Holocaust medical research survivor recounts her experience

The conference room on the seventh floor of the Newman Library Building was filled beyond capacity as young adults and elders alike struggled to find seats. A petite woman sat on the low stage. The dozens of people in the room had come to hear the story of her life, her struggles and her eventual success. Recognized as a survivor of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s medical research studies that took place during the Holocaust, Eva Kor had a lot to share with everyone in attendance. Born in the small Romanian village of Portz, Kor and her family were one of the few Jewish families in the community. Kor began her story by sharing the national-scale occurrences that factored into her eventual time in Auschwitz. Despite its history of wealth and prosperity, the German economy was in especial shambles due to reparations the nation was forced to pay to other countries, a condition of the Treaty of Versailles. “It was so badly put together,” Kor said of the treaty. “Germany was so badly oppressed.” When Adolf Hitler came to power, he designated a group that would take the blame for the nation’s woes: Jews. It was no accident that the first law passed by Hitler concerned eugenics, or the science of selective breeding. Under the law, Jews, gypsies and other “inferior” groups were not allowed to marry Germans. Hitler chose to replace the “inferior” population with blonde, blue-eyed, Aryan children. Ironically, Kor was able to survive the genocide due to the passing of eugenics laws, in which genetic studies were being performed on children. Mengele believed that “flawed traits” could be bred out of the gene pool. He fought on the German Eastern front, but was injured in 1942 and sent back to Berlin for recovery. It was during this time that he returned to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and pushed through the idea of continuing eugenics studies on children, this time using twins from Auschwitz. When Kor’s family was brought to Auschwitz by cattle car, she clung to her family members for safety and warmth. First she lost her father and sisters in the crowd, and then Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were torn apart from their mother. This was the last time the twins saw their parents and sisters. “I decided to give them as much trouble as I could,” Kor said about being taken in for medical tests for the first time. At this point, she was no longer known by her real name. To the Nazis, she was A-7063, the number permanently tattooed onto her arm so that she would never forget what she went through. When Kor showed her tattoo to the crowd, everyone stood up to get a better look. “In my mind I had an image of how Miriam and I walked out of the camp,” Kor confessed. They were escorted to a lab to undergo experiments each morning after breakfast. “On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would be placed naked in a room,” Kor explained. “Up to eight hours they would measure every part of my body, compare it to my twin sister.” But that was the easier part. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the two sisters would have their blood drawn from both arms, and numerous unknown substances were injected into their bodies. The same substances would eventually lead to Kor’s sister’s kidney failure after she gave birth to her children years later. In total, Mengele used 1,500 sets of twins for his experiments. Approximately 250 individuals survived. Kor did not have any connection with other children until around the time of the camp’s liberation. “I looked up across the river,” Kor recollected. “There was a little girl of my age who was dressed in beautiful, clean clothes, braided hair with ribbons, and she was carrying her school bag. That was my first time that I realized that in this big, crazy world there were children that looked like children and even went to school.” After the camp was liberated, the twins returned to Romania. Under communist rule, Kor was considered uncooperative. At age 14, Kor still wanted to study, but she was kept out of schools in Romania. She joined the Communist Party, and it took her two years to get a visa that would allow her to leave for Israel in order to resume her studies. After graduating, she became a craftsman. More striking than Kor’s positivity is her ability to forgive. “I have forgiven the Nazis. I have forgiven everybody,” she said. “I, a little victim of Auschwitz, have the power to forgive. No one could give me this power, and no one could take it away. All the victims of war are angry; they’re hopeless. I discovered that I am not all of them.” Juliann Gross, a student majoring in business communication, had a similar reaction to Kor’s story. “I have heard many survivor stories, but Eva’s will stick with me the most. Eva being so young and her being able to live a full life after being liberated is a relief as many survivors were not so lucky. I will be looking into her books she has written, and I will take her story of will and forgiveness with me always,” Gross said. Kor concluded her speech by urging her audience to forgive. “Any of you here who are in anger with anybody, who have felt victimized, have the power to forgive,” she claims. “Take a piece of paper and a pen, and write a letter of forgiveness to the people who hurt you. At the bottom, at the end of your letter, write the words ‘I forgive you.’”
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