tribunal who was acquitted of war crimes.
Eva was born in 1934 to a wealthy Jewish family in what is now Romania. In 1940, the Hungarian Nazis took over her village and the rest of the country. That was the start of severe harassment against Jews. Students at the time were taught that it was not a crime to kill Jews.
“They called me ‘dirty Jew,’” Eva says. “They spit on me and beat us up. When we complained to the teacher, the teacher punished us, and so we had no one to help us.”
Four years later, Eva and her family were taken by force to a ghetto. Two months later, toward the end of World War II, they were “packed like sardines” into a cattle car and taken by trains guarded by Nazis with guns on a four-day journey to Auschwitz. Soon afterward, Eva was ripped apart from her father, mother, oldest sister, and middle sister. She never saw them again.
“We were demanded to know from my mother that we were twins,” Eva says. “There was a lot of yelling, a lot of commotion. Nobody really understood what was going on. The Nazi came and pulled my mother in one direction, and we were pulled in another direction. The last time that I saw my mother was about 30 minutes after we were pulled from the cattle car.”
Eva and her sister became part of a group of 13 sets of twin girls, ages 2 to 16.
They were immediately marched to a huge building for processing, where they spent most of the day naked on the bleachers. There, their hair was cut short, and red crosses were painted on the backs of their dresses as a form of identification.
Their tattoos were inscribed with a gadget that looked like a writing tool. “They dipped it into ink,” Eva says. “Our tattoos were made by burning into our arms, dot by dot, A-7063 (for me), and A-7064 for Miriam.”
Crude, filthy barracks that were infested with lice and rats awaited them. In the latrine, Eva found the scattered corpses of three children.
“I made a pledge that Miriam and I would never end up on a filthy latrine floor,” Eva says. “From the moment I left the latrine floor, I did everything instinctively. I never, ever doubted that Miriam and I would survive.”
That meant fighting for her life despite a twisted routine that began at 5 a.m. each morning. Daily roll calls and inspections gave Mengele a chance “to know how many guinea pigs he had,” Eva says. The experiments began after breakfast. One twin was injected with unknown chemicals and substances, while the other twin was the “control.” While not all of the experiments were dangerous, they were often demeaning, Eva says. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, she was taken to another area for a blood letting in one arm. In her other arm, she was given injections of unknown drugs and substances.
It was after one of these injections that Eva became very ill and was sent to the hospital. There, Mengele looked at her fever chart.
“He looked like a movie star,” Eva says. “Dark hair, dark eyes, a very, very beautiful, angelic face. That might be the reason that people called him the angel of death. The only problem was that he was not a good person. He was a doctor, he was a very good Nazi, and he was a very immoral person. He did the experiments for the sake of advancing science, and for the sake of advancing the Nazi cause. And for that purpose, we Jews were not human beings.”
That day in the hospital, he said, referring to Eva, “Too bad, she’s so young. She has only two weeks to live.”
“I knew he was right,” Eva says. “I made a second silent pledge … I saw I must survive, I must survive.”
About that part of her past, Eva has only one memory — of crawling across the floor to reach a faucet. At the same time that Eva was in the hospital, her sister was in isolation. Doctors studied Miriam 24 hours a day.
“If I had died, (Miriam) would have been killed with an injection to the heart,” Eva says. “Dying in Auschwitz was very easy, surviving was a full-time job.”
“I don’t think, personally, that there were more deprived human beings on the face of this earth,” she adds. “We had no one to complain to, nobody cared. Crying didn’t help — who cared if we cried? We were not there to live and enjoy life. We were there to be the subject of experiments and that is all.”
Meanwhile, the war was coming to a close. Air raids started around the end of August 1944, cutting short the number of experiments on Mengele’s twins. By November, all the experiments stopped. It felt like a battlefield, Eva says.
“Jan. 27, 1945, we were free,” she adds. “We were alive. We had triumphed over unbelievable evil. For me to realize that Miriam and I were alive, my little promise to myself became a reality. That was an unbelievable experience.”
She and Miriam were 11 years old when they were then sent to displaced persons camps before returning to Romania. Later, they moved to Israel. Miriam continued to live in Israel, but Eva moved to the United States after she met Mickey Kor, a Holocaust survivor who was visiting his brother in Tel Aviv, Israel. The two met on a blind date and married three weeks later. Mickey and Eva moved to Terre Haute, Ind., so that Mickey could be close to his liberator, Lt. Col. Andrew J. Nehf.
