Decades after the liberation of the infamous Nazi death camp, a former prisoner and guard share a public embrace.
image via (cc) flickr user chrisjohnbeckett
As a subject of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s horrific experiments at Auschwitz, Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor has come as close to experiencing evil in its purest form as just about anyone.
Since her liberation from the infamous death camp, Mozes Kor has gone on to live a life dedicated to enriching the world by ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten. She is the founder of CANDLES (“Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors”) Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and has spent years both advocating for, and participating in, Holocaust education initiatives.
But perhaps more impressive than her dedication to the somber and significant work of Holocaust education, is Mozes Kor’s capacity for forgiveness toward those responsible for her suffering. It was that capacity which was on display at the ongoing trial of Auschwitz camp guard Oskar Groening. There, the 81-year-old death camp survivor publicly embraced the 93-year-old former SS officer as he sat in the courtroom, accused of being accessory to the murder of over 300,000 camp inmates. It is a move that inspired some, while shocking others. It is also something for which Mozes Kor is entirely unapologetic.
She writes, in a note posted to Facebook:
Everything he is accused of - I am saying he did all that. I told him that my forgiveness did not prevent me from accusing him nor from him taking responsibility for his actions. And I told the media that he was a small screw in a big killing machine, and the machine cannot function without the small screws. But obviously he is a human being. His response to me is exactly what I was talking about when I said you cannot predict what will happen when someone from the victims' side and someone from the perpetrators' side meet in a spirit of humanity.
This is not Eva’s first public display of her extraordinary capacity for forgiveness: In 1995, Mozes Kor returned to Auschwitz to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death camp’s liberation. She was joined by former Nazi doctor Hans Münch, a contemporary of, but not contributor to, Josef Mengele's horrific medical experimentation. There, the two read aloud signed statements verifying the atrocities committed on the site, and pledged to working for a more just, more forgiving world.
The question of Holocaust forgiveness is one which has generated much debate among educators and scholars, perhaps most famously as the subject of Simon Wiesenthal’s novella The Sunflower, in which theologians, philosophers, and other notables respond to Wiesenthal’s moral dilemma of being asked for forgiveness by a dying Nazi soldier.
Radical forgiveness such as that displayed by Eva has been applied in other instances of genocide and repression, as well. In Rwanda, the nonprofit “Association Modeste et Innocent” organization brings together Hutus and Tutsis in and effort to heal that country’s wounds following the genocide that occurred there in the mid-1990s. Similarly, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission utilized displays of public contrition and acts of forgiveness as a way to move forward toward a new era for a country scarred by the systemic racial segregation and oppression of apartheid.
Below is Eva’s full message: