It is astounding that it has taken so long for some members of the Nazi regime that orchestrated the Holocaust to come to trial for their heinous acts – such as 93-year-old Oskar Groening, a former Nazi bookkeeper now on trial in Germany for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder at Auschwitz.
But perhaps even more astounding is the reaction he received from one survivor, 81-year-old Eva Kor, who was subjected to dangerous medical experiments along with her twin sister, Miriam, when they were both 10-year-old prisoners at Auschwitz. Kor has openly forgiven Groening.
Kor, who lost her twin sister years later from complications believed to have come from the medical experiments they underwent, is one of several survivors who have testified at Groening’s trial. In the courtroom she embraced Groening. And in an open letter to Groening posted on the website of CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors), the organization she founded to track down other survivors of the unspeakable medical experiments she endured, she offered moving words of forgiveness. May we all learn from her example.
After Miriam died, I had the opportunity to meet with a Nazi doctor named Hans Münch. He was acquitted of war crimes in 1947. His telephone number was given to me in memory of Miriam. I met with him in 1993. Mr. Groening, did you know Dr. Münch? He was very helpful and answered all my questions, including how the Auschwitz gas chambers operated. I asked him to accompany me to Auschwitz on January 27, 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the liberation and to sign a statement at the ruins of the gas chambers to testify to their existence. When he agreed, I wanted to thank him, but I didn't know how to thank an Auschwitz Nazi doctor. I thought about it for ten months, and one day the idea of a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Münch came to my mind. I knew he would like it, and for me it was a life-changing experience. I realized I had power over my life. I had the power to heal the pain imposed on me in Auschwitz by forgiving the people who imposed that pain.
It is true, but sad, that we cannot change what happened in Auschwitz. I am hoping that you and I, as former adversaries, can meet as people who respect one another as human beings and can relate to one another to understand, to heal, and to express thoughts that would not be possible any other way. Any time adversaries meet to repair a relationship, they learn a great deal about themselves and how people function. It cannot be done on television, by telephone, or by Skype; it can only be done face to face.
Many people hold onto pain and anger. Unfortunately this does not help the survivors, and that is my only focus. My forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrators. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment. It’s free, everybody can afford it, it has no side effects and it works. I highly recommend that everyone try it.