By Robert King
Eva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor who endured Nazi death camp experiments and founded a museum in Terre Haute to preserve that history, is being awarded one of Indiana’s highest honors.
Kor, who lost much of her family at the Auschwitz death camp but went on to be an advocate for forgiveness, will be honored next month with the Sachem Award, the office of Gov. Eric Holcomb said Friday.
"I am flabbergasted," said Kor, 83. "I had no idea I was going to be given anything."
Kor was a Jewish farm girl in Romania when the Nazis invaded her country and eventually sent her family off to the death camps in a cattle car. At Auschwitz, she was ripped away from her parents and her older sisters, who eventually died in the gas chambers. She and her twin sister, Miriam, were spared so they could become test subjects for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
Eva and her sister survived until the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1945, as World War II came to an end. She married a Hoosier she met in Israel and came to Terre Haute in 1960. By 1984, Kor founded an organization called CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) devoted to finding other “Mengele twins.” And in 1995, she opened a museum to tell their story and promote forgiveness. Over the years, she has expressed forgiveness for Mengele, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. She even eventually exchanged a hug with a former Nazi SS officer known as the “accountant of Auschwitz” because he gathered money and valuables from the belongings of death camp victims.
Holcomb showed up at Kor's museum Friday to inform her of the award. "Eva is the living embodiment of true compassion,” Holcomb said in a statement released by his office. “Her life proves there are no bounds on forgiveness and human decency. Eva shows us what our response should be to acts of bigotry and hatred through her daily mission to educate people and spread messages of peace, respect and civility.”
Kor said she knew something was afoot when she saw local officials whom she had been trying to lure to her museum for years begin showing up out of the blue.
The honor comes to her amid a wave of bomb threats against Jewish centers and anti-Semitic threats around the country. Kor said she is saddened anytime people are targeted for hate. She said she hopes to use her award as an opportunity to spread her message of forgiveness.
"I think we need it more today than ever," she said.
Kor used the access to Holcomb on Friday to see if she could use his connections to Vice President Mike Pence to get her an audience with Congress, whom she says could learn a thing or two from her about getting along with others. "I want to give them a little lecture of my life lessons, what I learned," she said.
Kor will be given the Sachem (pronounced say-chum) at a ceremony next month in Indianapolis.
Previous honorees include basketball legend John Wooden, businessman and philanthropist Bill Cook and radio broadcaster Amos Brown.
Kor is the subject of the latest documentary collaboration by Ted Green Films and WFYI. "Eva" is scheduled to premiere in January 2018.