For a Holocaust survivor, meeting the offspring of one’s tormenters would be difficult enough. The prospect of developing a close friendship with them, even familial warmth, would seem utterly impossible.
Yet this is just the sort of unlikely relationship struck between a woman who was subjected to horrific Nazi medical experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, and the very grandson of that camp’s notorious commander, according to the Vice news website.
In 1944, at the age of ten, Romanian-born Eva Mozes Kor was captured by the Nazis and — along with her twin sister — was subjected to savage medical experiments at Auschwitz carried out by Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele, who had a particular interest in twins in his work, is believed to have victimized approximately 1,500 pairs throughout the war. Only around 200 of those pairs survived.
“Throughout the week, the doctors would be giving me a minimum of five injections into my arm. I became very ill,” Kor recently recounted to high school students at a lecture in Casper, Wyoming, according to Oil City.
At one point Mengele told her, laughing, that she had only two weeks to live. Her sister, too, was very sick, but both knew that if one died, the other would likely be killed as well.
“I remember going back to the camp where I remember crawling and fading in and out of consciousness, crawling to get to a water fountain, telling myself, ‘I must survive, I must survive,\’” she said.
And, miraculously, they did.
In 1995, Kor founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, a small city in western Indiana where she has lived since the 1950s, with the aim of sharing her story with her neighbors. But instead of speaking in anger of her captors, Kor has preached forgiveness.
“I had the power to forgive. No one could give me the power, or take it away from me,” Kor, now 80, told Vice last week. “I refused to be a victim, and now I am free.”
In 2013, Kor first met Rainer Höss, whose grandfather Rudolf Höss commanded Auschwitz for much of the war and is identified with the decision to use pesticide Zyklon B to kill prisoners in the camp’s gas chambers.
Many families of former Nazi war criminals have avoided their past. Some have attempted to bury it, while others deny that any evil was perpetrated at all. But not Rainer Höss. Since finding out the truth of his grandfather’s actions, he has become a fierce and vocal critic of his forebear and has sought to learn all that he could of his dark roots.
“I do argue with him, as I don’t always agree with everything he does. But I definitely love him,” she said. “There is a real camaraderie and emotional understanding. People from different places who call each other grandma and grandson can give a sign of hope.”