TERRE HAUTE —
When Christine Nehf Chesley was a little girl in the post-World War II era, Mickey Kor frequently came to her Terre Haute home to eat dinner, spend time with her family and play the piano.
Her father, Andrew J. Nehf, had been a Lt. Col. with the 250th Engineer Combat Battalion in Europe and had liberated the then teen-aged Kor from the Nazis.
Her dad also helped arrange for Kor to come to Terre Haute and live with a family just a few houses away.
But Kor preferred the Nehfs’ home.
Chesley was about 6 years old when she first met him. “I knew something bad had happened. I could tell he was an injured person, psychologically and physically,” she said.
But whatever happened during World War II, Kor could not, and would not, talk about it. “It was too hard for him,” she said.
On Thursday, Kor’s 85th birthday, Chesley finally heard the Holocaust survivor’s first-hand story of concentration camps, Nazi atrocities and the murder of his family members, including his mother and father.
When Kor was 13 years old, Nazis stormed into the Latvian city where he lived with his family and forced the Jewish population into a ghetto.
“I asked my mom what kind of crime did we commit?” Kor told an audience at the CANDLES Museum. Their only “crime” was being Jewish.
He described the day Nazis forced the family out of their ghetto housing and ordered women and children to one side, and able bodied men to another. “I didn’t want to leave my mother,” Kor recalled. “I loved my mother. She was my protector.”
But his mother told him, “You can’t stay with me any longer.” At first, her words made him fearful, but she changed her tone and persuaded him to “go with the big guys.”
Finally, he joined the big guys.
He was taken to a concentration camp, and she was driven away in a truck; he never saw her again.
“My mother saved my life,” Kor said, tearfully recalling the last time he saw her. “It doesn’t get any more painful,” he told his audience — including Chesley.
As the war drew to a close, Kor escaped a death march and hid in a building until the Americans arrived.
Kor was liberated by Nehf and the 250th Engineer Combat Battalion, and he spent a few months with them as an interpreter. He spoke Russian, German and quickly picked up English.
Kor asked for Nehf’s help to get to the “States,” and Nehf didn’t let him down.
On Thursday, Eva Kor — CANDLES Museum founder and a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp — hosted a birthday party for her husband at the museum and invited Nehf’s daughters, including Chesley, who now lives in Chicago.
“He [Mickey] is extended family for us,” Chesley said. “We don’t see each other all the time … but we never forget each other.”
After his talk, and his birthday party, Mickey Kor could only say, “I’m at a loss for words.”
Chesley said that despite Kor’s terrible experiences during World War II, he has endured, been successful and even maintained a sense of humor.
“He’s an inspiration,” she said.
Eva Kor, who knew the Nehfs, recalled that Mickey and Andrew Nehf “really connected. He [Andrew Nehf] could relate to Mickey very, very well.”
She also wanted Chesley to know that if it hadn’t been for her father, there would be no CANDLES Museum.
“This wouldn’t have happened if your father hadn’t liberated Mickey and helped him come to Terre Haute,” Eva Kor said. “This is a legacy your father helped create.”
Chesley said she felt humbled, and she knows her parents would have been as well. “They were both humanitarians,” Chesley said. “My father had a great sense of fairness and strong sense of right and wrong.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.