Thoughts on the Film: "Forgiving Dr. Mengele"

I originally wrote this review last December. I hope you enjoy. :)

It is dark outside and I still see snow on the ground and feel the wind seeping through the cabin walls around me. There is very little moon outside... and so the only light in the room comes from my computer screen and the reflective views of light from my cat's blinking eyes nearby. I cannot see my face nor anything in the room around me, but I can feel the tears on my face as the moisture in them chills on my cheeks and I see the blurring images on the screen through the tears that are still gathering and pooling in my lower lids. This was a very painful and powerful documentary and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn some of the life, deeds and thoughts of Eva Mozes Kor.... prisoner number #8706 in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany during World War II.

Eva Kor was one of a set of twins that survived the Holocaust and Dr. Melange’s twin studies in Auschwitz during WWII. Her sister Miriam survived, but later died from complications with her kidneys from the experiments performed on her in the concentration camps. In an attempt to save her sister's life, Eva not only managed to will herself to live through the experimental treatments in the camp- for if she died her sister would be killed- but she donated a kidney to her sister after the war. She also tried to discover the records kept by Dr. Mengele of his experiments to possible help her sister and other victims. Miriam died in 1993 and Eva's efforts towards finding the documents were not successful, but those efforts helped create a group that brought many of the surviving 'twins' together and also brought her to the doorstep of Dr. Hans Munch.... a former SS doctor who knew Dr. Mengele in the past. Dr Munch has been tried for war crimes, but had also been found not guilty due to the number of people who testified that he saved them from death during the Holocaust. Ms Kor contacted him interviewed him looking for information on the experiment or any memories that he might have that could have helped. Dr Munch discussed his thoughts about Mengele and his experiments ('… did things in a very amateurish way) and his memories of Auschwitz – he still has nightmares about the gas chambers. This experience/ opportunity had a very profound impact on Ms Kor and she decided to go to Auschwitz for the anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners. She also made the unusual request that Dr Munch should also attend with her and her family. He agreed and she read out a statement that Dr Munch wrote stating that he was a witness to the 'gas chambers' and it was important to acknowledge his past as a testimony to the deniers and the revisionists of the Holocaust. After a chance emark from a reporter, she too decided to make a statement later . That statement was that for herself, she was forgiving not only Dr Mengele, but all the Nazi's who killed her family and the millions of others who died in the genocide.

Later, Eva opened up a small Holocaust museum in her town and has spent a lot of time traveling, teaching and talking about her experiences. Her work on forgiving Dr Mengele and the Nazi's who harmed her and her family has been met with different responses. Some of the individual twins that survived and were at Auschwitz when she brought Dr Munch were offended and angry. Others over time have been angry and have had negative responses to her talks and her advocating forgiveness as a way of healing. In November 2003, an arsonist successfully burned down the museum destroying almost all of the memorabilia and exhibits housed inside. One the outside of the building, a message was spray painted on the wall; 'Remember Timmy McVeigh'. (I am not really sure I understand what the arsonist was trying to say with that statement. I do not feel like what Timothy McVeigh was trying to express has anything to do with the Holocaust or its education, but I am pretty ignorant on all of his radical goals so there might be a clear link I haven't recognized.) She has begun rebuilding the museum and continues to travel and teach about the Holocaust and her experiences.

“... to forgive that God of Auschwitz. Me, the little nothing... I might as well forgive everybody.”
“It time to forgive, but not forget. It is time to heal our souls.” - Eva Kor

One thing that I found while listening to Ms Kor was the idea that she thought/thinks of herself as 'nothing' in comparison to Dr Mengele. In the documentary, the doctor was described as an individual who was at the forefront of German science and genetic research. In other research and testimony from survivors, his near obsession with twins and with his job as one of the doctors of Auschwitz camp is mentioned and some suggest that he went out of his way to work and make medical and life/death decisions for prisoners even when he was off duty. To be fair, before the war all of his studies were connected scientifically and for the most part ethically as well toward test subjects. It was only in the concentration camps where the life, death or pain of his subjects no longer mattered and so his studies and research were able to be given more of a full range in regards to his ideas and curiosity. It was here that Eva Kor, her sister, many other sets of twins as well as large populations of Jewish, Roma or other 'undesirable' individuals fell under his 'care' and supervision. In his work and what we know of it, Dr. Mengele tortured and killed hundreds if not more (depending on if you count arrivals to the camp in his numbers) and she is very lucky to have survived at all. To think of him as a 'God' seems so offensive to me and yet, I see it clearly. In his capacity, Dr Mengele had many of the powers that we ascribe to our deities (both good and bad). I can see the image of her- of myself- struggling to recognize that while the power situations are different, the human beings involved are equal... the same.... we are 'one'. To recognize that powerful fact is sometimes a hard and amazing moment. To seize the opportunity that she did within herself is simply breathtaking.

