Surviving Mengele’s experiments

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You have to wonder, as I did when I was talking to Eva Mozes Kor the other day, how a human being comes through the horrors of an experience like the Holocaust unscathed emotionally and psychologically.

Kor is coming to Brookings Wednesday to speak about her nine months at Auschwitz in 1944 and the beginning of 1945. While there, she and her twin sister, Miriam, were experimented on by the Angel of Death, Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele.

She talked about that experience for a story we ran about her in Tuesday’s Argus Leader.

Kor, 79, would tell you that she walked out of Auschwitz with more than just her Jewish identification — A-7063 — branded into her flesh. She brought horrific memories with her as well, of children lying dead in her barracks, or of Mengele and his staff injecting her with all kinds of germs and diseases to see if she could survive.

Kor went to Israel in 2011 to speak with other twins who, like her, had survived Mengele’s atrocities. She was hoping to communicate with 60 to 65 surviving twins living there. She got to speak to only three.

Many wouldn’t answer their telephones or come to the door. “I’d say half of them you can’t talk to because they are taking tranquilizers and antidepressants and they can’t really function very well,” Kor said.

It’s sad, she continued. If survivors could only learn to forgive — as she has publicly forgiven Mengele and the other Nazis who perpetrated their inhumanity on her — then “they might be able to function much better, rather than be so angry at the world,” she said.

As for how a 10-year-old like her survived the hunger and the rats and the disease and the humiliation, Kor tells this story.

When her mother was expecting their third child, her father desperately wanted a son to go along with the two daughters they already had. As her twin sister emerged first, her father asked the midwife what sex the baby was.

The midwife said apologetically, “it’s a girl. But don’t despair. Another one is coming.”

To her father’s disappointment, Kor said, the son never came.

When she was 5, maybe 6, she said her father started picking on her. He told her she should have been a boy.

When her mother would go across the street to visit a pregnant neighbor, the two women would talk about when “the stork was coming.” Little Eva, maybe 6 or 7 at the time, wondered how a bird knew how to bring babies to people’s houses. It must be a very smart bird. She told her father that she didn’t think it was her fault that the stork brought her instead of a son.

"From there on, he was at my throat and putting me in situations where I was always failing," Kor said. "When he had a chance to belt me, he did, daily. I learned to develop a mentality of outsmarting my father and defying him."

That outsmarting and defiance came in handy at Auschwitz, she said. Who knows, she says 70 years later. It might have saved her life.