Holocaust survivor recognizes witness of a survivor
As Holocaust survivors die, Cora der Koorkanian of Congregation Emanu-El in Spokane believes it’s important to recognize witness they have given.
This summer, Cora learned that Eva Mozes Kor, one of the “Mengele twins,” had died July 4 in Krákow, Poland, at the age of 85.
After learning of Eva’s death, Cora spoke about her friendship and memories of Eva at a luncheon at Temple Beth Shalom.
“I had wanted to bring Eva to Spokane to speak, so sharing her story in a memorial was one way I could bring her here,” she said.
Eva died while leading an educational trip with Children of Auschwitz Nazi Death Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES), which she founded in 1984.
She made the trip annually to share her experiences and her perspectives as a Holocaust survivor, which she wrote about in her book, Surviving the Angel of Death.
Cora said that Eva, who forgave Mengele, explained in her book and a 2006 documentary, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” that she found it better to forgive than to live with hate, because “hate is like a cancer.”
“She had realized that for her to live a healthy life, she had to forgive,” Cora said.
“I do not hate people who harmed me and my family in Bucharest,” Cora said. “They took our assets and house. Half of my family who lived in Northern Romania died.
“Eva’s positive attitude spoke to me. She was given lemons, so she made lemonade,” Cora said. “There is no room in our lives for bitterness. We need to walk forward positively. She forgave for her suffering. So do I.”
“Eva was a powerhouse with a sheer will to live and make the best of life. She inspired me. I want to keep her memory alive,” she said.
Aware that genocide continues around the world, Cora learned to forgive without forgetting or hating.
While living in Israel and studying to be a nurse in the army from 1953 to 1956, one of her classmates was Miriam Mozes Zeiger, Eva’s twin sister, who had also been involved in Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz.
“I didn’t know Miriam’s story until one day she became very sick and told me,” Cora said, noting that many Holocaust survivors just wanted to live “normal lives” and did not want to speak about the horrors they experienced.
Cora realizes some survivors cannot forgive. She remembers that Eva’s sister Miriam often smiled, but a classmate from Belgium never smiled. Her mood was always “like foul weather,” Cora said.
During their studies, Cora met Eva, who served in a different branch of the military.
“I felt close to both of them, because I was born in 1934, three days before they were born. Like me, they were also born in Romania, but in Transylvania. We joked that we were almost triplets,” said Cora, whose great grandparents had fled pogroms persecuting Jews in Russia in the 1840s and had settled in Romania.
Through World War II and the Holocaust, her family lived in Bucharest, bribing local officials in order to survive. Two brothers were sent to labor camps in 1942.
In 1950, after Communists took power in Romania, she left to live in Israel where she met Miriam and Eva.
Cora later worked with the World Health Organization in Brazil before marrying an American foreign service officer. They settled in Manchester, N.H.
Cora last saw Eva in April 2014 at Manchester, where Eva had spoken at Cora’s invitation at an interfaith gathering with two Jewish synagogues and a Presbyterian church.
“The room was packed. As she spoke for an hour, it was so silent you could hear a pin drop,” Cora said.
The year after she spoke, Cora bought 18 copies of Eva’s book, Surviving the Angel of Death, to take with her to a reunion of classmates in Israel. Eva had signed every book with the names of her sister’s classmates, half of whom were also Holocaust survivors.
Cora told Eva’s story.
Eva and Miriam were 10 when they were taken to Auschwitz. Dressed alike, they were identified as twins. They were separated from their parents and two older sisters, whom they never saw again.
They were among 1,500 sets of twins Josef Mengele used in doing genetic medical experiments. He changed the color of eyes, transplanted uteruses, did experiments without anesthesia and more. Many died as a result of the experiments.
At first, Eva was chosen as the “control” and Miriam underwent experiments on her kidneys. Then Miriam was the control when they inoculated Eva with a bacteria or virus that made her very ill for several months.
Eva survived “by sheer will power,” Cora said, and helped Miriam survive.
When the Soviet Army liberated the camp on Jan. 12, 1945, only 180 children, most of them twins, were alive. Many had died from experiments.
Miriam became a nurse, lived in Israel and had three children. Later, when her kidneys were giving out, Eva gave Miriam one of her kidneys, so she could live longer. Miriam died in 1993 at the age of 59.
For many years, Cora did not know where Eva was.
Eva married Michael Kor, an American citizen and Holocaust survivor, and came to the United States in 1960. In 1965, she became a U.S. citizen.
In 1978, after an NBC miniseries, “The Holocaust,” Eva and Miriam, who were living in Israel, began locating other twins. They located 170 surviving twins living around the world.
In 1984, Eva, who has two children, founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Ind.
The center, which her son now runs, educates people about eugenics, the Holocaust and the power of forgiving.
In 2007, Eva persuaded Indiana state legislators to require Holocaust education in secondary schools.
She was featured in a 2015 CNN documentary, “Voices of Auschwitz,” and a 2016 production, “Incredible Survivors.”
In 2015, she testified in Germany at the trial of former Nazi Oskar Gröning, 93. He admitted his complicity in the mass extermination of Jews and asked for “forgiveness from the Lord.”
Eva appreciated that he testified truthfully about what had happened, and she thanked him.
For information, call 838-3304.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,February, 2020