“... the pain of the shots that Mengele did to us...” - Pearl Pufeles

I just got shots in both my shoulders at the beginning of the week. For my internship in a doctor's office next year, I am getting all of my vaccines again as I have no titers to them in my body (long story.) When I am given one shot, I am febrile for a week with on and off migraines, vomiting, dizziness, weakness and shaking. I spend the days ahead downing Tylenol and ibuprofen and praying the symptoms and side effects will pass as quickly as Heavenly Father will allow. The effects are much stronger with two shots and so I found myself this week trying to rationally remind myself that the pain and discomfort will pass and it is short lived. Yet I sit with swollen shoulders and everything else and listening to Eva talk about a shot that her sister was given that eventually killed her and the years of pain and challenges that she struggled with and I listen to Ms. Pufeles and I am finally able to rationally realize how easy my situation is. I know it will pass.... I know it will pass soon.... I can be quite sure I will not have any significant long term problems. To recognize that these victims could not have even these simple assurances- if fact, they could be sure that it probably would cause pain and long term problems- is another window into a world and a reality that I have never had true first hand experience in. To be able to learn, to understand, to develop clarity about the experience of others, the depths of thought and behavior that humanity can dive and to recognize those traits or small flaws in myself... and work on transforming them to something positive and more wholesome is a beautiful gift

“Most of my fellow survivors are so hurting, they do not even have the ability to even understand what I am talking about. And so many of them will die without ever feeling free from that pain” - Eva Kor

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator, has nothing to do with religion- it has only everything to do with the way the victim is empowering him or herself and taking control of their lives” - Eva Kor

When watching and listening to the other survivors and their stories and emotions as they flowed forth, the overwhelming thing I felt was anger. They talked about sorrow and grief, but the tone of anger was interwoven throughout every word and motion they made. In some situations it was so palpable that I felt like I could reach out, touch it and even pick it up and hold it for a closer look. While I feel like sometimes Ms Kor pushes people too quickly to accept her thoughts and she acts defensive, I can see how she must find herself verbally confronted by many people about her choices. Not only does she have to deal with the deniers and the revisionists, but she must also deal with those who feel like she is giving the Nazi's and those who worked with them excuses or justification for their misdeeds. Few people have to deal with the challenges of the process of forgiving others while being criticized for participating and utilizing that process for their own healing. I couldn't figure out how anyone could criticize her and after that was mentioned in class and how her forgiveness was 'controversial', I decided I needed to see this film only to try and understand that. It feels so sad that people who are stuck can feel so much anger about someone working to loosen themselves from the grief and anger. I felt some anger listening to the arguments that forgiving was forgetting and forgiving was accepting and absolving the perpetrators of the crime. I can tell I'm still angry because I want to argue for the defense even as I write this. ;) Watching this has made me even more convinced that the process of reconciliation is so important to the well being of the survivors, the offenders and the communities which surround them both.

“... and not create a catastrophe for the Palestinians... and say what have we done”

I thought it was interesting to watch Eva Kor sit at the table with those working towards peace in Palestine and Israel and hearing her say she didn't want to hear the stories that were being shared. On one hand, she recognizes that stories are important and educate people about situations and yet when it comes to the idea that some groups of Jewish individuals themselves are now being perpetrators of genocidal violence towards Palestinians she is unable and unwilling to listen. I was disappointed and annoyed, but when I continued to think about it I realized how distinctly challenging that must be for anyone in her position. I heard this line and realized that, at least in my opinion, a catastrophe has already been created for the Palestinians and I do not think that at this point, the use of the word genocide is that far off. Here is an opportunity for her and she wasn't able to really use it. I wonder what opportunities I have that I haven't noticed or taken to work towards this horrible problem and ending it successfully. I do not think that I have had any opportunities, but I might not have recognized them when I did. I have decided to write my governor and my representatives to ask for a change of name for Columbus Day and to also ask for a state holiday acknowledging genocides- not sure how to address my thoughts on the latter.

Thank you so much for mentioning this film. I am very glad I watched it and that I have the opportunity to share it with others. I am also happy to learn a little more about Holocaust awareness and how Dr Mengele's experiments affected people long after the war was over.

pictures from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0489707/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lhAU868230, https://www.tumblr.com/search/forgiving%20dr.%20mengele, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2807743/How-Angel-Death-saved-mother-s-life-creator-world-s-iconic-dress.html, http://gauredevta.blog.com/2014/06/26/dr-mengele-experiments/, http://tmcnews.tendenciapp.com/articles/survivor-of-nazi-experiments-speaks-at-medical-ethics-conference/, https://googlingtheholocaust.wordpress.com/tag/forgiving-dr-mengele/

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