Eva Kor has an incredible story of forgiveness to tell.
Kor, 79, a native of Romania, and her twin sister, Miriam, survived the Holocaust and the horrific medical experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele. Fifty years later, Kor forgave Mengele and the other Nazis for the atrocities they perpetrated against the Jews.
Kor will be in Billings on Tuesday evening to describe her journey, one that continues today through a museum she founded in Indiana and through the tours she continues to lead to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
She will speak at the West High auditorium from 6:30 to 8 p.m. A silent auction at 5:45 is designed to defray the costs of her visit.
Rob Stanton, a teacher at West High, is helping to organize the free talk, with MasterLube a major sponsor for the event. Stanton, who accompanied Kor on her trip to Poland last summer, described her as a fascinating and "spunky tell-it-how-it-is person" with an unforgettable life story.
“I think it’s a rare privilege and opportunity to be able to listen to somebody who went through all that she did,” Stanton said. “We place people on pedestals, and the ones who deserve to be on them, we don’t always hear from.”
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Kor said the message of her life is one of hope.
“What I want people to know is they can overcome any difficulty in life,” she said. “If I can overcome Auschwitz, they can overcome difficulties and make their lives whole again.”
It’s a message that draws people. At a recent talk in Springfield, Mo., where organizers of a talk by Kor expected to draw 300 people, 3,000 came. But Kor adds a caveat to her message.
“I cannot ignore the fact that this tragedy happened, and I need to talk about that,” she said.
Kor’s story goes back to August 1944 when, at the age of 10, she, her parents, her twin and two older sisters all were loaded with other Jewish prisoners onto a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz. She and Miriam were torn from the rest of their family — the sisters never saw their parents or siblings again.
The two girls became part of a group of children, an estimated 1,500 sets of twins, used in genetic experiments directed by Mengele. Only a fraction of the children were discovered alive when the camp was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.
Stanton, during his tour, saw the building where it happened and heard Kor’s account.
“She was experimented on at least three times a week, six to eight hours a day,” he said. “They were standing there or sitting there naked. The (doctors) would poke and prod and measure and inject and take blood samples. She had to go through that pain and embarrassment.”
The sisters eventually immigrated to Israel. Kor spent 10 years there, where she received an education and met and married a Holocaust survivor, Michael Kor, whom she joined in the United States.
In 1984, Kor founded Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments (CANDLES), which eventually grew into a museum in Terre Haute in 1995. And she and Miriam began to search for other survivors.
In 1993 Miriam died, and as Kor was dealing with the grief of that, she received an invitation from a college professor to speak at a conference about Nazi medicine.
“He said to me to bring along a Nazi doctor, and I was stunned at his request, I didn’t know how to find one,” Kor said.
She managed to get in contact with Dr. Hans Munch, who knew Mengele but wasn’t part of the twins experiments. Munch did, however, operate the gas chambers where so many Jews died. Kor and Munch met in Germany.
“The chances I would meet the only Nazi doctor after the war who was actually involved in genocide was a very interesting thing,” she said. “I didn’t know when I asked to meet him. I wanted him to come to the conference.”
Out of that meeting came a seed that eventually grew into Kor's forgiveness of Munch, and even of Mengele. Kor will share the details of how that happened in her talk.
It wasn’t easy, and she experienced much anger from other survivors who disagreed with her decision. But for Kor, the ultimate result was a sense of freedom that she had never before had.
“In spite of life’s hardships, I am happy and a well-functioning human being who has succeeded in healing myself through forgiveness,” she said. “And that idea of healing through forgiveness is one I hope to share with everybody because it works for any kind of human problem, for any kind of person who’s a victim of anything.”