It was serendipity. I wasn’t looking for it but I found it.
I was planning a trip back to Terre Haute to see things that I wasn’t able to see on a previous trip. They wouldn’t fill up a day so I was looking for other things to do in Terre Haute.
Then I found CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Hmmm. Looks interesting, I thought, as I remembered how awesome the Holocaust Museum was in D.C. (Sounds a bit odd to write that, but it echoes a woman’s comment at the CANDLES museum about a trip to Auschwitz as being great…and then thinking that doesn’t seem quite right to say.)
I arrived at the museum with a decision to make. I could either, I was told, look at the exhibits or attend the talk that started an hour earlier (but had another hour or so to go). The museum wouldn’t be open long enough for me to do both. Hmmm. I chose to tiptoe into the talk. I am very glad I did.
I have never heard someone talk about their personal experiences in a concentration camp. Know about them, read about them, watched movies and documentaries about them, but never heard a survivor talk about it in person.
To hear it in person was incredibly moving. The room was still and quiet except for occasional spontaneous bursts of laughter at something Eva said. Clearly, the room was hanging on every word she said.
I walked in about the time Eva was discussing how young children are much more perceptive and aware than adults give them credit for. She and her sisters knew something was going on, something not good. She calmly described what happened to her and her family—from their farm, to the ghetto, to Auschwitz.
She described the transport in cattle cars. She described arriving at Auschwitz and the selection platforms where families were ripped apart and people divided into those to be sent to labor and those to be sent to death.
She described at length what happened to Miriam—her twin—and herself. They arrived in May 1944 and were liberated by the Soviets January 27, 1945. In between, she and Miriam were part of the Mengele experiments.
Her talk didn’t stop there but continued to describe life afterwards: back home in what became Communist-controlled Romania, emigration to Israel, meeting her husband, and moving to Terre Haute, Indiana. (How the heck did she end up in Terre Haute you might ask? Her husband was liberated by the Americans, one of whom was from Terre Haute. His goal became emigrating to Terre Haute.)
Eva related her life following emigration, the path that led to her life work: Holocaust education and being a forgiveness ambassador. Eva and Miriam did not speak of their experiences, even to each other, until nearly 40 years later. In 1984, they began to search for twins that survived the Mengele experiments and founded CANDLES, an organization dedicated to these survivors.
Her descriptions of her experiences in Auschwitz were powerful—but they were equal to or surpassed by her experiences about forgiveness. Carrying around the burden of anger and hatred and the feeling of victimhood for decades, a simple event started her down the path of healing.
In 1993, she was approached about giving a lecture in Boston. Oh, and could she bring a Nazi doctor? Where the heck was she going to find a Nazi doctor? They don’t really advertize. Then she remembered a doctor in a documentary that she saw: Dr. Hans Munch. She contacted him. They met at his home in Germany. He described how the gas chambers worked and signed a document to that effect.
Eva was flummoxed about how to thank him. Months later the idea of a letter of forgiveness came to her. And she started down the road to forgiveness and healing that continues today.
In 1995, Miriam passed away. That same year Eva founded the museum and began her life work of Holocaust and forgiveness education.
She concluded her talk with life lessons. The one that she spent the most time on was, unsurprisingly, forgiveness. Eva seems to exude healing that came from her forgiveness of Nazis. She seems at peace and whole. Her experiences are an inspiration.
I only heard about two-thirds of her lecture. Now I a reason to go back yet again to Terre Haute: hear the first third of the lecture and view the exhibit.
I left the museum, inspired and on cloud nine (strange to say) following the lecture and my brief encounter with Eva. I was hugging the book that she signed “To Amy, Forgive and Heal, Eva Kor 8-13-16”.