Forgiving Nazis: “I Highly Recommend It”

Eva (Mozes) Kor was ten years old when she arrived from Hungary with her family at Auschwitz in May 1944. Despite experiments performed on her by the infamous Josef Mengele, she survived, and now runs a memorial to Holocaust victims in Terre Haute, Indiana, called CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors). Her twin sister also survived Auschwitz, but her parents and other siblings all perished there.

She has forgiven the Nazis. She announced this in a German courtroom in April, during the trial of Auschwitz “bookkeeper” Oskar Gröning. Now 94, Gröning was sentenced this week to four years in prison for his role in the “death machine” that was Auschwitz. Groning acknowledged his “moral guilt” in the deaths of 300,000 during the summer of 1944, but said that the “enormity” of his guilt made it impossible for him to ask for forgiveness. “I don’t consider myself entitled to such a request. I can only ask forgiveness of the Lord.” Some Auschwitz survivors do not believe this was an apology, and I find enigmatic his comment that his guilt made it “impossible” to apologize. The offender’s responsibility is to acknowledge the offense and ask for forgiveness; it’s up to the victim to determine whether to forgive.

But it was enough for Eva Kor. In a radio interview this week, she explained why she forgave Gröning: “He has repented, he has said he was sorry, what else can he do? …everybody deserves a second chance.” She noted that “revenge accomplishes nothing,” it would not return her family to her, and she wanted a chance to reclaim her life.

In the statement she made to the court in April, Mrs. Kor explained that she had the opportunity in 1993 to meet one of the Nazi doctors who worked at Auschwitz, Hans Münch. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Dr. Münch met her at Auschwitz in 1995 to sign a statement testifying to the existence of the Auschwitz gas chambers, to refute Holocaust-deniers. Kor was grateful, but wondered, how could she thank a Nazi? She said she thought about it for ten months, “and one day the idea of a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Munch came to my mind. I knew he would like it, and for me it was a life-changing experience. I realized I had power over my life. I had the power to heal the pain imposed on me by Auschwitz by forgiving the people who caused that pain.”

“Many people hold onto pain and anger. Unfortunately, this does not help the survivors, and that is my only focus. My forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrators. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation and self-empowerment. It’s free, everybody can afford it, it has no side effects and it works. I highly recommend it.”

She also noted that her forgiveness did not absolve the perpetrators from taking responsibility for their actions. But she was disappointed with the prison sentence for Gröning; she would have preferred that he be required to tell young people about the truth and evils of Nazism.

Eva Kor does not indicate, in either her court statement or the radio interview, whether there is a divine component to her forgiveness. She describes her reasons for forgiveness in what might be called “therapeutic” terms—for her benefit. Christians have an additional reason to forgive: we know that God forgives us, and Jesus commanded us to forgive one another. Despite these compulsions to forgive, Christians find it very challenging—myself included. So it’s humbling to hear of a person who came to this discovery on her own, and seems to be completely at peace with it. If Eva Kor can forgive the people who murdered her family, how can I as a Christian withhold forgiveness for lesser offenses? I’m grateful to Eva Kor for her example.

 

 

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