Eva Kor Holocaust memorial event at OSU informed, inspired audiences

Jackie Keating

Every year since 1987, Oregon State University and the Corvallis community have observed Holocaust Memorial Week, which “grows from the belief that educational institutions can do much to combat prejudice of all kinds, and to foster respect for the diversity that is America, by promoting an awareness of the Holocaust,” according to the program’s website.

This year, the annual event kicked off on Sunday, May 1, with a lecture in Portland by Eva Mozes Kor, which she also gave on Monday, May 2, at the LaSells Stewart Center.

I attended her lecture, which is titled “The Triumph of the Human Spirit: From Auschwitz to Forgiveness,” on Monday.

The turnout was incredible.

People were packed to the gills inside the Austin Auditorium, and according to the event’s Facebook page, some audience members were coming from as far as Eugene and Medford to attend. Audience members sat along the walls and lined the railings of the upper level, opting to stand for an hour and a half rather than to miss what this incredible woman had to say.

Despite the tragic and somber subject about which she was to speak, Kor had a calm and casual stage presence, and even inserted some humor into her lecture, as she began by stating that she had survived Dr. Mengele, and “now, at 82 years old, I am trying to survive old age. It’s harder than I thought!”

She began by recounting her experience in her year at the camp. Kor was taken with her father, mother, and three sisters to Auschwitz when she was just ten years old. Although she was separated from her father, mother and two sisters that first day in the camp in 1944, never to see them again, she and her twin sister Miriam were spared to be used in experiments by the infamous Nazi Doctor Mengele, also known as the angel of death.

During his time at Auschwitz, Mengele experimented on roughly 1,500 sets of twins in the concentration camp, and only about 100 sets, or 200 twin children, made it out alive when Soviet soldiers freed the camp in 1945, according to Kor. She and Miriam were among that number, but not without having been subjected to numerous experiments. They were injected with substances the contents of which are still mysteries today, and which made them both very ill and caused health complications later in their lives.

Still, the main focus of the lecture was not about what had happened to Kor and her sister, but rather how to find strength in forgiveness, and how to combat prejudice that exists today. She condensed these issues into three life lessons.

Life lesson one was to never give up on yourself or your dreams, because “if you give up, nothing will happen,” she said. Not giving up can be hard, she explained, even if “your parents can afford to buy you designer jeans with holes in them,” but she urged that if you have a goal, to pursue it with a fiery determination.

Life lesson two was to be able to recognise prejudice, which she defined as judging people before you know them, and to put a stop to it. Here she confessed that she sometimes feels herself judging others, particularly those whose forms of dress she find abhorrent (“I don’t like baggy pants,” she said, referencing some youths who she didn’t know but who she said looked like bums). However, she stops herself, and recognizes that it is not up to her to come to conclusions about anyone she doesn’t know, since she herself used to wonder why the Nazis hated her when she had never done anything to them. “It only takes a little bit of kindness to make the world better,” Kor concluded.

Finally, life lesson three rounded out the lecture. According to Mozes Kor, the third life lesson is to forgive anyone who has hurt you. “I forgive the Nazis,” she proclaimed. “I forgive everyone.” Despite this, she says she didn’t always feel this way. 25 years ago, she hated everyone who was involved with Nazi Germany and was in a world of hurt. The change came when her sister Miriam died from cancer in 1993.

She opened a Holocaust museum in Indiana where she was living at the time, and even went to Germany to speak one-on-one with a former Nazi who had worked in Auschwitz. She said that he treated her with the utmost respect, and said the things he had seen and done in the camp haunted him every single day. At this point, a friend told her to write a letter to the deceased Mengele (he died in Brazil in 1979) to see if she could forgive him. Although the process was hard, and not instant, Mozes Kor said that she did end up forgiving him, and afterwards decided to forgive anyone who had ever hurt her.

“Every single one of you has the power to forgive,” she said. “No one can give it to you, and no one can take it away.” She said that once you have forgiven someone who has caused you pain, they don’t have a hold on you anymore. “Forgiveness is the best revenge,” she concluded.

She ended the lecture by congratulating the audience for surviving her lecture and was met with a standing ovation, after which there was a segment for a Q&A and a book signing.

Overall, attending Eva Mozes Kor’s lecture was a treat. She is a survivor of one of the darkest pieces of history in the last century, and it is crucial that we don’t forget her life lessons. If you missed her talk but would still like to attend an event during Holocaust Memorial week, there will be lectures on May 4 and May 5, the details of which can be found on the OSU Holocaust Memorial Program website: http://holocaust.oregonstate.edu/#eventstart

The opinions expressed in Keating’s column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Barometer staff.

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