Friday, November 19, 2010

Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Eva Kor is the reason to see the film "Forgiving Dr. Mengle." She is charming, heroic, and a model of strength, determination, and love in action. She and others like her are living proof that evil's victories are always temporary.

I was afraid to watch "Forgiving Dr. Mengele." Hitler was one of the most evil men who ever lived, but, as far as I know, Hitler didn't personally kill or torture anyone. Josef Mengele, on the other hand, used medical tools and procedures to torture innocent victims at Auschwitz. Mengele focused on children, and on twins. Mengele is the stuff of nightmares.

I hesitated before popping the DVD in the machine. In combat, Mengele won the Iron Cross for rescuing two German soldiers from a burning tank. Retired from the front and sent to be "camp doctor" at Auschwitz, he destroyed countless innocent lives. After the war, Mengele escaped, with the support of many German and South American friends, and died a free civilian's natural, comfortable death in 1979. I began thinking about what kind of hell would be appropriate for a Josef Mengele. I wondered what he thought about before he went to sleep at night.

Once the DVD began playing, I quickly realized that "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" isn't about Mengele at all. It's about Eva Kor, a delightful and inspirational human being. She's a real estate agent in Terre Haute, Indiana. Kor, a well-dressed senior citizen with a Mitteleuropa accent, is shown bustling about, hammering in lawn signs that advertise property for sale, guiding potential buyers, and making grilled cheese sandwiches for her two loving children and her husband in their modest suburban home. Kor is a woman of action, not reflection. In spite of her age, she moves like a bullet, directly toward her target. She acts, rather than sits and ponders. You know she loves her family because she feeds them. Her daughter describes Kor as "unhesitant," and the viewer agrees. Kor is shown giving inspirational speeches to school children, and opening up her own, small, Holocaust memorial museum. Kor and her twin sister Miriam were survivors of Mengele's torture.

Kor met with a former Nazi doctor, Hans Munch. Munch had resisted Nazi commands to take part in selections that condemned prisoners to death. He also engaged in ruses to protect prisoners' lives; former prisoners testified to this after the war. Munch was acquitted of war crimes. In 1995, Kor and Munch together issued a statement condemning the Holocaust. Kor forgave Munch. Kor was asked if she could forgive Mengele. After much thought, she said she could. Kor was challenged and her stance was rejected by other survivors.

The film shows Eva Kor at home, in schools, and at her museum. It shows her meeting with Munch and speaking with him at Auschwitz. The film also shows other twin survivors saying that they can't forgive Mengele. Finally, there is a brief, awkward and out-of-place meeting between Eva Kor and Muslim Arabs, lead by Sami Adwan. Kor appears to be the only Jew at the meeting. She is confronted by several Arabs who, while glaring at Kor with undisguised hate, proceed to tell her that Jews are responsible for all the problems in their lives, and that Jews never lived in Israel before 1945. They're wrong on all counts – they get both their facts wrong and their approach. It is simply distasteful to recruit an elderly, female, Holocaust survivor, get her alone in a room, and harangue her with blatant anti-Semitism. The film doesn't comment on this encounter. No conclusion is reached. One wonders why it was included.

There are a few things I wish the film had done differently. I would have liked more background on Kor's biography. What was life like after she left the camp and returned to Romania? How did she travel to Israel, and then the US? Most importantly, I never understood Kor's definition of the word "forgiveness." What does it mean to forgive? What does it mean to forgive Mengele? If he were alive today, would Kor hope for legal proceedings against him? Is Kor's insistence on forgiveness rooted in any religious belief? The film records the destruction, by fire, of Kor's Terre Haute Holocaust Memorial Museum. No one has been caught – but are there no clues the filmmaker's can bring to the viewers' attention?

My reservations are small. "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" is a moving, engaging, and inspirational film. Eva Kor's abundant life and her insistence on love make it so.


  1. I never met Eva Kor, but some of my students did. One recently told me of a presentation she did at my school after I retired, and three neo-nazis stood up in the audience and heckled her. She was unmoved--spoke to them calmly and would not be silenced

  2. John, thanks so much for sharing that.

    Neo-Nazis. The very concept ...

    I can see her standing up to them. You get that sense of her from the documentary.

  3. I think the movie is great. I am a clinical psychologist and have begun to do presentations on Forgiveness in Psychotherapy. I use clips from "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" to teach about forgiveness. Regarding the inclusion of the footage of Eva Kor meeting with Palestinians...I am glad they left that in.. It shows that you can only be forgiving if you first feel safe. This is useful for therapists and everybody to know. It seems brave to include it in the movie, to show that Eva is human, and can forgive only under the right circumstances.

  4. David Kupfer, thank you so much for your comments. I would like to read more from you if you would care to share. I’m curious to read more about your thoughts about how forgiveness plays a role in mental health. I’d really like to read your definition of forgiveness.

    What does forgiveness entail? For example, it is said that John Paul II forgave Agca, but did not have him released from prison.


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