I was perusing my Facebook wall a couple days ago, and as I was scrolling down, I went past an article about a Holocaust survivor and a few words caught my eye – “Former Auschwitz SS guard, Holocaust survivor embrace at trial.”
For the briefest of moments, I wasn’t sure of what I saw. I was thinking that perhaps, as at the trial of former U.S. auto worker and Nazi German extermination camp Sobibor guard John (Ivan) Demjanjuk in Israel in 1987, where the accused tried to shake a survivor witness’ hand, that this latest Nazi on trial succeeded at forcing his affections on a witness. But the headline didn’t say that. So I quickly scrolled back up to get a better look.
I clicked on the article and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A former Auschwitz concentration camp guard, on trial for being an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 people, and one of the survivor witnesses, briefly embraced in the courtroom. Then former German SS Sgt. Oskar Groening, 93, kissed the witness, Eva Mozes Kor, 81.
After the encounter, Kor said, “I was a little bit astonished. It was not planned. This is what you see when you see two human beings interact. He likes me, how about that? I am going back to the US with a kiss on my cheek from a former Nazi. This shows that former enemies can get along as human beings. What on earth do we want to tell the world? Killing each other has never created anything good. I want to teach young people that even former Nazis and survivors can get along.”
“He likes me, how about that?…” Such gushing? What is going on here?
In 1944, at the age of ten, Eva Mozes and her family were transported from a Hungarian ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Because she was a twin with her sister, Miriam, they were not sent to die as were her parents and two older sisters. The “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele, fascinated by twins, placed the girls in a group to be used as human guinea pigs in genetic experiments.
Both girls survived, and in 1984, Eva Kor founded CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors), and the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in 1995 in Indiana.
Also, in 1995, fifty years after its liberation, Kor went to Auschwitz, and standing by the ruins of one of the gas chambers, she forgave what the Nazis had done.
This is how her “Declaration of Amnesty” began: “I, Eva Mozes Kor, a twin who as a child survived Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz fifty years ago, hereby give amnesty to all Nazis who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of my family and millions of others.” Within her declaration, she added that she gave that amnesty in her name only and, “It is time to forgive, but never forget.”
Well, what can one make of this self-only, absolvement-deciding, and many would say self-indulgent and self-delusional lady? At least she had the courtesy to not include all the others who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Eva Kor has spent many years speaking to different groups about the Holocaust and she has also given related tours. A documentary about her, entitled “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” was released in 2006. She says she made peace with herself and those who harmed her and her people, and she feels she lifted a huge burden off her shoulders. Kor also believes forgiving the Nazis freed herself from her status as a victim.
As many of you know from my Yom HaShoah column a couple weeks back, my parents were Holocaust survivors. My mother, who miraculously survived Auschwitz herself, used to speak at high schools about her ordeal. I am certain she never employed the terms amnesty or forgiveness. And I do not have to wonder what my mother, who passed away in 1989, would think about Kor’s declaration and her personal intentions. Regina Altman never shied away from the blunt truth, and she would have some very choice words, some very harsh words indeed, for her fellow Auschwitz survivor.
As a human being, not as a Jew or the child of survivors, although admittedly it is hard to separate that, I believe, although Ms. Kor may be a woman of substance who has done much good with her education about the Holocaust and her advocating that former Nazis be exposed and prosecuted, that is merely one side of the equation.
Some of you may disagree, but I personally find her declaration, her embrace of Groening, and her statement afterward disgusting and offensive. I also believe that there are many keys to freeing oneself of victimhood, and depending on the circumstances, forgiveness need not be one of them. And there are some crimes and criminals that can never be forgiven. Ever.
Toward the end of her Declaration of Amnesty, Eva Kor, 60 at the time and apparently being able to think rationally, announced “Look up to the skies, here in Auschwitz. The souls of millions of victims are with us – and I am saying, with them as witnesses: Enough is enough. Fifty years is more than enough. I am healed inside, therefore it gives me no joy to see any Nazi criminal in jail, nor do I want to see any harm come to Josef Mengele, the Mengele family or their business corporations. I urge all former Nazis to come forward and testify to the crimes they have committed without any fear of further persecution.”
Nazis fearful of persecution? Really? Poor babies.
First, Ms. Kor, even though you say your words are yours alone, they can be understood to mean others agree with you, even the souls of whom you speak, when they don’t. You looked up to those souls in heaven, but they looked down at you, and may have considered your statement selfish, even loathsome. And others may say, if she can forgive and wish to free war criminals from “persecution,” why can’t the rest of the Jews do so? Further, your declaration could be misinterpreted to mean it is also time to forget.
Finally, why stop with the Nazis? Perhaps today’s barbaric terrorists can be forgiven and hugged as well.
Eva Kor, it is fortunate for you that you will never meet Regina Altman in this world. But if you do happen upon her in the next, she will have her own “declaration” for you. And I can promise you, there will be no kiss or embrace.