Eva Mozes Kor was 10 years old when she spotted Soviet scouts progressing toward the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland where she had been held since May 1944.
The group of scouts stumbled into Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, and knew instantly they had found something terrible. Liberating Auschwitz was not in their orders, but many of the soldiers recall seeing inmates behind barbed wire and understanding the gravity of the situation.
The scouts were followed by troops from the Red Army who entered the camp. Inside the camp, they found piles of ash that had once been human bodies and people, ill and barely alive, living in barracks encrusted with excrement.
Kor was one of a group of hundreds of children who had been left behind. She and her twin sister Miriam had endured medical experiments during their imprisonment. The sisters were just two of 1.3 million people, mostly Jews, who were deported to Auschwitz by Nazi Germany. Of that number, 1.1 million were murdered.
The Red Army had been advancing through Poland since January, along the way they liberated Warsaw and Krakow from German control. The knowledge of the advancing troops had made many of the prison camp officers begin a murder spree in the camps, shooting prisoners and destroying buildings to erase evidence of their crimes. Left in the wake of their destructive trail were more than 600 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. Storehouses filled with hundreds of thousands of women’s dresses, men’s suits and shoes the Germans did not have time to burn also remained behind.
Kor and her sister spent approximately nine months enduring torture at the hands of Nazi doctors before the fateful day the Red Army arrived. The twins were the only members of their family to survive the imprisonment.
After their rescue from the camp, the Mozes twins reentered the world alone. Over the next nine months, they spent time in three different refugee camps before Rosalita Csengeri, a friend of their mother, took responsibility for them helping them return to Romania.
It wasn’t until immigrating to Israel in 1950 that the sisters became unafraid of Jewish persecution. Over the next 10 years, Eva Mozes received a good education from an agricultural school and went on to attain the rank of Sergeant Major in the Israeli Army Engineering Corps. In 1960, she married Michael Kor, a Holocaust survivor and American tourist from Terre Haute, Ind., and in 1965, she became a U.S. citizen, making Indiana her official home.
With the help of her sister, who was still living in Israel, she began locating other survivors of Dr. Mengele’s deadly experiments. In 1984, she founded CANDLES, Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, and named her sister Vice President for Israeli Survivors.
Together they were able to locate 122 individual Mengele twins living in 10 countries and four continents. The search for more twins continues to this day.
Fifty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, in her most controversial decision, she returned to the site and stood where so many were tragically murdered. At her side stood Dr. Hans Münch, a Nazi doctor who knew the doctor who performed horrendous experiments on her, her sister and hundreds of other children. Münch did not work with Mengele in Auschwitz.
Kor, the resilient survivor, read Münch’s signed witness statement, contradicting those who denied the Holocaust. To the surprise of many, she then freed herself from her victim status and announced to the world that she forgave the Nazis. Kor received praise and criticism alike for her statement of forgiveness.
Miriam Mozes Zeiger passed away June 6, 1993. Two years later Kor opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Survivor Center in Terre Haute, Ind., in memory of her sister. The Core Values of the museum and education center encompass the concept of “Tikkun Olam” - a Hebrew expression meaning “to Repair the World.”
Kor often said she wanted her time on Earth to count for something, and she devoted more than 25 years to the CANDLES organization. Her lectures and guided tours were key elements of its educational mission.
In 2007, she worked with Indiana state legislators Clyde Kersey and Tim Skinner to pass a law requiring Holocaust education to be given in secondary schools. She taught a course at Indiana State University on the value and philosophy of overcoming adversity in life using the Holocaust as an example in 2009.
Kor returned to Auschwitz on numerous occasions, often accompanied by friends and members of the community and educators. She gave tours and shared her memories with others. It was on one of those annual trips in 2019 that Kor passed away from natural causes. She was 85.
While her life ended, her memories, legacy and the experiences she so freely shared with the world have endured. Throughout her life, she was recognized and honored as the recipient of dozens of awards, including News Woman of the Year, Woman of Valor, Martin Luther King Spirit of Justice Award, the Mike Vogel Humanitarian Award and a regional Emmy Award for her CANDLES video and documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele.