Eva Kor was born in Romania in 1934 where she and her twin sister Miriam lived with their family. In 1940 her rural village was occupied by Hungarians allied with the Nazis. In 1944 she and her family were transported to Auschwitz. Immediately upon disembarking, her father and her two older sisters were sent to be gassed to death; soon after, the same fate befell her mother. At age 10, Eva and Miram were alone; but they were kept alive to be used in barbaric experiments under the direction of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Most of the children used in Mengele’s experiments perished, but Eva and Miriam survived until the camp was liberated in 1945. The girls were then 11 years old.
Eva was free from the Nazis but the pain from her ordeal persisted. As an adult she began to realize that her continued pain was self-inflicted. In the movie Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Eva explains how she came to realize that she had the power of choice: “Whatever was done to me is no longer causing such pain that I cannot be the person I want to be.” She decided the way out of her pain was forgiveness. When she forgave, she finally felt free “from all the burden the pain inflicted on (her).”
Eric Butterworth writes in Discover the Power Within You,
We may have a perfect justification for a bitterness and anger. We may be completely righteous in our indignation. But we will have to pay the price of the broken connection of the divine circuits … We can have our unforgiveness and bitterness and anger if we so choose, but we will also have our stomach ulcers and nervous tension and heart trouble, and mental and physical breakdowns. Turn on the light—not so much for the benefit of others, but for you.
In the movie, Eva makes it clear that she was indeed forgiving for her own sake. Some Holocaust survivors, as well as others, found it incomprehensible that Eva could forgive such heinous crimes. It is important to realize that Eva was not in denial over what she experienced. In fact, she is currently devoting her life to Holocaust education.
Fortunately, most of us will never experience a classroom as extreme as Eva’s. Yet, most of us have suffered wounds of our own; and unlike Eva, many of us pick at the scab every day. As we do, the wound is freshly opened. As our wound opens again, we believe the cause of our suffering is in the world rather than in our mind. Eva is teaching us that we are deceiving ourselves. The cause of our suffering is a decision we made in our mind. Why, unlike Eva, do we relish our victimhood? The answer is clear: As victims, we have someone or something to blame for not being “the person (we) want to be.”
In his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel speaks of his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz is the camp Eva survived too. Frankl writes: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
These are mere theoretical words, until we make the decision that Eva made to no longer be in chains. But the question is, “How do we go beyond the theoretical?” The secret to Eva’s salvation is that she realized—in direct contrast to what the world was teaching her—that she was inflicting her pain on herself. Nobody and nothing in the world can remove pain that we decide to keep. All healing begins with the realization that we have a mind that can make another choice. Until we realize we can make another choice, we look for change in the world—often in the form of a new job, a new relationship, or a new geographical location—to escape from our pain. All these things may indeed provide temporary pleasure; and when inevitably they fail, we remember the temporary pleasure and we go right back trying to change the world rather than changing our mind. With our focus on the world we refuse to examine the ongoing decision we are making in our mind. The world will cooperate with our self-deception—we all have found allies who agree with us that our pain has been caused by that which we haven’t forgiven.
In his fine book The Happiness Trap, physician Russ Harris observes that most of the thinking that constantly plays in the background of our mind is like a “Radio Doom and Gloom Show, broadcasting negative stories twenty-four hours a day.” This “show,” Harris adds,
Reminds us of bad things from the past, it reminds us of bad things to come the future, and it gives us regular updates on everything that’s wrong with us. Once in a while it broadcasts something useful or cheerful, but not too often. So if are constantly tuned into this radio, listening to it intently and, worse, believing everything we hear, then we have a sure fire recipe for stress and misery.
Now, if you’ve ever tried to stop thinking a certain thought, you know how frustrating it can be. Our thinking is not easily changed, but what Eva Kor has taught us is that we can choose which thoughts we value. Eva doesn’t value the thoughts that keep her in chains; so when they arise, she can choose to let the thoughts fade away rather than analyze and entertain them. But, we can make that choice only when we realize, no matter what we have experienced, we are not mindless—we have a mind that can choose again.