//Ad libs: Interviewing a survivor

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Interviewing a survivor

After watching "Forgiving Dr. Mengele," a film about Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor that will be shown as part of the SF Jewish Film Festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I interviewed Kor for a story in the July 21 Weekly. Would we have a gloomy talk about her ordeal as a Mengele twin, or would she be preachy about her decision to forgive the Nazis?

Neither. During our phone interview, she was friendly, intriguing, and candid. She praised the film, but noted, "I’d like to be shown as 20 pounds lighter and 20 years younger."

In the film, Eva is remarkably sweet when giving speeches about her life around the country. In one scene, she hugs a girl student who’s in tears over an unknown woe, when she could have easily dismissed her with the thought "Her childhood could never be as bad as mine."

Eva told me: "I was young and I was vulnerable. It would have been helpful to me if someone had come up and told me it would be all right. Even in the U.S., they (young people) have a hard time fitting into the world."

She also spoke to me about her notions of justice. "It’s a funny concept," she said. "If you hang every Nazi criminal or child molester, their crimes are not gone. Those who perpetuate crimes should be removed from society to protect society, but it’s not enough."

The next step for a victim, as Eva has repeatedly proclaimed, is learning to forgive and let go, or the sad tale will never be over. "The best revenge is forgiveness. Then those who have hurt you are no longer hurting you."

Eva grew troubled talking about the one part of the film she wished had not been included, a scene of her meeting with Palestinian teachers. She had hoped for a dialogue about a forgiveness curriculum in their schools, but the teachers would talk only about their grievances with the Israelis, telling story after story of how they had suffered. Eva said she felt attacked.

Forgiveness, she told me, can be impossible for both sides when a conflict is still raging.

"You cannot go up to somebody who’s holding a gun to your head and say, 'I forgive you.'" She laughed ruefully. "Survival and self-preservation always come first."

Then she added, "What do you do when the guns are silent?"

Pictured: Eva Mozes Kor in Auschwitz