The photo shocked some. A surviving victim of cruel Nazi physician Josef "Angel of Death" Mengele's horrific twin experiments at Auschwitz, hugging 94-year-old Nazi Oskar Groening, the so-called "bookkeeper of Auschwitz," during his 2015 trial for his part in the wartime atrocities.
But that was Eva Mozes Kor. That one photo captured what she made her life's mission. Forgiveness. Incredible forgiveness.
Shipped to Auschwitz in 1944 with her entire family, 10-year-old Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, would be the only family members to make it out alive from Auschwitz. Not her father, Alexander, 44, her mother Jaffa, 38, older sister Edit, 14, or middle sister Aliz, 12.
As she explained in a letter, "within thirty minutes after arriving on the selection platform, Miriam and I were ripped apart from our family forever. Only she and I survived, because we were used in experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele."
They were injected with substances that were never known to them. They were watched for the effects of the cruel experiments. At one point, with Eva so sick from whatever was being injected into her, Mengele and four doctors stopped by, looked at her chart, and then said, laughing sarcastically, “Too bad. She’s so young. She has only two weeks to live.”
As Eva tells it, at that moment she was determined not to die.
She and Miriam made it out of Auschwitz, but there was lasting damage, particularly to Miriam, who died from kidney cancer in 1993. Eva donated one of her kidneys to Miriam. Doctors told Miriam her kidneys never developed beyond those of a 10-year-old child.
The sisters eventually emigrated to Israel. Miriam raised a family. In 1960, Eva met another Holocaust survivor, Michael Kor, married, and resettled in Indiana.
In 1978, Eva began lecturing and teaching about her experiences. But what stunned many, and at times angered other survivors, was her message of forgiveness. Many could not imagine how she could forgive. But to hear her tell it, forgiveness was the final liberator for her.
She outraged many in 1995 when, accompanied by a film crew, she met with Nazi physician Hans Munch at the remnants of Auschwitz where he gave ghastly details of the horrors of Auschwitz. She told the Times of Israel in a 2016 interview she did it as "ammunition against Holocaust deniers." But she went further, offering Munch a breathtaking "letter of forgiveness."
“I knew right away that he would find it an important and meaningful gift," Kor told the Times of Israel. "But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. That no one could give me that power, and no one could take it away." She said forgiveness was her "ultimate revenge against the Nazis."
Eva and Miriam founded CANDLES, which stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, to locate other surviving members of Mengele's twin experiments. Two years after Miriam's death, the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute, Ind., was founded, memorializing the approximately 1,500 pairs of twins that were experimented upon by Mengele.
The museum was firebombed in 2003 but rebuilt in 2005. Like the diminutive Eva, the museum was a survivor.
Kor's forgiveness and strength also deeply touched Rainer Hoss, the grandson of Auschwitz commander Rudolph Hoss, who instituted the use of the deadly pesticide Zyklon B to kill prisoners in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Rainer Hoss had long since disavowed his family's Nazi past and in 2013 asked Kor to be his adopted grandmother. She accepted.
At the 2015 trial of the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz," she called on Groening to educate the world as to what happened at Auschwitz. She knew he was guilty. She wanted his sentence to be one of community service to educate. She expressed outrage when the 94-year-old received a four-year prison sentence instead.
Over the past few years, Kor became quite the presence on Twitter, sharing her story with over 41,000 followers, including the horrifying details and haunting photos — she never wanted the world to forget the true depth and measure of the Holocaust. At the same time, she remained uplifting. She frequently reminded us to enjoy the simple things in life, something we all overlook each day, but which a Holocaust survivor never takes for granted.
Her lighthearted yet poignant tweet on July 3 reflected that.
Accompanying a photo of herself eating Chicken McNuggets, she tweeted, "Can you believe that today I can get chicken McNuggets near Auschwitz? That would have been wonderful 75 years ago."
It was her last tweet.
Eva Mozes Kor's remarkable life came to an end on America's Independence Day while on her annual trip to Poland. The 85-year-old died peacefully in her sleep in her hotel room. If anybody deserved a peaceful end, surely it was Eva.
I will miss her Twitter updates, her amazing resilience and, mostly, her inspiration. The world seems a little colder, a little emptier without Eva. But, after having lived through hell on Earth, she surely is now reaping her eternal reward.
Rest in peace Eva. Rest easy. You earned it.
Ruthenberg is a multiple award-winning columnist and writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.