On Wednesday, half a world away from Terre Haute in Eastern Europe, Eva Mozes Kor did what she's been doing for more than 20 years — talking passionately about hatred, persistence, tolerance, personal growth and forgiveness.
Kor was leading her annual tour group to the Nazi's notorious Auschwitz death camp, where she and her twin sister, Miriam, as young girls, were held captive and subjected to gruesome lab experiments before the camp was liberated by Allied Forces near the end of World War II in Europe.
Whenever Kor made those presentations at Auschwitz, she did so near the spot where she and her sister were separated from her parents and other family members. They were 10 years old and had been subjected to a Nazi roundup of Jews for shipment on trains to the concentration camp in Poland. Eva and Miriam never saw their parents and siblings again. All are believed to have perished in the gas chambers.
The sisters miraculously survived the terror and torture. Both lived long and productive lives. Miriam died in Israel in 1993 from cancer likely caused by the Nazi experiments.
Eva Kor died peacefully early Thursday at a hotel in Krakow after giving her final presentation at Auschwitz only hours earlier. She was 85. Her son, Alex, had accompanied her on the trip and was at her side when she passed away. It is fitting that she died on Independence Day, the American holiday that celebrates individual liberty and freedom.
The Holocaust is among the most unfathomable tragedies in human history. The Nazi genocide, which took place between 1941 and 1945, primarily targeted Jews but also included other European populations. While no one knows exactly how many people were killed, it is estimated that almost 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. That represented about two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe at the time.
Kor spent time in refugee camps after liberation from Auschwitz. She eventually immigrated first to Israel, then to the United States. She married Terre Haute resident Michael Kor, also a Holocaust survivor, in 1960. She became an American citizen in 1965.
As she grew older, Kor remained haunted by her experiences at Auschwitz. She became an activist for Holocaust education and in 1984, along with her sister, founded the organization CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) and began searching for other survivors. Over time, she found her voice, and rose to international prominence when she publicly, and controversially, forgave the Nazis for all they did to her.
It marked an amazing transformation, but Kor always said it was the best thing for her to do. In order for her to heal from the emotional wounds of her childhood and become a happier and healthier person, she had to find it in her heart to forgive and devote her time and energy to share her experiences and help educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.
Her efforts were devoted to shining light on the scourges of hatred and intolerance so that such atrocities could be prevented in the future.
Words are inadequate to describe the impact Eva Kor has made on her adopted hometown of Terre Haute. Over time, she became an iconic figure in this city, county, state and beyond. Through her willingness to share her story and the creation of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, she grew to become not just a survivor of the Holocaust, but a voice of reason and calm reflection in the face of anger, mistrust, racism and violence.
Many will pay tribute to Kor in coming days and weeks. All will be deserved. None will totally capture the lasting effect she has had on those who came into contact with her.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, who with his wife, Janet, had become friends with Kor and presented her in 2017 with the state's highest civilian honor, issued a moving statement on Thursday, calling her a "giant" to the world.
"Everywhere she went, Eva brought light into darkness and provided comfort to those in pain unlike anyone we’ve ever met," Holcomb said.
We join the community in grieving the loss of an incredible woman who overcame tragedy and hardship to spread a message of hope, healing and forgiveness throughout the world.