Sunday, August 12, 2012

Forgiving Dr. Mengele: Levels of Understanding

by Drew Martin
After visiting both of the Auschwitz death camps last week, I thought I would need some time to digest the experience. One of the guys in my running group told me this morning during a long run that his father survived Auschwitz and that his grandfather was killed there. When I was in Krakow, I helped a young couple from Mexico, both medical students, make their way back to Prague. One of them had bought a book at Auschwitz about a survivor of the twisted experiments by Dr. Mengele. So, this afternoon I found myself watching the documentary, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, which is about how one of the twins he experimented on has coped with what she experienced. The film is centered around Eva Mozes Kor who is from Transylvania and was sent to Auschwitz with her whole family when she was nine years old. As she explained, as soon as the people were unloaded from the trains in Birkenau, the Nazis searched the crowds for twins. Dr. Mengele set up experiments at Auschwitz on twins because of their genetic similarities. Eva described the experiments and how one injection made her so sick that she overheard Mengele say she had two weeks to live. Not only did Eva fight to survive to prove him wrong but she also knew that had she died, they would have immediately killed her sister, Miriam, in order to do a comparative autopsy. The Russian army liberated the camp ten months into her stay. In the top picture here the two girls leaving the camp in the front of the line are Eva and Miriam. All the other members of their family were killed. The twin sisters ended up in Israel and then Eva moved to the United States. Miriam's injections had left her with stunted kidneys and died later in life due to this, even after she received a kidney from Eva. Of course the film is about all of this, but its central theme is about forgiving. Eva speaks about how forgiving makes you a stronger person and is the only real power you have as a victim, and the only way to heal yourself. Eva is challenged by the other surviving Mengele twins and finds herself exploring what forgiveness is really about when the tables are turned and she is asked to listen to the victim stories of Palestinians. Eva's young adult daughter describes her as unhesitant and that  having Holocaust survivors as parents is about levels of understanding. Eva raised her family in Terre Haute, Indiana. She made a Holocaust museum in that town, which was burned down as a hate crime. It has since been rebuilt. A friend describes her habits: saving every scrap of food, and sleeping on her purse. Eva shows off what she calls "survivor ingenuity": they did not have money to buy an electric grill to make grilled cheese sandwiches for her children who wanted to have them like their all-American neighbors so she prepared them by ironing cheese sandwiches between layers of tinfoil.