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Holocaust survivor recounts death camp experience, lessons

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By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil
It’s been said if people aren’t careful in history, mankind is doomed to repeat it. The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust was also one of the darkest periods in history.
On May 1, Fort Knox paid homage to those victims during a Days of Remem-brance ceremony at the Patton Museum of Leadership. This year’s theme was “Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses.”
The ceremony began with a moment of silence for the nearly 10 million of the Holocaust victims.
Col. Ernest Parker, the commander of 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center, said the unit helped liberate Jews from Langenstein-Zwieberge, a subcamp of Buchenwald April 11, 1945. The unit liberated more 1,100 survivors; many weighed just 80 pounds, he said.
“The 83rd was also responsible for recovering documents that were (evidence of) war crimes,” explained Parker. “Why are we doing this? We do it to honor the memories of 6 million Jews (who were murdered between) 1933-1945, (and the) 5 million other victims.”
Eva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor, was the ceremony’s guest speaker. Kor recalled the fateful day in 1944 when their cattle train came to a sudden stop in Auschwitz. She said they had been travelling for about four days with about 100 people in the car. Her father, mother, two older sisters and her twin sister, Miriam, were packed into the car and transported to the death camp.
“(We) stepped down to selection platform,” recalled Eva. “Mother was hoping as long as she held onto us she could protect us. Father and (my) two older sisters disappeared as I held onto my mother.
“A Nazi was yelling, ‘twins, twins!’ Mother asked if that was good. (The) Nazi said ‘yes.’ I remember seeing her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away. (I) never got to say goodbye. We became part of a group of 13 sets of twins.”
Kor said she was never a willing participant and decided she would give the guards as much trouble as a 10 year old could give. She said it took two Nazi guards and two women to restrain her while she was being tattooed.
“My tattoo has not faded, I wasn’t a very cooperative victim,” she said. “My sister said I bit the Nazi, but I don’t remember.”
Kor said the conditions were deplorable: they slept on a bunk bed with straw mattresses and she said the message was very clear –death could happen unless she prevented it. At that moment Kor made a pledge that she and Miriam wouldn’t end up on the latrine floor like some of the others who died in the camp.
“I did everything instinctively and I did everything right,” she said, “I (held onto) the image of Miriam and me walking out of that camp. I have no idea how we made it.”
Because Kor and Miriam were twins they were subjected to inhumane experiments that were conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele. Kor said there were daily counts, inspections and often required to sit or stand naked for eight hours, taken to the lab for blood tests and given unknown injections. Kor said they were reduced to the lowest form of existence while at Auschwitz.
After one of the injections Kor became ill with a high fever. She tried hiding because the rumors were patients never returned from the hospital. After her  several week hospitalization, Kor was given two weeks to live.
“I made another silent pledge that I would live and prove Dr. Mengele wrong and be reunited with my twin sister, Miriam,” she said. “After two weeks my fever broke and amaz-ingly I was released three weeks later. Miriam looked very sick.
“I asked her, ‘what have they done to you?’ (You) needed two things in Auschwitz –a little bit of luck and a guardian angel and the will to survive.”
Kor said of the approximately 1,500 sets of twins only about 180 were liberated. She said some died because of the conditions and others from the experiments. A turning point for Kor was when she saw an airplane with an American flag flying over Auschwitz. Seeing that gave her hope. On Jan. 27, 1945 she recalled hearing a woman yelling, “We are free!”
“My little promise to myself became a reality,” said Kor. “We were liberated by the Soviet army.”
Although living in Auschwitz was horrific, Kor said it taught her to never give up on yourself or your dreams.
“If you give up nothing will happen,” she said. “There is always hope after despair.”
She explained that Adolf Hitler was successful due to a bad economy.
“I call a bad economy the seed to genocide,” Kor said. “Hitler promised to improve the economy. He used the Jews as scapegoats.”
After 50 years, Kor said she freed herself from Mengele through forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is a seed for peace,” she said. “Forgiveness is not to help the perpetrator; (it’s) for the victim to help themselves (through) empowerment. Forgive and heal.”
Kor went on to serve as a sergeant major in the Israeli army.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, Brig. Gen. Peggy Combs, the commander of Cadet Command and Fort Knox, presented Kor with a token of appreciation.
“Eva, what a story,” exclaimed Combs. “This lady is the symbol of strength and resilience. Your strength of character is an inspiration to all of us. Sergeant major, I salute you.”