This idea of forgiving in the context of “huge issues” such as the Holocaust is extremely controversial. Some will say that forgiving is not appropriate in this context for a number of reasons (The vast majority of people in the current generation were not in the Holocaust and so it is not their place to offer forgiving; some injustices are so grave as to eliminate the possibility of offering forgiving). Yet, there are people who are on record as offering their own forgiveness to the Nazis. The late Eva Mozes Kor, in the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele,is one example of this. People can forgive groups because when we forgive we do forgive people; groups are made up of people. Thus, if certain people so choose, they can forgive those who instituted Nazism or slavery, as two examples.
Also, the philosopher, Trudy Govier, makes the distinction among primary, secondary, and tertiary forgiving. Primary forgiving is when someone hurts you directly; secondary forgiving occurs when you are hurt because a loved one was hurt (a grandson, then, who is hurt by the death of a grandparent in the Holocaust, can forgive for his own sake, but not forgive on behalf of the grandparent); tertiary forgiving is when you forgive, for example, a public official who is guilty of corruption in another country. In this case, you are not hurt directly and, let us suppose for the sake of this example, none of your relatives were hurt directly. You feel badly, even resentful, and so tertiary forgiving is appropriate.
We need to remember that forgiving is a person’s own choice. Even if everyone else says that injustice X is too severe for anyone to offer forgiveness, we still might be surprised to see that someone steps up and decides to forgive despite popular opinion to the contrary.
Viktor Frankl,a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.
In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.
I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.
How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.
As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.
When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.
Eva Mozes Kor (January 31, 1934 – July 4, 2019) is one of my heroes. This is the case because of her unrelenting message that she, personally, and not representing any group, forgave the Nazis for their abuse of her twin sister, Miriam, and herself while they were imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during World War II.
Their experience was horrific. Both were injected with a poison, which eventually took Miriam’s life and left Eva almost deceased in the camp. Yet, Eva’s will to live dominated and not only did she survive but also, later, she donated a kidney to Miriam in the hope of aiding her survival. When Miriam passed, there was not sufficient time for Eva to get from her home in the United States to the Israeli funeral, thus adding one more incident which could have embittered her. Instead, she lived a life of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
What I find so intriguing about Eva’s exemplary life is her steadfastness when it came to forgiving the Nazis. She had ample opportunities to back off from such a gesture because of heavy criticism from others. Mengele did not apologize; you cannot forgive on behalf of others (which she did not); to forgive such a horror is improper. While it is true that many have their convicted reasons why they, personally, would not forgive in this context, Eva realized that hers was a private decision that she willingly chose.
The forgiving worked well for her. As one example, in the film, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” she is shown, in her elderly years, running robustly on a treadmill in a gym. A crushed heart with no hope does not lend itself to such strenuous exercise. In another segment, she is seen comforting a teenager who was shouldering deep pain. Eva was the comforter, showing a motherly love to this teenage whom she was meeting for the first time. Her love was brighter than all of the atrocities perpetrated against her.
“Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and tragedy. It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.” Eva Mozes Kor
I know of Eva’s strong and loving attributes from personal experience, having had the honor of sharing air time with her on the radio and having met her and her strong son, Alex, for a dinner engagement.
Eva found a freedom, an independence from what could have been a lifelong hatred. The freedom won. It, thus, is fitting that this immigrant to America passed away on Independence Day in the United States, when the new nation shed oppression in 1776. Eva, having known oppression, rose to her Independence through forgiveness.
May your forgiveness live on, Eva. Thank you for a life lived with integrity, steadfastness, and forgiveness.
History of the Holocaust – Learn more about the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.
WIBC-FM, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA – Although she is known around the world for forgiving the Nazis who tortured her during World War II, Eva Mozes Kor reveals in a newly-released film that she lived for nearly 50 years as an angry person before learning to forgive.
“I was very angry with many people. I was in a lot of pain,” said Kor as she reflected on her life and how uncomfortable she was baring her soul for the documentary “Eva” that was released in April.
“Forgive your worst enemies. It will heal your soul and it will set you free,” Kor says in the new film narrated by Ed Asner. It documents Kor’s life, her travels and struggles and how she became the person who was able to forgive the individuals who committed atrocities on her, and who killed her family and millions of other people.
Kor and her sister Miriam were the only survivors in their entire family and that was because they were twins who were separated from the others by the Nazis. Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor, was fascinated with twins and performed experiments on Kor and her sister among others. The lingering effects are believed to be what killed her sister in 1992.
The Holocaust (in Hebrew, “Ḥurban” meaning “destruction”), was the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The Germans called this “the final solution to the Jewish question.”
Even before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they had made no secret of their desire to eliminate all Jews. As early as 1919, Adolf Hitlerhad written, “Rational anti-Semitism (discrimination against the Jews), must lead to systematic legal opposition.…Its final objective must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews altogether.”
In his political manifesto, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), Hitler further developed the idea of the Jews as an evil race struggling for world domination. Nazi racial ideology characterized the Jews as “subhumans” and “parasites” while the Aryans (Germans) were the “genius” race. Ultimately, the logic of Nazi racial anti-Semitism led to annihilation of millions of Jews.
Those are the words of Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust who, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Both of her parents and two older sisters died at the camp; only she and Miriam survived the near-starvation, illness, and other indignities of the camp.
