By Gerald Z. Slaughter
Standing on the spot where she last saw her family 65 years ago, Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor offered an inspiring message about the power of the human spirit.
“I want you to remember that in spite of what you see here, the human spirit cannot be defeated,” she said to a group of 54 others assembled on a railroad platform at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp.
During the Holocaust, countless victims were unloaded from railroad cattle cars onto this “selection platform,” so-called because victims were instantly selected to die in the gas chambers or be slave laborers for the camp.
“I don’t think that there is a strip of land like that anywhere on the face of this earth that has witnessed so many hundreds of families being torn apart,” Kor said.
Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were spared instant death at Auschwitz because they were chosen for horrific medical experiments by the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, nicknamed the “Angel of Death.”
Kor’s parents and two older sisters were immediately sent to the gas chambers upon arrival. Eva and Miriam survived unbelievable odds to walk out of the camp when it was liberated by the Soviet Army on Jan. 27, 1945. The twins turned 11 years old four days later.
“What kept us alive was the unbelievable human spirit that kept saying, ‘Don’t give up; keep fighting; try to stay alive for one more day,’” she said.
Kor is leading a group of 54 people on a weeklong tour of the Auschwitz camp system. Tomorrow, the group will participate in the official ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation.
The trip was organized by CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which was founded by Kor in 1995. The group members include teachers and students from Indiana, as well as Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett and several friends of the museum from across the United States.
Group members appreciated Kor’s heart-wrenching but inspiring stories, which were even more powerful when told on the camp site in the bitter cold of Poland.
Group member Stephen Hinkey of Elka Park, N.Y., later said he almost broke down at the memorial.
“How could anyone survive for days in the cold?” he said.
His wife, Carmen, added that her first impression was one of disbelief and perplexity.
“It is hard to believe that you are even here,” she said. Given the scale of the atrocities of the 1.5 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, “it is very hard to imagine that it actually happened,” she said.
After the initial shock, the Hinkeys were inspired by Kor’s stories of survival and forgiveness:
“In spite of surviving that inhuman cruelty, I have forgiven the Nazis because I deserve to be free from what happened here.”
The group’s motto is “Tikkun Olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning “Repair the World.” Kor and the group members aim to take the lessons learned at Auschwitz and help make a positive impact in their communities after the trip.
Gerald Slaugher is a CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center board member and teaches public relations at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.
CANDLES Museum coordinator Kiel Majewski contributed to this report.