Eva Mozes Kor is a survivor of the Holocaust, forgiveness advocate, and public speaker. Powered by a never-give-up attitude, Eva has emerged from a trauma-filled childhood as a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome. She is a community leader, champion of human rights, and a tireless educator.
When Eva and her sister Miriam were six, their village was occupied by a Hungarian Nazi armed guard. The Mozes family was the only Jewish family in the village. In 1944, after four years’ occupation, the family was transported to the regional ghetto in Simleu Silvaniei for about 2.5 months. Then they were packed into a cattle car and transported to the Auschwitz death camp. Eva and Miriam became part of a group of children used as human guinea pigs in genetic experiments under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele. Approximately 1500 sets of twins—3000 children—were abused, and most died as a result of these experiments. Eva herself became deathly ill, but through sheer determination, she stayed alive and helped Miriam survive.
The video below made by BuzzFeedVideo – I Survived The Holocaust Twin Experiments is featured in two different locations: on YouTube, where it has over 4 million views, and on Buzzfeed’s Facebook page, where it has over 179 million views. Incredible!
The Story Behind Requesting an Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Eva Mozes Kor I reached out to Eva Mozes Kor by e-mail in November 2017 where I told her, she was truly the strongest soul I have ever read about and seen on tape. My goal for this interview is to reach out to peoples hearts in the way that they too can experience change and forgiveness. I have a short and personal story to share myself before we continue with Holocaust Survivor, Eva Mozes Kor who is known for forgiving the Nazis. My grandmother on my father’s side was also in the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. She was only 23 years old, only a year older than she was in the photo that you can see from below.
I have always wanted to talk to a witness of the Holocaust, even before I knew that my family had this horrid past. I never got the chance to speak to my grandmother since my father left me at a very young age. I was told that I met her once when I was a baby and that she had wanted to see me ever since. A year after this photo was taken at the age of 23, August 1st of 1944, my grandmother was deported to Ravensbrück to work at the concentration camp. Ravensbrück was a German concentration camp exclusively for women from 1939-1945, located in northern Germany. The largest single national group consisted of 40,000 Polish women. 15,000 survived until liberation and one of those women was my grandmother.
It’s unfathomable that I would not have been here if my grandmother didn’t survive the camp. I can’t even begin to express how I feel right at this moment, it’s a terrible feeling to not know what she went through during this period of time she held as a slave labor prisoner. When I look at the photo above which is the only thing I got from my cousin living in London, I can see freedom and happiness. Just look at the smiles on the faces in the streets. It resembles a market of some sort. I still can’t get it out of my head how a single fragment of time can alter the future.
I am amazed to be alive.
I am lucky.
All of the questions from the interview is derived from days of meditations where I reflected on the topic of forgiveness. Having talked to Eva on December 5th of 2017, I am filled with gratitude and left with a feeling of hope, that one day we can all begin to acknowledge the greatest power that resides within ourselves, which is to live, love and forgive.
Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Eva Mozes Kor: On Cultivating The Art of Forgiveness below.
TNK: How would you define what forgiveness means to you personally?
Eva: It is one of the smartest and most therapeutic things that I have done for myself to make my life better, more pleasant, more joyous and happier. There is nothing on the face of this earth that I have done before, that even comes close to forgiveness. People think and mistakenly, that forgiveness is for the perpetrator. My forgiveness is for me, the survivor, the former victim. The perpetrator doesn’t even know anymore if I exist or that I could feel all the pain and anger I was living with every day.
TNK: How were you able to find it in your heart to forgive the Nazis? What made you change your mind?
Eva: I met with a Nazi doctor, Dr. Hans Münch at my own initiative in 1993. He was willing to meet with me and I was definitely excited about meeting him. He was in Auschwitz and I thought I could learn more about the experiments that were done on us. As I ask him when I met with him, I asked him about the gas chamber and when he told me that yes he saw the operations of the gas chamber and that he would sign a letter, a statement, death certificate stating how many people died. I felt it was very important information and I wanted him to go with me to Auschwitz to sign the statement that he had signed the death certificate. He said he was willing to go with me to Auschwitz and sign a document where he would talk to me about how the gas chambers worked.
“Because thanking a Nazi isn’t exactly the popular thing to do and I knew it was strange. It took me ten months, I thought about it every day and after ten months a simple idea popped into my head, what if I gave him a letter of forgiveness.”
– Eva Mozes Kor
I wanted to thank him and I didn’t know what to give him as a thank you. Because thanking a Nazi isn’t exactly the popular thing to do and I knew it was strange. It took me ten months, I thought about it every day and after ten months a simple idea popped into my head, what if I gave him a letter of forgiveness. From me the survivor to him the Nazi doctor. I knew that would be a good gift for him. And it was, and that is the way I came up with the letter of forgiveness and it took me a couple of months to write it. We arrived in Auschwitz to sign the document, he was so surprised and he grabbed the letter before anybody signed it. I said no, I have witnesses to sign it if anybody ever says you didn’t sign it. He was very excited and I think it changed his life too.
