Why the Holocaust survivor forgave the ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’

The World
Eva Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz, regularly returns to the site of the camp

There are not many people left who can still remember the death camp at Auschwitz, but one of them is Eva Kor. She survived the camp, and was one of the witnesses at the trial of Oscar Groening, a 94-year-old former camp guard who worked as the so-called "bookkeeper of Auschwitz."

This week, Kor heard that Groening had been sentenced to four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people. His job was to count cash and belongings stolen from victims as they arrived at the camp. 

For Kor, however, the court's sentence is a disappointment. In the German courtroom, she surprised many people by personally telling Groening that she forgave him for his crimes. Groening responded by embracing and kissing her, and thanking her for her forgiveness. 

Now Kor says she believes that the world would be better served by showing forgiveness, and sentencing him to community service. She would like to see him ordered to give lectures to young Germans on the truth of the Holocaust and the evils of Nazism. Anything else is revenge, she says.

"Revenge, what does revenge accomplish? Does it take my problems away? Would it suddenly disappear if I acted in revenge? Can anything take what was done to me?" Kor explains.

Kor was 10 in 1944 when she and her entire family were taken to the Nazi death camp. At the "selection platform," where victims' fates were decided, Kor's family was split up. She says no other strip of land in the world has seen as many families ripped apart. She and her twin sister, Miriam, were chosen for medical experiments by Josef Mengele.

Although Mengele predicted that Kor would only live through two weeks of his experiments, she and her sister survived, although they both suffered severe health problems later in life. No one knows exactly what experiments were carried out on them. Kor's parents and her two other sisters were killed at the camp. 

She says now that forgiving Groening was essential for her own peace and well-being. "They took away all the joy in my life, and I wanted to reclaim it. Because I have the right to be happy. That's what I would like to happen, for the tragedy to be taken back. To be able to enjoy life — to be happy. To even go on the selection platform in Auschwitz and dance the Israeli hora [folk dance]. Because this was the last place I saw my family alive."

For the last 30 years Kor has run The Candles, a Holocaust museum she founded in Terre Haute, Indiana. It is her effort to ensure that a new generation does not forget what happened at places like Auschwitz.

Each year she takes parties of people to visit Auschwitz. She says people seem happy to learn from her. "I give them life lessons. Never give up on your dreams. Treat people with respect and fairness. Forgive your worst enemy. It will set you free."

A previous version of this story misspelled Eva Kor's name.

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