The bleachers of Larry C. Banks Memorial Gymnasium were packed with students, and faculty and guests stood around the edges.
Sitting in silence, they gave attention to Eva Mozes Kor’s every word.
Kor, now 82, was 10 when she was hauled to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
She was one of the estimated 3,000 twins tortured by Josef Mengele in acts he characterized as experiments; she’s one of about 200 who survived.
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As a child on a concrete platform, she was caught between relief at leaving the cattle car and fear of what was happening. She described her family’s last moments together — her father and two older sisters disappearing into the crowd, her mother with “arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away.”
“I didn’t understand that this was the last time that I would see her,” Kor said.
She clung to Miriam, her twin.
She remembers a needle being heated and dipped in ink to burn identification numbers into her arm — hers are blurred because she struggled and bit her guard.
“At times, I closed my eyes, hoping, when I would open them, that the nightmare would disappear,” Kor said.
“But the nightmare did not disappear.”
The cramped barracks were infested with rats.In the latrine, on the filth-covered concrete floor, lay the corpses of three children.
That was her first encounter with death.
“To me, it became clear that in this place, children die,” Kor said.
She resolved to do everything in her power to make certain she and her sister survived.
She was starved and forced to spend days naked; she was weighed and measured, tested and injected with substances.
“The only way that I could cope with it was by completely blocking it out of my mind,” she said.
She was intentionally infected with something. She never found out what.
She recalled Mengele coming to check on her and commenting that she would be dead in two weeks. She was determined to prove him wrong.
A frail, starved, sick little girl, she crawled across the filthy floor, desperate to reach the sole source of water.
Later, Kor discovered that if she had not survived, her sister would have been killed so that a comparative autopsy could be done on the two.
After Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet soldiers, Kor and her sister passed through refugee camps. Finally returning to their home, all they found remaining of their history was three crumpled pictures on the floor.They went to live with one of their few relatives left alive after the Holocaust.
They lived in Romania during Communist rule.
As president of the Communist Party at her high school, Kor was chastised for missing a parade in favor of studying.
But she was emboldened to stand up to a Communist official’s questioning because she was a survivor.
“You are not supposed to think. You are just supposed to follow orders,” she was told.
In response, Kor left the Communist Party.
In 1948, the sisters emigrated to Israel, where both were drafted into the army. Miriam became a registered nurse and Kor became a draftsperson. She reached the rank of sergeant major.
In 1960, she met her future husband, fellow Holocaust survivor Micheal Kor, while he was visiting from his home in Terre Haute. She followed him back to the United States.
Miriam Mozes died in 1993 from bladder cancer.
Both twins suffered health problems throughout their lives related to the year they were Mengele’s test subjects.
Looking up at the faces of those who hung on her words, Kor followed her story with her three “life lessons.”“Never, ever give up, on yourself or your dreams,” she said.
Growing up is hard, Kor said — “even in little Nashville, Indiana — even if you have loving parents.”
No matter the pressures and worries, the only way to get through anything is not to give up.
“I had no idea how to survive Auschwitz,” she said. “I tried different ideas, and here I am, 70 years later.”
To illustrate her life lesson on prejudice, Kor talked about the judgments she has caught herself making.
“Prejudice means to pre-judge people without really knowing them,” she said.
“I am prejudiced against you,” she said to the students. “I don’t like the way you dress.”
She talked about a boy with sagging pants she encountered at another school. While he was walking, his pants fell down.
When Kor talked to a teacher about the incident, she was shocked to find out he was a very good student.
“Even I have to take the time to get to know each person before I pass judgment on them,” she said.
As a Jewish child, Kor was bullied by children before and after her time at Auschwitz.
“Don’t laugh, don’t walk away — stand with the victim,” Kor told the students. “The problem of the bully comes from the fact that nobody is standing up to him.”
She was angry for most of her life.
“I was angry with the world, and I hated everybody,” she said.
After her sister died, Kor first began to work on forgiveness.
During a trip to Germany, she met a German doctor named Munch who had supervised the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz.
Munch agreed to sign an affidavit of all that he witnessed. Grateful for the record, Kor wanted to give him something.
She settled on writing him a letter offering forgiveness.
An English professor who was assisting her with the letter proposed that she consider forgiving Mengele as well.
At first, Kor was shocked. But eventually, it was in forgiveness that she found a new freedom.
“I felt that all the misery and victimhood I carried around for 50 years was lifted from my shoulders,” she said.
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator,” Kor said. “It is an act of self-healing.”
“I call anger a seed for war,” Kor told the students. “People who forgive are at peace with themselves and the world. Therefore, I call forgiveness a seed for peace.”