Progressively Speaking: What does Eva Kor teach us about forgiveness?

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Progressively Speaking: What does Eva Kor teach us about forgiveness?

Rabbi Danny Rich reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

Eva Kor and Oskar Gröning
Eva Kor and Oskar Gröning

Any decent human being can only respond with humility and respect to news that Holocaust survivor and educator, Eva Kor, declared in an interview before her death: “Everybody should be forgiven. Not because Hitler deserves it, but because every victim deserves to be free of what Hitler imposed on us.”

Jewish theology is clear that the ‘forgiving of wrongdoing’ is in the hands of the victim, and, if the victim is unable or unwilling, the matterof teshuvah (atonement) rests with God.

This concept of returning to the correct path or to God is underpinned by the assumption that the perpetrator acknowledges the wrongdoing, expresses regret, makes recompense and intends to change conduct.

Eva – who even underwent experiments by Josef Mengele and who lost all her family apart from her twin, Miriam – had the right to offer forgiveness because that power rests with her and because, as she herself observed, it may contribute to a personal ability to live with one’s past.

Her personal forgiveness, however, does not complete teshuvah for Mengele or Hitler, since it is an unknown whether any of them even reflected or regretted, never mind compensated or sought to do better.

The object of her forgiveness – ‘to close the wound’ – is laudable and understandable, but it may not necessarily be achieved in the case of other victims. They may require, for example, punishment of the perpetrator, a formal recognition of their experience, or a public memorial of the event.

Any or all of these measures may enable different victims to become a little reconciled to what has happened to them.

Eva, who died last month at the age of 85, was an inspiring Holocaust educator. She demonstrated, by personal example, that on occasion forgiveness “can overcome hardship and tragedy”.

But in truth it is not always so simple. Justice is not about vengeance, but neither is it always about only forgiveness.

Forgiveness may need to be earned by the sincerity of those who seek it, and, in the case of dead Nazis, their fate lies beyond human understanding.

Danny Rich is senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: