Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Tonight, while Brian spent yet another evening working on his new book, “Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness”, I watched a documentary called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.”

Eva Kor and her sister Miriam were identical ten year old Jewish twins, and because they were twins they were yanked from their mother as they stood in line to face the crematorium in Auschwitz, Poland. Their mother and every other family member perished. They were saved so that they could be used to be part of medical experiments, cruel barbaric acts of torture devised by a Nazi maniac physician named Dr. Mengele.

Eva’s fierce passion to live saved both her life and her sister’s life. Even though they were twins, Eva said she felt like Miriam’s mother, and when Eva, very sick in the infirmary, overheard a doctor say she wouldn’t live more than another two weeks, she knew that if she herself were to die, then Miriam would also have to die, murdered so that autopsies could be performed on both girls. Eva refused to give in to death, and did recover. Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians on January 27, 1945. Famous news footage shows a large group of young children, mostly twins hand in hand, walking out of their barbwire prison. Eva and Miriam are at the head of the procession.

The girls, who had been raised in Transylvania, were among the many Jewish refugees who found themselves in Palestine. They married men who had also been former prisoners, and while Miriam remained in Palestine, Eva and her husband relocated to Terre Haute, Indiana, where they raised three children, and Eva became a successful real estate agent.

Miriam, still in Palestine, had received injections by Dr. Mengele that caused severe kidney damage. (At one point, Eva would again save her life, becoming a live kidney donor.) A doctor told Eva that if he had access to Dr. Mengele’s records, he might be able to better treat Miriam. She began a crusade to try to locate those records, searching the world over. She never did find them, but her efforts caused her to become acquainted with a German physician who had been a Nazi and worked with Dr. Mengele.

Eva was learning that there was no future without forgiveness, and through a process of much soul searching, she forgave this doctor, and the two of them visited Auschwitz together. The film shows very dramatic footage of the two of them there, formalizing forgiveness and reconciliation. Other Jews who were present were not able to do the same thing. There was a lot of anger, a lot of emotion, but this little Jewish lady was a formidable preacher, a true Jewish mother, and campaigned for forgiveness. She said it is necessary to forgive so that we ourselves can be free. The film shows her engaged in heated dialogue with many different people, some Jews who could just not accept her call to forgive. They said it was too much, impossible.

There were debates about what is required in order to expect to receive this forgiveness. The different views expressed are very interesting, but you can’t help but notice that Eva has found a way to go on with life, while some of those who oppose forgiveness are bitter and unhappy. Eventually Eva decided that if she could forgive this doctor, she could also forgive Dr. Mengele. Even though he was dead and she couldn’t forgive him in person, she could choose to experience the freedom that forgiveness would bring. She forgave him.

There is nothing in this film to indicate that Eva, a Jew, has any identification with or understanding of the teachings of Christ. In fact, there are no “religious” reasons given for forgiveness, rather, it is the thing that humans must do in order to live. But whether or not it is intentional, she is following the teaching of Jesus, to love your enemies and forgive them.

She has traveled extensively, speaking to Jewish groups and student groups. With much determination and work, she singlehandedly opened in 1995 a Holocaust Museum at home in Terre Haute, Indiana, which was very well received by the community and had over 15,000 visitors in just a few years.

This movie should have ended there, but it didn’t. In 2003, this museum was burned and destroyed by an arsonist who has never been caught, undoubtedly a hate crime—the words, “remember Timmy McVeigh” spray-painted on the exterior of the building. The film shows heartbreaking footage of Eva walking through the burned out shell of her dream, but ends with the surprise announcement that in 14 months the museum was reopened in another, better location.

I was very moved watching this film, particularly the poignant end. Eva Kor didn’t only speak words of forgiveness, but demonstrated them. As an old woman, she didn’t say, “it’s too much.” She had enough forgiveness and faith to work to see her dead dream resurrected again, and rebuilt from ashes. How much did this woman forgive? I think seventy times seven.