On Living and Forgiving

Book review: Surviving the Angel of Death, by Eva Mozes Kor

If you’re familiar with any Holocaust or Auschwitz documentaries, you’ve probably seen or heard of Eva Mozes Kor. She’s the living badass who, as a child along with her twin Miriam, survived the infamous Dr. Mengele’s nightmarish experiments on twins in Auschwitz. She later immigrated to Israel and then on to Terre Haute, Indiana, where she became a realtor and founder of CANDLES, an organization to connect other survivors from the faux medical labs of the camp. She’s also been an outspoken and very active advocate on behalf of survivors, making sure the truth remains very much in the public eye as the years go by. Just last week, I had CNN on in the background and noticed she was part of a discussion program. I recognized her immediately, she has this intelligent, experienced, serious but sweet bearing. I love hearing her tell her stories so bluntly and clearly, but always with a message of goodness – to know the truth and accept it, but focus on forgiveness and healing.

In Surviving the Angel of Death, Eva tells her story with her characteristic mix of bluntness and controlled emotion. It doesn’t matter how much I read about this era and these events, I’m still moved to tears by these descriptions of inhumanity, and this was no exception. She describes what she witnessed and what she remembers of the experiments that took place, but even today a lot of what happened was unknown, since records were hidden or destroyed and the children used as guinea pigs had no idea what was going on. She did cotton on to the fact that if she died from whatever she was injected with, Miriam would be immediately killed so that their insides could be compared, and that provided a lot of her impetus for survival. That, and the promise she made to herself to leave that place alive after finding frozen dead children on her first night in Auschwitz. It’s an important memoir, but not for the faint of heart.

What I loved so much about this book was her message of forgiveness, and how she stresses it as medicine for everyone who’s been hurt, not only for experiences as horrific as what she endured and survived. “I look at forgiveness as the summit of a very tall mountain. One side is dark, dreary, wet, and very difficult to climb. But those who struggle up and reach the summit can see the beauty of the other side of the mountain, which is covered by flowers, white doves, butterflies, and sunshine. Standing at the summit we can see both sides of the mountain. How many people would choose to go back down on the dreary side rather than stroll through the sunny flower-covered side?”

She shares the lessons distilled from a childhood turned to suffering but resolved with hope and forgiveness, and what stood out most to me was her instruction, “Forgive your worst enemy and forgive everyone who has hurt you – it will heal your soul and set you free.” On the CNN show I watched last week, they showed clips of her hugging a former Nazi and forgiving him, and she spoke bravely about her decision to do this, and how they got along and he showed her respect, which she so clearly deserves. If she can do it after what she’s been through, we all should strive to take her message to heart and do the same.

Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz
by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri

published 2009 by Tanglewood

I received an ebook copy for review courtesy of the publisher.

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