Eva Kor and Josef Mengele - Forgiving the Angel of Death | Building Personal Strength
Eva Kor and Josef Mengele - Forgiving the Angel of Death
Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Josef Mengele was the evil German SS officer and physician known as the "Angel of Death" at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The purpose of the camp was to implement Hitler's "Final Solution." Jews and other people deemed undesirable were brought there by trains, and thousands were killed each day.
Mengele was a cold-blooded mass murderer. He met the trains and selected people for his grisly experiments. One of his pet projects was doing experimental medical procedures on sets of twins. He tested the effects of germ and chemical warfare agents. At the conclusion of each experiment, he killed the children and performed comparative autopsies on them. He tortured about 1,500 sets of twins. Only about 100 pairs of twins survived.
Eva Kor at Navarro H.S.
I recently met one of the survivors, 77-year-old Eva Mozes Kor. Eva, not quite five feet tall, is a highly energetic, articulate and straightforward woman with a rich sense of humor. She spoke in front of a group of middle school and high school students in the Navarro High School gymnasium about 25 miles south of Austin, Texas. She has made it her life's work to spread a message of peace and humanity to the world.
Her presentation had two parts. The second part was her story of how she came to forgive Mengele, the man who tortured and abandoned her to die, and all the other Nazis.
But first she described what happened to her at the camp, which helps people understand the magnitude of what she forgave. No doubt you've heard the stories and seen the films about the horror of the death camps. The reality was much worse than that. If you want to know about it, I encourage you to get a copy of Eva Kor's book, Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz (Tanglewood, 2009). By her account, she survived simply because she refused to die.
How she came to forgive Mengele and her other tormentors is an interesting story. About 20 years ago she was asked to speak to a group of doctors at Boston College. They asked her if she could bring one of the Nazi doctors with her. She didn't even know if any of them were still alive, but the request intrigued her. So she checked and found one living in Germany. In 1993 she visited him. To her surprise, the man treated her with humility, kindness and respect. When she asked him if he knew what was happening at Auschwitz, he said, "This is the nightmare I live with," and described how the Jews were killed. He didn't want to go with her to speak, but he agreed to sign a document.
Eva wanted to thank the doctor, but she didn't know how. Ultimately, she decided that she would give him a letter of forgiveness. It took her four months to write it, and in it she forgave everyone who ever hurt her. She even forgave herself for her hard feelings toward her parents. She even forgave Hitler.
It wasn't easy to do this. For one thing, the other surviving twins were angry with her. They misunderstood, thinking that Eva's gesture put a favorable light on the Nazis. But Eva experienced a surprising personal benefit. This is what she says on her website:
I believe with every fiber of my being that every person has the human right to live with or without the pain of the past, and that it is a personal choice. My question is, "How many people would choose to live with pain, when they could heal from it?"
I do believe that this healing is possible through the act of FORGIVENESS, and I believe in FORGIVENESS as the ultimate act of self healing, and self-empowerment. once a person decides to forgive, there is a tremendous feeling of wholeness in thought, spirit and action all moving in the same direction creating a powerful force for healing and freedom.
My forgiving the Nazis is a gift of freedom I gave myself, a gift of peace for myself. It is also a gift of peace for everybody who wants it. Both peace and war begin in the heart and mind of one person. Pain and anger are the SEEDS for WAR. FORGIVENESS is the SEED for PEACE!
When one human being harms another, the perpetrator lives with the burden of guilt. To atone, he or she can admit responsibility, resolve never to do it again, make restitution, apologize and ask for forgiveness. When the victim expresses forgiveness, some of that burden may be lifted.
Whether the guilty one does any of these things, however, the victim experiences a burden as well. It's the burden of pain and anger. The only thing that can lift this burden is forgiveness. "Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. It's an act of self-healing, self liberation, and self-empowerment," Eva explained to the students. "What was done no longer defines who I am. I let go of anger and bitterness."
It takes strength to forgive. You decide to stop nurturing hate, resentment, bitterness and other bad feelings about what happened. When you do, the burden is lifted from your heart and mind. What happened in the past stops being a part of your present and your future. You walk away from the incident, leaving it in the past.
Eva Kor - "I have no more nightmares. I can talk about it and I can joke about it, and it doesn't bother me."
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Photo of Mengele in public domain. 2011 photo of Eva Kor by Kathleen Scott, used with permission.)