The extraordinary moment when an Auschwitz survivor embraced death camp Nazi on trial for assisting in 300,000 murders
- Eva Kor, 81, embraced former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening, 93
- The former SS man is on trial for war crimes for his two years at the camp
- Kor described to court how she and her twin sister were experimented on
- She suffered at the hands of Dr Josef Mengele at the Nazi death camp
She embraced him, thanked him, held his hand and forgave him.
Holocaust survivor Eva Kor had waited 70 years for a moment such as this – and now, at last, she was face to face with a former SS man on trial for his alleged part in the slaughter at Auschwitz.
Oskar Groening looked startled at first, then smiled. He placed a kiss on her cheek and listened to the words of the 81-year-old woman who, with her twin sister, was once the subject of Josef Mengele’s monstrous human experiments.
The extraordinary moment of reconciliation took place as the 93-year-old former death camp clerk – known as the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz – prepared to listen to Mrs Kor’s evidence in a trial that could condemn him to die in jail. She claims Groening was so overwhelmed by her unexpected gesture that he fainted.
Mrs Kor was criticised by other victims and their families for her public forgiveness. ‘Not only criticism,’ she said. ‘They called me a traitor.’
But she explained: ‘As long as we understand my forgiveness that the victim has a right to be free, you cannot be free from what was done to you unless you remove from your shoulder the daily burden of pain and anger and forgive the Nazis – not because they deserve it, but because I deserve it.
‘When I talk to survivors, and I say why on earth does my forgiveness hurt you, they have no answers. I guess victims like to have more victims; the bigger the crowd, the better. I don’t understand it.
‘The victims, 70 years after liberation, with 300 others, they were all talking about their experience, falling apart – “poor me… what have they done to me?”
‘I don’t forget what they have done to me. But I am not a poor person – I am a victorious woman who has been able to rise above the pain and forgive the Nazis.’ When she approached him before the hearing, she held her arms outstretched towards his – and this most unlikely pair became locked in an embrace.
Asked yesterday why she had hugged him, she said it had not been planned and added: ‘I wanted to thank him for having some human decency in accepting responsibility for what he has done.
‘I was always interested in meeting him face to face because I believe that there is a human interaction that I cannot predict and no one else can predict.’
Mrs Kor later tweeted: ‘I met Oskar Groening, introduced myself reached to shake his hand-he grabbed my arm & fainted-I screamed 4 help. It was a strange reaction!!’
She said Groening bore responsibility for helping to run the wartime concentration camp – but urged him to spend his last days teaching others about the evil of Nazism.
In a moving interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she continued: ‘He is 93 years old. Putting him in jail is absurd. But he can do some good…’
Mrs Kor travelled more than 4,000 miles from home in Indiana, US, to the hearing in Luneburg, Germany.
Her family had been among hundreds of thousands deported in cattle trucks from Hungary and Romania to death camps such as Auschwitz.
Groening’s job at the camp was to collect and tally money stolen from the new arrivals and then send it to Berlin. He denies being an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews there but has begged forgiveness for what he called his ‘moral guilt’.
It was at the camp that the ten-year-old Eva and her twin sister Miriam were singled out by Mengele for his grotesque genetic experiments.
Being chosen ‘didn’t mean the person was assured a life’, she said. ‘It meant you were not immediately taken to the gas chamber.’ She told how she had to stay alive for the sake of her twin sister. She knew if she had died, it would effectively sentence her sister to death – one twin without the other would have been useless for the experiments.
She said: ‘She would have been killed immediately, and Mengele would have done comparative autopsies. So I spoiled their experiment. I survived.’ Mengele used 1,500 sets of twins in his experiments, and only an estimated 180 to 250 individuals survived.
Mrs Kor described how she was injected with a ‘deadly germ’ that she still cannot identify. ‘Mengele stood by my bed and was laughing sarcastically after reading my fever charts and saying I had only two weeks to live. For those following two weeks I have only one single memory: crawling on the barrack floor and trying to reach a faucet (tap) at the other end of the barrack for some water.
‘As I was crawling and fading out of consciousness, I kept saying to myself, “I must survive”. And I did.’
Mrs Kor said she asked the defendant if he knew Mengele. ‘He told me no.’ She also asked if he knew what happened to the files Mengele kept on the twins he subjected to experiments. Those files, she said, ‘have disappeared from the face of the earth’.
She added: ‘I still don’t know what was injected into my body, and I don’t know what was injected into my twin sister’s body, who died 20 years ago, nor into the bodies of any of the other twins.’
Appealing for any information about the files, she said Miriam’s kidney failed in 1987 and although she donated one of her own, Miriam subsequently died.
‘I believe in this big world we have talked so much about human rights that I should have the human right to find out what they injected into me 70 years ago.’
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