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Her Holocaust pardon inspires others

Eva Kor's acts of forgiveness toward Nazis help Jews unload their burden of pain.

January 06, 2008|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

Eva Kor was stumped. She didn't know how to thank a Nazi doctor for writing a letter asking her and other Auschwitz survivors for forgiveness for his medical experiments at the camp.

"I could not think of anything appropriate," Kor said Saturday as she spoke to about 100 people attending services of a Jewish congregation at an Encino community center.

But after 10 months, Kor, who received poisonous secret injections for almost a year as part of the Nazi human experimentation program, thought of a solution. She would write her own letter, pardoning the doctor, Hans Munch.

At the urging of a friend, Kor decided to forgive all the Nazis who had worked on the experiments headed by Josef Mengele. She signed the letter at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995 at the same time Munch signed his message.

"I immediately felt a burden of pain lift," Kor said.

Some Holocaust survivors were aghast, arguing that Nazi deeds were unforgivable. But the Nachshon Minyan congregation seemed to embrace Kor's action Saturday.

"It's such a special and important message," said Nachshon Minyan board member Laurie Petok. "I wish she could've gone on and on."

Kor was born in the Transylvania region of Romania and taken to Auschwitz in 1944 with her parents and three siblings when she was 10 years old. When they got off the train, Kor, her twin sister, Miriam, and their mother were pushed to one side while the rest of her family was herded away. The two girls then were separated from their remaining parent.

Mengele was infamous for conducting experiments on twins, injecting one with deadly diseases and germs. If the child died, then the other twin was killed so the two bodies could be compared.

Three times a week, Kor received at least five shots in her right arm while blood was drawn from her left. After one particular injection, Kor became so ill she was taken to the hospital, where Mengele examined her.

"Too bad. She's so young. She only has two weeks to live," he said, according to Kor.

Mengele escaped Germany after World War II ended and hid in South America for the rest of his life. He died in Brazil in 1979.

Kor managed to survive, crawling to a faucet to drink water, and was released from the hospital after nearly five weeks. She discovered that Nazi guards had monitored Miriam day and night, apparently waiting for word that Kor had died so they could prepare her twin for execution.

After the Allies liberated the camp, Kor moved to Israel, where she served in the army and rose to the rank of sergeant major. She then married a fellow Holocaust survivor and moved with him to Terre Haute, Ind., where she works as a Realtor.

Kor, 73, began searching in the late 1970s for other twins who survived the Mengele experiments. She eventually located more than 122 survivors in 10 countries. She also opened a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute that was destroyed by suspected arsonists in 1993 but reopened two years later.

After Kor's twin sister died of cancer in 1993, Kor traveled to Germany to meet Munch as part of a presentation she was scheduled to make at Boston College in Massachusetts. Munch said he had "lived with the nightmare of the Holocaust" every day of his life and agreed to write his letter, she recalled.

Munch was tried by a war crimes tribunal in 1946, but former prisoners testified that he refused to pick people for the gas chamber and treated Jews humanely. He was later acquitted, and he died in 2001.

Kor thought she'd never be able to pardon the Nazis, but has since tried to promote the power of forgiveness.

"All victims are angry and hurt. . . . I discovered that I had this tremendous power to forgive," she said.

Kor's message was especially resonant for one audience member. Sidi Grunstein Gluck, an 85-year-old Tarzana resident, spent about a week in Auschwitz in 1944 while being shuttled between concentration camps. Gluck and her brother were the only members of her family to survive the Holocaust.

But after being freed from a camp, Gluck passed a train full of hungry German soldiers. She reached into her pocket and gave the men a piece of bread.

"That's the way my mother raised me. If someone is hungry, you give them something to eat," said Gluck, who embraced Kor after her speech.

"Hearing her talk of forgiveness made me feel good," Gluck said.

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jason.song@latimes.com

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