Eva Kor speaks at OSU

Holocaust Memorial Week 2016

To commemorate the beginning of Holocaust Memorial Week, Oregon State University and Corvallis community members gathered to listen to Holocaust survivor Eva Kor tell her story of survival and forgiveness on Monday night at the LaSells Stewart Alumni Center.

Kor’s lecture, “The Triumph of the Human Spirit: From Auschwitz to Forgiveness” was the first of several on-campus events put on by the OSU Holocaust Memorial Week Committee.

Austin Auditorium was filled to the brim with audience members that showed up more than half-an-hour in advance to get a seat and many were forced to sit on the floor in the aisles and in the balconies above the stage.

Kor’s lecture at OSU on Monday night marked her 59th lecture since the beginning of the year, Kor said. Her most recent was at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, on Sunday May 1.

Prior to Kor’s lecture, Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber issued a proclamation of remembrance in which he proclaimed that the week of May 1-6, 2016 will officially be Holocaust Memorial Week and will be observed by all of Corvallis.

After arriving at Auschwitz in 1944, 10-year-old Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from their parents and two sisters, never to see them again, Kor said.

The two sisters were put into a group that was comprised of sets of twins ages two to 16 and spent the following months being experimented and tested on by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, Kor said.

According to Kor, her determination to survive the ordeal came after she and her sister were going to the latrine and came across the bodies of three children on the floor.

“I immediately made a silent pledge that night that I would do everything in my power to make sure that we did not end up on that latrine floor. I never let go of that image until we were liberated,” Kor said.

Kor said that her determination grew as time went on. When she was taken to the Auschwitz hospital with a fever Mengele told Kor she had two weeks to live, however, she remained resolute and as a result survived illness and the rest of her time at the camp, Kor said.

“I refused to die,” Kor said, “I would do everything in my power to prove Mengele wrong.”

Kor stated that after Auschwitz was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, both Kor and her sister moved from Romanian refugee camps to Tel Aviv, Israel.

From there, Kor moved to Terre Haute, IN with her husband where she founded Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments (CANDLES) in 1984, Kor said, adding that in six years she found 122 surviving twins.

Kor said that founding CANDLES also helped her with the anger she was feeling.

Kor and Miriam didn’t talk about the atrocities they experienced until 1985. It was then Kor learned that while she was in the hospital that her sister was subjected to two weeks of constant testing while held in isolation followed by three weeks of what Kor described as “constant injections.”

To this day, Kor does not know what she or her sister were injected with while in Auschwitz.

According to Kor, her sister was suffering from kidney problems which worsened every time she got pregnant. After her third pregnancy, her kidneys began to deteriorate, Kor said.

It was soon discovered that her sister’s kidneys never grew past the size of those of a 10-year-old child, Kor said.

After her sister’s kidneys developed cancerous polyps and learning she was a perfect match, Kor donated her left kidney to her sister, Kor said.

However, the cancer metastasized and Kor lost her sister in June of 1993, the loss of her sister, according to Kor, inspired her to forgive.

Kor said she learned three life lessons from her experiences in Auschwitz and after her liberation: to never give up on yourself or your dreams, the dangers of prejudice and the importance of forgiveness.

In 1993, Kor met with one of Mengele’s colleagues in Auschwitz, Hans Münch, in Germany. According to Kor, Münch treated her with the utmost respect and consideration.

Kor stated that Münch had struggled with what he had done and that he described it as a nightmare he dealt with every day.

Their meeting ended with Münch signing a document at his former station in Auschwitz with Kor and six witnesses, acknowledging what had happened there, Kor said.

Four months later, Kor wrote a letter to Münch giving him her forgiveness, Kor said.

According to Kor, her English professor helped her revise the letter and then asked her to consider writing a letter to Mengele but not send it, in order to help her forgive him and his actions.

Kor found a copy of the dictionary and wrote a list of “very nasty words” to Mengele and ended the list by writing that in spite of everything that had happened she forgave him, Kor said.

“I realized that I have the power to forgive, no one could give it and no one can take it away,” Kor said.

Holocaust Memorial Week Coordinator and history professor Paul Kopperman had been wanting to have Kor speak for several years now and has had survivors speak at past Holocaust Memorial Week events.

“I had been wanting to bring her out for some time now,” Kopperman said.

Kopperman has been working on the Holocaust Memorial Week Committee since 1987, when OSU first started observing Holocaust Memorial Week, Kopperman said.

All events for the Holocaust Memorial Week will be free, as it’s committee policy to not charge for admittance to the events in order to promote education, according to Kopperman.

Kopperman had been receiving calls from people all over the state, some as close as Eugene and as far as Klamath Falls asking how much it would cost to see Kor’s lecture. He was happy to inform them that the event would not require the purchase of a ticket.

“(Kor’s) event will be free (Monday night) and all of the other events will be open to the public,” Kopperman said.

According to Kopperman, the Committee has a backlog of speakers and events planned for future Holocaust Memorial Weeks.

“It’s not that we don’t have ideas, it’s that we don’t have space,” Kopperman said.

The next event for Holocaust memorial week will be a panel discussion on the history of eugenics in the United States and at OSU. The panel will be on Tuesday May 3 at 7:30 pm in the C&E auditorium at the LaSells Stewart Alumni Center.