Eva has written an emotional blog, exclusively for the International Forgiveness Institute, entitled “My Forgiveness.” It begins with these words:
“Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and tragedy. It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.”
In one of her many interviews following her release, Eva told the anecdote of how she once sat in her room, imagining that Joseph Mengele was sitting right next to her. .
“I picked up a dictionary and wrote 20 nasty words, which I read clear and loud to that make-believe Mengele in the room. And in the end, I said: ‘In spite of all that, I forgive you.’ Made me feel very good, that I, the little guinea pig of 50 years, even had the power over the Angel of Death of Auschwitz.’ ” Source: The Vintage News
Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog by Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust who, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Both of her parents and two older sisters died at the camp; only she and Miriam survived. Her recent video, produced by BuzzFeed, has drawn almost 5 million views on YouTube: I Survived The Holocaust Twin Experiments.
by Eva Mozes Kor
Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and tragedy. It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.
Forgiving is not forgetting. In many cases, it is impossible to forget events that deeply affect our lives. They shape our lives for better or for worse.
Forgiving does not mean we condone the evil deeds of the Nazis or other perpetrators. But in some cases, giving amnesty clears the issue for the victim and for society. The question of justice is separate from the issue of forgiveness.
This concept of forgiveness has little or nothing to do with the perpetrator. It has everything to do with the need of victims to be free from the pain inflicted upon them.
This concept of forgiveness has nothing to do with any religion. All people yearn to live free of the pain and burden of the past. If it is confined to one religion, then some people will not be able to access it.
Each person can forgive only in his or her name. One cannot forgive in the name of all Holocaust survivors. Forgiveness is a very personal thing, but if we feel troubled and hurt by learning about the victimization of others, then we have the right to take action or forgive the perpetrators when the time comes to forgive.
When we live in a place where our lives are in direct danger, the mindset of survival sets in, and survival and forgiveness do not go together. We can forgive only after the violence has ended, and the victim is at peace with his or her surroundings and wants to heal that chapter of his or her life.
However, forgiveness can prevent future violence. If we can teach people that when they are hurting instead of acting out of pain they can heal themselves through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is more than just letting go. It is proactive rather than passive. We become victims involuntarily, when a person or entity with power takes away our power to use our mind or body or both. Something was done to us that put us in a position of feeling powerless. Thus, the conscious choice to forgive provides healing, liberation, and reclamation of this lost power.
I would like to share some more ideas about forgiveness.
Forgiveness unclutters one’s mind and life, permitting us to view the world through unobstructed vision, see the beauty around us, be open to new positive experiences, and embrace the wonderful people in the wonderful world that we meet. If we did not forgive, we would not be able to experience these feelings.
Forgiveness is like a prescription or medicine for physical health and well-being. If we stay angry, this anger poisons our lives and our health. Some people say that the perpetrators don’t deserve forgiveness. That might be so, but if we can heal them and make them into loving, caring human beings, and therefore improve life for everyone in the world, I don’t see a problem with it.
Forgiveness in my opinion brings serenity, healing, respect, freedom, peace, and love. Let’s see what the opposition brings: pain, anger, revenge, and war. So I am puzzled that when people know all that, they are still willingly acting as victims, when they have the choice to live in peace and be happy instead.
It would be nice if the great organization of the United Nations, with the upcoming anniversary in December 2018, 70 years to the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would add an addendum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a beautiful document, but it does not have anything for victims who have already been hurt. I think it should include that every human being has the human right 1. To be happy and 2. To live free of the pain and burden imposed on them by life or society. It would really help people if that came from an organization like the United Nations.
I would like to make an effort to use forgiveness in prisons. I believe that most of these prisoners were not born to spend their days in prison or to commit a crime. So my question is, were many of these prisoners victims before they became prisoners? I would say it is quite possible that every unhealed victim has the potential to become a perpetrator. (Read more from Eva Kor following the call-out text in the box below.)
I forgive you– In one of her many interviews following her release from Auschwitz, Eva told the anecdote of how she once sat in her room, imagining that Joseph Mengele was sitting right next to her.
“I picked up a dictionary and wrote 20 nasty words, which I read clear and loud to that make-believe Mengele in the room. And in the end, I said: ‘In spite of all that, I forgive you.’ Made me feel very good, that I, the little guinea pig of 50 years, even had the power over the Angel of Death of Auschwitz.’ ” Source:The Vintage News
I also would like to help and have programs for veterans who have been trained to defend their lives on the battlefield, but they have never been able to heal themselves from that they have seen, experienced, or done. And the post-traumatic stress that they carry with them for years could be easily removed with forgiveness sessions and workshops.
I find it sad, and it pains me to know, that children who were born in the wrong place and the wrong time, who don’t get loving and nurturing families, end up in juvenile centers. We want to help them and teach them that it’s 1. Not their fault and 2. There is something they can do about it. We would teach them that forgiveness is a skill that will heal them. We cannot change their past, but we can teach them how to cope with it better.
And as I have been talking to Dr. Robert Enright in Madison, Wisconsin, he would like to start teaching forgiveness in first grade as a skill for life. And I agree with him 100%.
Let’s work together to heal the world through forgiveness. Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness.