My dear husband, Scott, has been working the late shift recently, and the upshot to that is that he can stay up all hours of the night without judgement. A few days ago, he came crawling into bed at 7am, going on and on about a documentary series he watched about Auschwitz. The next day, it was Forgiving Dr. Mengele. Last night, the two of us sat down to watch it together and I must say, I was floored.
Forgiving Dr. Mengele is the story of Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 10. Children at the camp generally were sent directly to the gas chamber as they could not work. In fact, most of the prisoners at Auschwitz were killed immediately upon arrival. Eva and her sister were spared, however, because they were twins and ideal candidates for medical experiments.
Dr. Mengele preferred twins because they were virtually identical biologically which created a “control” group for experiments. One twin was injected with a disease or germ and if they died, the other twin was immediately killed via a shot of chloroform to the heart and a comparative autopsy was done. Hans Münch, another doctor who worked side by side with Mengele, says in the documentary that these experiments seemed to be carried out with no real goal or purpose.
The only word I can think of to describe this is horror. The chief defense of the Nazis on trial was that they were merely following orders. However, this man, this “Doctor,” was not given orders so much as he was given carte blanche. He could do whatever he wanted. He chose to use these children as his own personal playground of terror.
Eva’s twin, Miriam, suffered miserably from the experiments. Her kidneys never developed past the age of 10. Eventually, Eva gave Miriam one of her kidneys, but it was not enough. Miriam’s doctors said they may be able to do more if they knew what she had been injected with. This led Eva on a search for Dr. Mengele’s files, a search she continued after Miriam’s death. In 1993, Eva met with Hans Münch, which changed the course of her life in ways she could never imagine.
Hans Münch was a member of the Nazi party and an SS physician, but was clearly not a true believer in the same respect as Dr. Mengele. He participated in the experiments, but he often did so as a means of keeping prisoners from being killed. As long as they were considered useful for experiments, they wouldn’t be sent to the gas chambers. At his meeting with Eva, he was candid with her about the effects his time in Auschwitz had on his life, and about the nightmares he still had. Like the victims, he was haunted and tortured by the evils he participated in. Eva was blown away. Nazis were unrepentant monsters, weren’t they? But this was just a man who got caught up in mass hysteria and was a part of something he would regret for the rest of his life. Something he could never take back or make reparation for.
Eva decided to do something extreme.
She forgave him.
I just cannot wrap my head around that sentence. A Jew, who was tortured and experimented on, forgave one of the Nazis who participated in the experiments. They were both present at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and they walked arm in arm around the camp together. They were both healed by her forgiveness. Eva decided that even that extreme act of humanity wasn’t enough. She decided to forgive all of them.
Eva Mozes Kor is not the most popular person amongst her fellow holocaust survivors. They feel that forgiving means forgetting. They also discussed that a prerequisite of forgiveness is for the offender to express remorse and reparation. In this situation, it’s not appropriate to forget what happened. Truly, we must never forget the suffering, the death, the inhuman torture and disregard for humanity. But Eva has forgiven. She recognizes that there is nothing any former Nazi can do to make reparation for what happened there. She also feels that by forgiving the people who killed her family, she allows her own soul to be healed, to be set free.
Forgiveness is not my strong suit. It’s not my suit at all. I bear many grudges and I bear them close to my heart. Lately, I’ve felt God tugging on my heart, telling me it’s time to let these things go. After all, what can those who throughout my life do to make reparation? If they feel no remorse, that leaves only myself to bear the burden, to suffer under the hardness of hatred. It is only my heart that is made rotten by my grudge. Jesus himself is clear on the topic:
“And when you shall stand to pray, forgive, if you have aught against any man; that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you your sins. But if you will not forgive, neither will your Father that is in heaven, forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25-26
Notice how He doesn’t say anything about “once reparations are made” or “as long as you’re sure they’re really and truly sorry.” No, there are no prerequisites made. At His death, Jesus practices what he preached:
“And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots.” Luke 23:34
Jesus teaches forgiveness again and again:
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37
“So that on the contrary, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” 2 Corinthians 2:7
There is healing in forgiveness. There is peace in forgiveness.
But it’s hard. It’s hard when someone has caused you indescribable pain and shows no sign of remorse. When someone hurt you and doesn’t seem to think it’s even important. I am beginning to realize that forgiveness is essential. Bearing a grudge puts a wall between me and God. It serves no purpose but to fester in my soul until I distrust not only the person who wronged me, but everyone else who might.
It’s time to put the past away. Time to walk away from events that have scarred me. It’s time to move on.
Eva forgave the Nazis. Jesus forgave the soldiers that beat and hung Him up to die, even as they cast lots for his clothes. With God’s grace, certainly I can forgive anyone.
All verses courtesy Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.