A total of 1,500 sets of twins were used for forced medical experiments in Auschwitz. Of those 3,000 prisoners, only about 200 survived. Yet many of those who survived continued to have medical issues. Miriam, for instance, was always sicker after the war, Eva says. During her first pregnancy, Miriam had severe kidney infections that did not respond to any antibiotics. Later, in 1963, the infections worsened. Eva says the doctors learned that Miriam’s kidneys never grew larger than the size of kidneys in a 10-year-old child.
In 1981, Miriam had a third child and her age was advanced. She didn’t want to go on dialysis, so Eva donated her left kidney. She was a perfect match. Miriam was given anti-rejection medication along with at least 2,000 other kidney recipients. “None of them developed cancer,” Eva says. “Miriam was the only one. She died on June 6, 1993.”
THE FREEDOM OF FORGIVENESS
It is August now, in 1993. The war has been over for 48 years. Married, with two children, Eva has spent her life working as a real estate agent in Terre Haute, Ind., and it has been difficult, she says, to adjust to American life. Halloween is especially hard, as teenagers play pranks that inadvertently terrorize her. The pranks remind her of what she suffered while in Auschwitz. Her children and others do not understand what she has had to overcome. The only other person she was close to who knew the pain and humiliation of Auschwitz is now dead. And now, sitting across from her, is Münch, the Nazi doctor.
She is hoping to find out if he knew anything about the experiments she and her sister endured. “He treated me with the ultimate kindness and respect,” but Münch does not know anything about the experiments she and Miriam were forced to undergo. But he tells her that he knew of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and how they functioned.
“‘This is the nightmare I live with,’” Eva says Münch told her. “‘I had to watch the operation of the gas chambers and then, when the bodies were dead, I had to sign the death certificates.’”
Eva says she had not intended to ask Münch about the gas chambers. But she realized that his acknowledgement is very important. She asked him if he would travel to Auschwitz to sign a document in front of witnesses attesting to the existence of the chambers.
“I wanted it to be a document that, if I ever met with any revisionists, I could shove it in their face, so to speak,” Eva says. She also wanted to give Münch something in return.
“I kept asking myself, what I could give this Nazi doctor?” Eva says. “Months later, I thought, how about a letter of forgiveness? I decided this was a meaningful gift for Dr. Münch. It was my power. No one could take it away.”
Eva returned to Auschwitz with her children on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camp on Jan. 27, 1995. She met Münch there. Münch signed a document saying the gas chambers existed, saying, “I am so sorry that in some way I was part of it. Under the prevailing circumstances, I did the best I could to save as many lives as possible. Joining the SS was a mistake. I was young. I was an opportunist. And once I joined, there was no way out.”
Meanwhile, Eva signed a document saying she had forgiven all Nazis who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of her family and millions of others. “I, Eva Mozes Kor, in my name only, give this amnesty because it is time to go on; it is time to heal our souls; it is time to forgive; but never forget.”
While her decision was controversial, she says it was her own to make.
“I immediately felt that the burden was lifted from my shoulders,” Eva says. “I was no longer a prisoner. I was free of Mengele and I was free of Auschwitz. Forgiveness is an act of self-empowerment. Anger is a seed for war. And forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
AN HONOR TO SURVIVORS
The Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) organization was incorporated in 1984. Eva and Miriam wanted to learn what had happened to the other twins who survived Auschwitz and how the experiments they were forced to undergo impacted their lives. With Miriam’s help, Eva was able to locate 122 individual survivors of Mengele’s experiments. At the time, those survivors were living in 10 countries on four continents.
Now, however, Eva says only about 50 of the Mengele twins remain living today. Eva opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Ind., in 1995 as a way to honor her sister after Miriam died in 1993.
The Mengele twins are still searching for their Auschwitz files, the museum says. Meanwhile, Eva was instrumental in helping to pass a law in Indiana mandating that the Holocaust be taught in schools. It’s important, she says, to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, and that education is a very important thwart to prejudice.
“Young people should learn that there is always hope after despair, and there is a tomorrow after disaster, and if they don’t give up on themselves and on their dreams, they can accomplish a lot in their lives,” Eva says.
For more information about the CANDLES Museum, call 812-234-7881 or visit candlesholocaustmuseum.org.