A fixture of Terre Haute for the last half-century, Eva Mozes Kor’s early years were anything but stable.
The founder of Indiana’s only Holocaust museum was born to a comfortably affluent Jewish farm family in the village of Portz, Romania in 1934.
From the onset of World War II, when Hungarian fascists overtook her village, Eva came to know anti-Semitism first-hand.
In April 1944, Eva and her family, along with thousands of other Romanian Jews, were removed from their home and dispatched to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. Separated from their parents and older sisters, Eva and her twin Miriam were culled along with other twin pairs for medical experimentation by Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death.”
Their hair shorn, inner arm tattooed with an identification number and clothes painted with a red cross to indicate their status as experimental subjects, the twins endured blood draws, injections, and privations of food, water and medication, not to mention the humiliation of being constantly, gratuitously examined.
Although Eva’s reaction to one injection left her so ill she was taken to the hospital, where prisoners were normally brought to die, she—and her sister—found the will to survive.
When the Nazis abandoned the camp in January 1945, the twins—along with 8,200 other survivors—marched out of Birkenau.
Although many of those did not survive the exodus, the twins were ultimately rescued by Soviet troops, and made their way back to their hometown, where they learned that their parents and their sisters, along with more than 100 members of their extended family had perished.
A surviving aunt cared for the girls in Portz for five years, until, at age 16, they immigrated to Israel, where they were finally able to enjoy life without fear. Drafted into the Israeli army, Eva rose through the ranks to sergeant major.
At age 26, Eva met Holocaust survivor Michael Kor, who intended to settle in Terre Haute, Indiana as it was the hometown of the American colonel who had liberated him from Buchenwald.
Marrying in 1960, Eva and Mickey Kor made a home in Terre Haute, where they raised two children. Eva quickly became an American citizen, became active in politics and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University.
In 1995, Kor established the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz, Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Museum in honor of her sister Miriam, who had died two years earlier.
Although arsonists burned the museum to the ground in 2003, Kor rebuilt it the following year. Eva Kor espouses a philosophy of forgiveness, a controversial position among survivors of the Holocaust.
Kor has received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit of Justice Award, the Daughters of the American Revolution Americanism Award, and Indiana’s own honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash.
This essay draws upon the following source: Maurer, Michael S., 19 Stars of Indiana: Exceptional Hoosier Women. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009.