WASHINGTON – Eva Kor is a Holocaust survivor. In 1944, when she was 10 years old, Kor was taken by German soldiers in her home of Transylvania, Romania. She was placed in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in German-controlled Polish regions in World War II.
But, if one doubts the now 79-year-old’s tales of sleeping in “filthy bunk-beds crawling with lice and rats,” the evidence is inked on her left forearm – the prisoner number she was branded with when she arrived at the camp.
Though 69 years of living in survival mode has rendered the number illegible, Kor reels it off as if she was marked with it five minutes ago.
She has decided against having it removed in honor of the more than 6 million Holocaust victims and to recognize her will to survive, given the hopelessness of her situation.
“Our mother, parents, everybody was gone,” Kor says.
She is in Washington, D.C. this weekend to bring attention to her new crusade – ending genocide.
Kor laid down handmade, replica human “bones” on the National Mall Saturday in the creation of a symbolic mass grave, as part of the One Million Bones project to draw awareness to the issue.
“We are remembering, and we want to stop genocide, but the ultimate goal is to prevent genocide,” Kor says.
Her passion when addressing the atrocity of genocide comes from unspeakable acts she once endured as a prisoner. Kor lived in tight quarters with girls ages two to 16. And she was used in medical experiments by the infamous German Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death.”
“We had a fierce determination to live one more day, and survive one more experiment,” she says.
A series of events in 1995 is what Kor says led her to forgiving German soldiers for the treatment she was forced to endure. It started with a signed document Kor received from a German doctor who worked under Dr. Mengele. He signed a letter acknowledging the barbaric trials, studies and inhumane conditions she and other prisoners were forced to live in.
“So, if ever a revisionist says it didn’t happen, I can take that little document and shove it in their face,” Kor says. “And I have it signed by six witnesses.”
But it wasn’t until she saw the emotional reaction to a thank you letter she wrote to that same doctor that she found the will to forgive.
“I knew immediately this was a meaningful gift for him. But, the gift I gave myself, I discovered I had the power to forgive,” Kor says.
She says she wishes there were events like the OMB protest on the National Mall when she was in Auschwitz, although she questions whether it would’ve changed her predicament.
“The whole idea of never giving up is a nice idea, but I don’t think it’s working because we have all these other genocides that are happening,” says Kor, pointing out the hundreds of thousands of deaths during the Sudan civil war as an example.
In a candlelight vigil speech Sunday night to honor genocide victims, Kor will call on world leaders to work together to prevent the next genocide.
“If we do nothing I know it’s going to continue, and get worse,” Kor says.
But, she says, it’s ultimately people around the world who will decide when genocide will no longer be tolerated. And she believes ultimately people will muster up the will to stop it.
“It’s the human spirit that can’t be broken, even by Auschwutz,” Kor says.