Holocaust survivor shares story in Miles City

Star Staff Writer

Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate Eva Mozes Kor, 83, drew crowds that packed the Custer County District High School (CCDHS) gymnasium in Miles City on Sunday night and Monday morning.

Each event attracted about 3,000 people, leaving some standing in the back.

The lecture on Monday was delivered to local and area students of all ages, with students from area schools including Colstrip, Glendive and Sidney joining Miles City students to hear Kor’s renowned message of forgiveness.

Kor was welcomed with thunderous applause and a standing ovation when she walked down the center of the gym floor to her small stage on Sunday. 

Once settled behind a little table covered with a white tablecloth Kor began what she said was her 69th lecture this year.

There are two parts to her lectures, said Kor. The first is how she survived; the second is what she learned from the experience.

Part One

Kor grew up in the only Jewish family in a small Romanian village of just 100 families.

In May, 1944 when Kor was 10 her family of six was rounded up and packed into a cattle car. 

According to Kor, they spent four days squished in the cattle car with no food, water, or room to sit or sleep. 

When they finally reached their destination everyone was herded out of the cars onto the selection platform at the German Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where millions had been murdered.

Instantly, the chaos began. 

In 30 minutes her family was ripped apart, said Kor. 

In the confusion, Kor’s mother grabbed her and her twin sister, Miriam, by the hair to keep them close. During that time, Kor’s father and two older sisters disappeared into the crowd.

She never saw them again. 

“My mother believed if she could keep us close she could protect us,” Kor said on Sunday. 

According to Kor, they were approached by a guard who asked if the girls were twins. Their mother asked if that was a good thing. It was. So she said “yes.” 

Kor and Miriam were ripped from their mother’s grasp and never saw her again.

The girls became part of the 1,500 sets of twins used as human lab rats in genetic experiments under the direction of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele. Out of all those twins it’s estimated that only around 200 survived. 

Once leaving the platform they were processed, their long hair was cut short, their dresses were taken to have a red cross painted on the back and they received their identification tattoos.

“I became A-7063 and Miriam became A-7064,” said Kor said, showing her arm to the crowd.

They were then taken to their barrack, a wooden, modular horse barn, where they lived with 12 other sets of twins and one mother, said Kor. 

Even though the girls hadn’t slept for four days, sleep eluded them that first night in the concentration camp. That night Kor and her sister went to the latrine where they were greeted by the bodies of dead children.

“That night I made a silent pledge to myself,” said Kor. “I would do everything in my power so that Miriam and I would survive.”

According to Kor, the twins were subjected to experiments six days a week. 

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday they would be taken to a huge room where they were striped naked and every part of their bodies were measured.

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the 10-year-olds were taken to what Kor called the blood lab, where both of their arms were restrained. The doctors took blood out of the left arm and injected their right with up to five injections.

To this day no one is quite sure what was injected into the twins during the experiments, said Kor. 

Once after the injections Kor fell ill and was taken to the camp hospital. Mengele came to see her. He gave her two weeks to live. 

According to Kor, she learned later that if she had  died Miriam would have given a shot to her heart, killing her. Then Mengele would have preformed the autopsies. 

According to Kor, during her time in the hospital Miriam was first kept in isolation but was later taken to the blood lab and was injected with something that made her extremely sick.

While Kor was in the camp she became a great organizer, she said to students on Monday. To organize in the camp meant to steal from the Nazis.

According to Kor, they were given one slice a bread a day. She estimates that they got no more than 300 calories a day which is enough to sustain life for only a few months. To survive she learned to steal raw potatoes from the kitchen, which they would boil at night.

And it wasn’t just their stomachs that were hungry.

“We were starved. We were starved for human kindness and starved for the love of parents,” said Kor. 

After facing the constant struggle and tragedy in the camp they were liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.

The first sign of liberation came when they realized they could go outside the fence without anyone yelling or shooting at them.

Another sign was when Kor saw an airplane fly low over the camp. She saw the American flag painted on one of the wings.  

“Seeing the American flag on the planes gave us hope. And hope in Auschwitz was in very small supply,” said Kor. 

According to Kor, they knew for sure they were liberated when they saw the Soviet Army coming into the camp with smiles on their faces. 

They gave the children chocolate, cookies and hugs.

After Liberation

The next nine months they lived in several refugee camps before finally making it back to their village to find that none of their family was there. The only thing that remained were three old photographs on the floor.

Eventually their aunt in Romania took them in until they migrated to Israel in 1950.

While in Israel, both girls joined the Israeli Army. 

They later met their husbands. Kor then moved to the United States while Miriam stayed in Israel.

While in the U.S. Kor began to wonder what had happened to all the other twins that were liberated from Auschwitz.

With the help of her sister, Kor launched the Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) organization in 1984. Together they began searching for other surviving Mengele twins, locating 122 individual twins who live in 10 countries and four continents. 

The girls didn’t discuss the events of the Holocaust until 1985. According to Kor, Miriam was always weaker than she after the war. 

In 1987, Miriam’s kidneys failed, Kor donated one of her own to save her sister.

They later found out that her Miriam’s kidneys never developed beyond those of a 10-year-old child. 

Unfortunatley, her anti-rejection medication combined with something unusual in her system caused Mirian to develop bladder cancer. She died in 1993.

In 1995, in honor of her sister, Kor opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

The museum’s mission is to prevent prejudice and hatred through education.

Lecture — Part Two

According to Kor, she aims to teach three life lessons during her lectures.

No. 1 is never ever give up on yourself or your dreams.

“Growing up is very hard no matter where you live,” said Kor. “It’s hard to find where you belong.”

During both lectures, Kor challenged the young people in the crowd to go out into the world and be the best that they can be.

To do that Kor recommended being kind to one another, learning as much as possible and working to make the world a better place.

The second life lesson is about prejudice. According to Kor, prejudice is hatred that hurts everyone involved.

Kor told the crowd that they should treat everyone with respect and fairness.

Lesson three is to learn to forgive everyone, even your worst enemy. 

“I have forgiven the Nazis and everyone who has ever hurt me,” said Kor.

It took Kor a long time to forgive the Nazis for what they had done, but eventually she began working on a letter of forgiveness that took four months to complete.

According to Kor, is often asked how she can forgive those involved with the Holocaust. Kor said she always responds with a question of her own: “Do I deserve to be free from what they did to me?”

Invariably, she said, the answer to that question is “yes.”

“Every human has the right to be happy,” Kor said. “Forgiving your worst enemy sets you free.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day

During Monday’s lecture the crowd also observed Yom-HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day — April 24. 

Across Israel, citizens stop whatever they are doing at 11 a.m. for a moment of silence dedicated to those who resisted the Nazis and for the victims of the Holocaust.

At about 10:50 a.m. Kor led the gym in a candlelight ceremony. At 11 a.m., the Custer County Emergency Alert Warning Sirens went off as part of the observance, and the crowd stood for a moment of silence.

CCDHS history teacher John Tooke was the driving force behind bringing Kor to Miles City, said school district activities director Mike Ryan. It was Kor’s fourth visit to Montana.

Tooke worked for several months raising $11,000 to bring Kor to town. Some of the organizations that assisted were the Holy Rosary Health Foundation, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Miles Community College and Mid-Rivers Communication. 

Tooke said Sunday night that he was very pleased with the turnout.

(Contact Ashley Roness at starnews@midrivers.com or (406) 234-0450.)