TNK: Did you encounter any criticism after you forgave the Nazis? From persons close to you?
Eva: Oh my goodness! The sky broke loose and everybody was hating me, none of the survivors wanted to talk to me and even today they are arguing. They have developed a statement saying; – “well if it makes you feel good, you can forgive, but why do you make such a big noise about it?” So this year I said to them; “If somebody discovered the cure for cancer, a cure for diabetes, should they be quiet about it?» I have discovered the cure for helping victims to heal themselves, should I be quiet?” And after that, they have nothing to say.
TNK: How did you feel after you had forgiven them for what they had done to you, and in what way did your life change?
Eva: Well, at the beginning I wasn’t really sure if it had any big ramifications, I know it made me feel good that I was no longer a victim, that I was no longer angry, that I didn’t want to hurt anybody, that I liked who I was and it didn’t mean that I had forgotten everything that had happened. I didn’t. But by remembering I wasn’t angry with what had happened because the anger was removed and that was the biggest part. I did not know how the world would feel about that.
– “I knew that religious people liked it, but I am not religious and it had nothing to do with religion.”
It has to do with human being having the right to be free of the pain that happened in the past. I have been trying to convince The United Nations. I wrote them a couple of times and I have worked on it very hard, because on December 10th will be 69th year to the declaration of Human Rights. I think that there should be one paragraph that every human being has the human right to be free of any pain that was imposed on them in the past and they can do that if they so chose by forgiving. But I am not getting any help from anybody so anyway I keep talking about it.
How on earth can we harvest all that anger and turn it into good? There is so much energy wasted on being angry and killing. If we can turn the anger that makes people so mean, if we can turn anger into understanding, into hope, into love, and into peace, the world could live very well. And I still haven’t figured out how to do that.
TNK: You are doing a very good job, Eva.
Eva: I have succeeded as people come to me and listen to me, at the beginning some of them are angry and they don’t understand how they can turn it off. There is tremendous power in forgiveness, more power than there is in hate and anger and if they realize they don’t need anybody’s permission, anybody’s acceptance, they can do it just because they want to. Forgiveness is much more important to me than reconciliation because reconciliation takes two people and two people are very difficult to convince, but if everybody accepts that forgiveness hurts before they do anything for reconciliation or agreement it would be so much easier wouldn’t it?
TNK: How do we begin to cultivate the art of forgiveness?
Eva: Well, that is something I am trying to figure out and basically, teachers bring children here and if we can teach them from a young age, that if they have something wrong happen to them they can get over it or live with it by forgiving. They can not change what happened, that is a prejudice that people want to change what happened, you cant. It’s impossible, nobody can do it. But if you can change the way you relate to that and use it as a source of strength, but if you can overcome one difficulty in life you can use that, «I overcame that, I can overcome this too» And that is the way we become stronger and stronger.
TNK: I have seen one of your interviews where you talked to students in the Vivian Auditorium at the University East of Indiana. You told the story of your English professor who gave you a home assignment. You went home, closed the bedroom door and picked up a dictionary. You would envision that Josef Mengele was in the room with you. You found the nastiest of words from the dictionary and shouted them to the imaginary Mengele that had conducted the experiments on you during the Holocaust and in spite of the things that he had done to you, you forgave him. Do you remember what you felt at the moment?
Eva: To realize that I even had power over the Angel of Death, that is what forgiveness does. That is a tremendous big power because we can forgive everybody who has harmed us and there is nothing anybody can do to change it, to stop me. There is such a power in it if we can forgive people like Mengele or people who have done other things to us, that is a power they can’t do anything against and with that, your feeling of being whole and complete. What really forgiveness does in another way if somebody is harmed they feel that they are not whole and that something has been removed from their life.
– “To realize that I even had power over the Angel of Death, that is what forgiveness does. That is a tremendous big power because we can forgive everybody who has harmed us and there is nothing anybody can do to change it.”
The innocence cannot be returned, but the feeling of wholeness and well-being can be returned and the fact that I can even forgive my worst enemy makes me feel whole and complete, nothing is missing from my wellbeing. I can even look at my enemy and wish them well and forgive them and hope that life goes on. That is the biggest gift that I can give myself, by doing that I make my life whole. I will tell you I am 83 years old, I can’t walk very well, it hurts here and it hurts there, but I get up every morning and I know that somebody wants to listen to me. That is the greatest feeling for an 83-year-old lady to help people who want to hear what I have to say. I am the luckiest 83 year old in the world. I like to make jokes, when I told a Dr. in Boston that I wanted to bring a Nazi Dr to Auschwitz to the lecture, – “I said where do I find those kinds, they are not advertising in the telephone book.” He said I like to make jokes, – “I said they are more fun than crying.” You have to develop a sense of humor. This is a difficult and serious topic and that I put my audience at ease and give them permission to laugh and release that tension that builds up in a lecture. I feel it is very important for them.
