Forgiving the Unforgivable

Imagine, in the black-and-white newsreel footage of your mind, a scared little ten-year-old Romanian girl lying in a sick bay in Auschwitz, having suffered the crutel indignity of being treated as little more than a lab animal by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who had injected her with a lethal cocktail of bacteria. A doctor glances at the girl’s medical chart and brusquely tells her she has two weeks to live.

Fast-forward 63 years. Through the magic of e-mail, I am able to reach through the mists of history and contact that little girl. Eva Kor e-mails me back to tell me that, yes, what I had written about her was accurate.

Her stunning act of forgiveness still takes my breath away.


Eva Kor

On January 27, 1995, in a public ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets, Eva Kor forgave the Nazis who murdered her parents and two older sisters. Standing by the ruins of a gas chamber at the infamous death camp, she also forgave Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who used Kor and her twin sister Miriam as guinea pigs for genetic experiments.

Kor’s forgiveness allowed her to release the heartache and hatred she had been carrying for five decades. She said, “I read my document of forgiveness and signed it. I immediately felt the pain lift from my shoulders. Finally, I was no longer a prisoner of Auschwitz. I was finally free. So I say to everybody, ‘Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and set you free.’”

Later that year, Kor opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. (CANDLES is an acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.) In 2003, the museum was burned to the ground by a fire that was deliberately set. Kor forgave the arsonist and rebuilt the museum. She said, ““For most people there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge. Forgiveness is nothing more and nothing less than an act of self-healing, an act of self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It’s free, it works, and it has no side effects.”

As Eva Kor learned, forgiveness does not mean that you condone what was done to you or that you are absolving the perpetrator of responsibility for his or her actions. How deserving your antagonist is of your forgiveness is irrelevant.

Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. You cannot know real peace without it. Until you release your resentments, the external world will always remain a threat.

Eva Kor captured the true meaning of forgiveness, of release, when she said, “Forgiveness means to me that whatever was done to me is no longer causing me such pain that I cannot be the person I want to be.”

Forgiveness is another word for love. It is about choosing to love when love seems like an impossible choice to make.

Click here to donate to Eva Kor’s CANDLES Holocaust Museum.

Click here to read Chris Doyle’s review of Eva’s book, Echoes from Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele’s Twins, The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes.

Click here to view all my posts about Eva Kor as well as posts about other concentration camp survivors.

Click here to view all my forgiveness-related posts.


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19 Responses to “Forgiving the Unforgivable”

  1. Ron Ross Says:

    It is hard for me to believe that there are people that think that the death camps did not exist. There are still many survivors around that should be able to prove otherwise. This lady would be one.

  2. Deb Reilly Says:

    Nicely written Phil. It’s dramatic and noteworthy when someone like Eva publicly forgives a notorious figure like Mengele. It took me a long time to understand that forgiveness doesn’t require the consent or a request from the offender. Forgiveness is surely a spiritual gift God gives you when you give your own consent.

  3. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Well said, Deb. The sooner that others learn this lesson the better—for their own peace of mind. Perhaps forgiveness becomes more palatable when it’s reframed as release. Then it becomes more obvious that it’s about your health and well-being and has nothing at all to do with the person who caused the harm.

  4. Kate Says:

    Forgiveness, as a concept, has been something I’ve struggled to understand throughout my life. Your article about the acts of forgiveness performed by Ms. Kors to heal her life has finally shed a light on the true purpose of such acts. To engage in self-healing is, I believe, a sacred act we are not often encouraged to do, and yet, it is one of the most necessary in order to live well and whole.

  5. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m glad Eva Kor’s story provided you some insight. She is truly a shining example who can help many people heal their lives.

  6. Christopher Barbour Says:

    Thank you for writing about this Phil. I have sent this link to several friends and it has had a significant impact. The GRACE that Eva possesses is beyond measure.

  7. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Agreed. It’s rewarding to know that I can help deliver Eva’s message in a way that helps people. Thanks, Chris.

  8. Michael Galligan Says:

    I think this concept of forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with two other things: patience and tolerance. As a foreigner living in a developing country (Bangladesh), I am constantly challenged by situations out of my control. Patience and tolerance are “places” I go to when I need guidance about how to respond to a difficult person or situation. I’m happy to read about Eva’s TREMENDOUS act of forgiveness and can’t help but wonder what roles patience and tolerance played in her thought process.

  9. Eric Says:

    Awesome! Simply Awesome! Very inspirational!

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mike. I think that patience + tolerance = acceptance. And acceptance of what is allows us to get to the place where forgiveness is possible.

  11. Don Weinmann Says:

    Great piece Phil!

  12. Mary Ehlers Says:

    Hi, Phil. What a fine job as always! I’ll share a few things I have read, if I may:

    UNFORGIVENESS is like drinking a glass of poison and waiting for the other person to die.

    FORGIVENESS is setting the captive free only to realize that the captive was YOU.

    FORGIVENESS is so powerful that it can empty the hospitals!

  13. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Agreed! Good to hear from you, Mrs. Ehlers! I know that forgiveness is a loaded issue for many people, but it’s more about release than forgiveness. And it’s the best gift you can give yourself.

  14. Katie Ann Brock Says:

    Great information, but the one thing that I would like to know is how did Eva Kor get out of the camp?

  15. Phil Bolsta Says:

    She was liberated by the Americans when Germany surrendered, Katie.

  16. Jan Toomer Says:

    Wow! Thanks for bringing us her story Phil. And I think Eva explained forgiveness beautifully.

  17. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re welcome, Jan!

  18. Candie Conat Says:

    What a marvelous story, Phil. Thanks so much for sharing Eva and her forgiveness with us!

  19. Phil Bolsta Says:

    It’s my pleasure, Candie.

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