By Francine Wolfisz
THE HOLOCAUST survivor who sensationally embraced a former SS guard at his trial says she would offer forgiveness to all Nazis – including Hitler.
Eva Kor, 82, made the headlines last April after she was seen hugging Oskar Groening, 94, inside a German courtroom, where he was accused and later found guilty of being complicit in the mass murder of 300,000 people.
Groening was known as the “book-keeper of Auschwitz”, the very same concentration camp where Eva lost her mother, father and two older sisters and where she and her twin sister, Miriam, were forced to endure horrific medical experiments at the hands of Josef Mengele.
Despite her suffering, the Hungarian-born survivor publically forgave Groening and the pictures were subsequently beamed around the world.
The unusual scenario prompted a new documentary, The Girl Who Forgave The Nazis, which is available to view on Channel 4’s On Demand service, and explores why Eva remains resolute about her actions – and why so many other Holocaust survivors vehemently disagree.
In the week marking this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Eva added she would have offered forgiveness to any Nazi sitting in that German courtroom – even the man himself who spearheaded the persecution of six million Jews, Adolf Hitler.
Speaking from her home in Terre Haute, Indiana, she said: “If I forgive everybody and Hitler is the greatest perpetrator, the most evil man that I have ever known about, am I going to keep that wound open and have Hitler and his activities and actions ruin my life? Why would I not forgive him?
“And who decided that the worst perpetrator cannot be forgiven, and therefore the victims have to suffer?
“Because I am not ever looking at the perpetrator, what the perpetrator deserves. My forgiveness is strictly from the perspective of a victim, a survivor.”
She added: “Everybody should be forgiven, not because Hitler deserves it, but because every victim deserves to be free of what Hitler imposed on us.”
Eva was just 10 when she and her family were moved from their home in the Carpathian Mountains and loaded onto cattle trains headed for Auschwitz.
After arriving, she and her twin sister Miriam were pulled aside, never to see their loved ones again. Early on in their captivity, she recalled seeing the bodies of dead children lying on the latrine floor and making a vow to do all she could “to survive this place.”
But survival seemed a futile hope in the wake of Dr Mengele’s twisted experiments on the twins.
In the documentary, she recalled: “Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we were placed in a room. They would measure every part of my body and compare it to my sister’s. On the other days, they would tie my arms, take blood from my left arms and give me five injections in my right arm. The content of those injections I didn’t know then and still don’t know today.”
One of those injections almost killed Eva and she was taken to the hospital barracks with a fever. She recalls Mengele standing over her and laughing sarcastically while telling his nurses this child would not survive.
But she and her sister did and were alive to see the day when the Soviets liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
In the years after the war, Eva and Miriam founded an organisation to help locate other surviving Mengele twins.
As a result of their efforts, the sisters found 122 twins living across four continents.
During this time, Eva also re-visited Auschwitz and met Dr Hans Munch, another SS physician who knew Mengele but was acquitted of war crimes.
She asked him to speak openly about what had happened at the camp to discredit Holocaust deniers. In 1995, two years after Miriam had died from cancer, Munch and Eva attended the 50th anniversary marking the liberation of Auschwitz and it was here she first publicly announced an “amnesty to all Nazis”.
However, her unorthodox approach to forgiveness is not one shared by the majority of Holocaust survivors – including her own husband, Michael, 90, who was interned at Buchenwald.
Susan Pollock, 85, who was appointed MBE in January for her work in Holocaust education, is among those who feels she can never agree with Eva’s sentiments.
Arriving in Auschwitz aged just 13, Susan lost 50 members of her family and was close to death when a soldier discovered her at Bergen Belsen.
She said: “How could you not think of what he’s on trial for and what your family felt? I really can’t understand it. I’m not saying forgiveness doesn’t have a place elsewhere, but not in the Holocaust.”
But Eva will not compromise on the issue. Forgiveness is for her, she says, not a way of disrespecting those who died, but rather a way of giving power back to victims of the Holocaust.
She adds: “I know they don’t understand it, but with my statement of forgiveness I never said that you have to forgive also.
“Yes, I said it could help you if you did it, but I don’t have a gun in my hand forcing anyone to do it. I have the choice to forgive, and I am very glad that I have taken that choice and it makes me feel free, happy, and I can go on with my life without having to think of what Mengele did to me in his lab, the fact that all my family was murdered, that today I am the only living member of my family. I am free from all that.
“I do not relive the burden that a victim has. It’s a very big burden, because you feel in many ways that whatever happens in life is because of that event. I think it’s time to take back the power – and there is tremendous power in forgiveness.”