TNK: I would love to ask you a favor, I would love for you to think of a gift of love that you can share with the whole world. A gift that keeps on giving. What is your message to the world?
Eva: Well I can’t have any bigger gift to the world, it is simply that everybody can do it. You don’t need any money for it, it’s free. If you have any enemies that you have been angry with take a piece of paper and write them a letter of forgiveness. Do not mail it to them, keep it for yourself because once you forgive, you are passing on the message of peace, healing, hope, and forgiveness. And if you don’t believe it works, look at the world as if you are standing by a riverside or a lake and you throw in a rock and you see a ripple. And if a hundred people throw in a rock and you can see ripples touching ripple. So everything we do in our lives is like a ripple in the lake, it touches the lives of many people. And we can create a ripple of peace in the world. When I speak on love, understanding, and forgiveness, I feel that should I speak of anger and hate, this is where people are wrong when they involve themselves in anger and hate, they are suffering too. If they want to feel good, they should get involved in peace, love, and forgiveness. And it is not that difficult. If I could do it anybody could do it.
TNK: If you could change one thing in your life, what would that be? And why?
Eva: I would like every child in the world to be born into a loving family because of some of the problems in the world, come from children who are not born into loving families. When nobody cares about them, then they are angry and they go out into the world and I wish I could have a magic wand and every child on this face of this earth deserves to grow up with love and caring and the feeling of safety and security.
If that would happen, they would become happy, hopeful and peaceful citizens of the world. And I also would like their parents to be talking to their children about all the issues that are in the world, so they send them out into the world with a lot more knowledge. Knowledge is important, but if there is one thing that I could do, I have one wish that every child deserves to have a loving mother and father and there is no substitute for it. There are lots of children even here in my community who do not have loving parents, they are addicted to drugs or they don’t want their children and what happens to those children? And that is a very sad thing, I can’t adopt them all. I have raised two of my own. But I lecture to them and sometimes I tell them that they have to be strong and they have to do the right thing in their life.
TNK: There are many people in today’s world that suffer, many people that wish they were as strong as you have been and they look up to you. My vision of www.mettayoga.net is to raise awareness of self-love, self-compassion through the Yogic technology particularly towards those that suffer. I have many readers that struggle with anxiety and depression and I know personally that there is «hope after despair» to quote you, and if you never give up on your dreams of a better future, you can become liberated. But still many individuals find it very challenging to even begin to think differently. What advice would you like to share with these people that don’t know how to find forgiveness in themselves? If you could give these particular individuals an assignment on how they could begin to cultivate the art of forgiveness, what would that assignment be?
Eva: In every part of the world, even in Norway there are people who need help. I think Norwegians are kind of serious and reserved people and maybe they need to be warm and openhearted. Maybe you will do that for some of your fellow Norwegians. But you can also reach out through the internet to the world.
When people say I can’t forgive the Nazis, I can’t forgive the people who hurt, I can’t forgive the people who killed my child. I say Ok, I am asking them a question; Do I deserve to live free from what was done to me? Of course, everybody says yes. And I say how do you think that is going to happen? Who is going to give me that freedom? Do you think somebody will come in with a little bird and drop off an envelope saying you are free? No, I have to work at it. And therefore I am going to work at it and write my letter and think through it until my actions feel that I am free. I am going to keep writing the letter until the moment I can say and mean the words, I forgive. It took me four months, it took a lot of time. It might take somebody a year, don’t give up on the idea but most people will take less than a year. That is the whole question, -” Do I deserve to be free and happy or do I deserve to live my life in misery?” And I think if you ask people this question, everybody believes that they have the right to live free and happy. I have a t-shirt that we put that statement on the back; I have the human right to be happy and free from all the pain that was put on me.
That is what I want to put in the Human Rights Declaration, I have written to the United Nations but they haven’t even answered me. So I don’t know how to get to the United Nations, they believe in everything but forgiveness. And they are the organization that could spread forgiveness much better in the world than I can on my own, I don’t have much help, I don’t have an organization. I can write to the United Nations, but they wouldn’t even show my film. Two years ago we were supposed to be there and they canceled it the last minute because some survivor didn’t like it.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
– Mark Twain
Learn more about Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor`s story at http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/ were she is the Founding Director.
CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center serve the mission to shine a light on the story of Holocaust and Eva Kor to illuminate the world with hope, healing, respect, and responsibility. The museum is the only organization in the world dedicated to the memory of the twin victims and survivors of medical experimentation at Auschwitz. Their aim is to work to prevent genocide on a global level and transform prejudice on a local level and aim to create a world free from hatred and genocide.
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Thank you for reading and thank you from the bottom of my heart, Eva Mozes Kor, for sharing how you Cultivate the Art of Forgiveness. I am blessed and humbled by our conversation and it will stay with me as long as I live.
Written with loving kindness,
Tiaga Nihal Kaur
You can reach Tiaga Nihal Kaur at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Metta Yoga on Twitter @Metta_Yoga Instagram and @mettayoganet