Holocaust Survivor Known for Forgiving Nazis Dies at 85 on Trip to Auschwitz

Eva Mozes Kor once told Haaretz: 'I forgave the Nazis not because they’re good people, but to free myself of the chains of the past and enable me to be a happy person'

Eva Kor photographed in April, 2015.
Julian Stratenschulte/Pool Photo via AP

Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who became famous for forgiving the Nazis, died on Thursday aged 85 in Krakow, Poland, during a study tour in the adjacent extermination camp.

Kor, who was subjected to inhumane medical experiments at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele, lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she was active in preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

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Kor was born in Romania in 1934. At the age of 10 she was deported to Auschwitz with her family. Her parents and two of her sisters were murdered, and she and her twin sister Miriam survived, but underwent brutal experiments.

In 1950 the sisters moved to Israel, where Kor studied at an agricultural school, served in the army and married Michael Kor, an American citizen. The couple migrated to the United States and settled in Indiana, where in 1984 Kor set up an organization of Holocaust survivors who had been subjected to experiments in Auschwitz, and founded the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education center.

Kor became famous over the years for her controversial approach that centers on the need to forgive the Nazi criminals to achieve peace of mind. Thus, in 1995 she traveled to the memorial site in Auschwitz in the company of a former Nazi doctor and declared that she forgave him.

“As I did that I felt a burden of pain was lifted from me. I was no longer in the grip of pain and hate,” Eva said later. “I was finally free.”

“Forgive your worst enemy, it will heal your soul and it will set you free,” Kor said a decade later in an interview to Ronen Bergman in Yedioth Ahronoth.

She added that she forgave even Mengele and all the doctors who performed the gruesome experiments on her. “I forgive them for killing my parents, for robbing me of the rest of my family, for taking my childhood from me, for turning my life into hell, for creating nightmares that accompanied me every night in the past 60 years. In my name – and only in my name – I forgive them for all those horrific acts,” she said then.

In 2015 she made headlines again during the trial of Oskar Groening, an elderly German who had served as an “accountant” in Auschwitz. Kor was one of the 60 Holocaust survivors who joined the suit in a special procedure. Addressing Groening, who was ultimately convicted of assisting the murder of 300,000 people, Kor astonished the audience and the media when she approached him, shook his hand, hugged and kissed him and said she forgave him.

“I forgave the Nazis not because they’re good people,” she said afterward in an interview to Haaretz. “But to free myself of the chains of the past and enable me to be a happy person.”

Unlike other defendants who stood trial in Germany for similar crimes in recent years, Groening did not deny having served in the concentration camp, but asked for forgiveness for what he had done, saying “I undoubtedly bear moral responsibility. If there’s any criminal responsibility with it – you decide.”

Kor was moved. “I wanted to thank him for his testimony,” she said. “I don’t think the world understands how important it was. The neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers cannot deny a Nazi’s testimony.”

Kor also objected to sending Groening to four years in prison. “It’s stupid to send a 94-year-old to prison. Instead we must use his testimony for education and public diplomacy,” she said. Groening died in 2018 before serving his sentence.