Eva Kor’s Universal Lesson

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.


5 Responses to Eva Kor’s Universal Lesson

  1. Traci Boyle says:

    Thank you for this post. As I was reading it, I felt that you had written it personally and directly to me. I have been struggling with my own demons (petty compared to Eva’s). This post is one of several “pokes” that I’ve received recently to help me steer a new course!

  2. Frankvv says:

    Forgiving is sometimes easier said that done; today I now recognize that it is one’s ego that fights to keep the negative energy at the forefront of one’s soul. In 2008 my wife and I were awaken by a phone call in the middle of the night. It was my son-in-law’s father calling to tell us there was a horrible accident; our daughter had been shot – by my son-in-law – his son! As you can imagine this is not the phone call that any parent wishes to receive. It turns out my son-in-law, a member of the US
    Air Force (thus should know how to handle a fire arm, accidently discharged a hand gun that he was cleaning in the master bedroom. The bullet pierced my daughter’s leg. This “accident” was beyond my comprehension, and for a long time I couldn’t let go; I was angry right down to the core of my soul. And my ego enjoyed throwing more fuel on the fire. How could this man shoot my daughter – even accidently? And what if my granddaughter, his daughter, a toddler at the time, had been in the room? I shiver at the thought. At any rate, my daughter has left that relationship for a variety of reasons, the accidental shooting being only a small piece in the puzzle. My ego could not let go for a long time. I am over it now, but if I let my ego take control, the anger can easily bubble back to the surface. I truly want to forgive and forget, and most days I am able to. But the negative energy is always there and it takes a lot of will power to not let it bubble back to the surface.

  3. Traci,

    I’m glad my post was a help. We area all in the same boat.


    Powerful story! Forgiveness for the major issues of life is indeed as you say easier said than done. We can forgive ourselves for a lack of forgiveness and that helps to take the charge out of the issue.

  4. Susan says:

    I live near my Sister In Law, It seems that something comes up frequently that is hurtful, I have searched myself to see if I am “bring this on” so to speak. I appreciate the article and know that I can accomplish the forgiveness, but it does take time. It seems as though after I have gotten to that place of forgiveness, something else will happen, and I will feel hurt all over again. I find it best to avoid my sister-in-law, but we have always been a close family and our child likes to play with there children, The relationship between my brother and I is not as strong now. I am saddend to think that I will never have a good relationship w/my sister-in-law and therefore not much of one w/my brother and his children. I believe that for some reason she does not like me. I have ask her to forgive me if I have ever done anything that my have offended her, but she had difficuty accepting this w/no explantion other than to say that I am just “Different”. The problem now is that we have a large family and live very close to each other and due to the problems that seem to come up often, I would like to leave this area, even though I have other friends, and beautiful daughter and husband and lovely home. So I guess I am asking, once you have forgiven someone, but you feel you have to be soooooo careful w/your words so that they will not find some way to twist it and use against you. I would much rather have a good relationship w/her than feel she is putting me against my brother and even there children.

  5. Susan,

    I wish you all the best on your journey of forgiveness. It is indeed a journey. A couple of observations:

    1. Be kind to yourself. As much as possible, without judgment, observe your reactions to your sister-in-law. Forgive yourself for your reactions.
    2. Do not expect your sister-in-law to change.
    3. Keep on reading inspirational essays. The journey of forgiveness is worth it. There are many fine books on forgiveness; I can suggest some if you like.

    Happy New Year!

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