Holocaust survivor lends unique perspective to medical ethics conferenceHouston, TX - 12/6/2012
Eva Kor will never forget the day her childhood ended. The images of that day and the weeks after are burned into her memory, as brutally permanent as the tattoo on her left forearm.
On a spring day in 1944 Kor and her twin sister Miriam, 10 years old at the time, were taken from their family and herded into the Auschwitz concentration camp. The twins became part of a group of children used for human experimentation by a physician called the Angel of Death.
Now 78 years old, Kor tells this story to groups across the country and the world. She shared her memories with a group of physicians, researchers and other medical professionals at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute on Dec. 5, as part of the conference “Human Subjects Research After the Holocaust.”
A number of speakers examined the ethical lessons of medical experiments carried out on unwilling subjects in the years before and during World War II. Kor joined the panel to put a human face on the brutality she experienced at the Nazi death camp.
Identical twins Eva and Miriam Mozes were selected to be human subjects in genetic experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, infamously known as the Angel of Death. Mengele subjected children as young as two years old to horrific surgeries and injections, in the hope of finding a genetic code that would aid in creating a superior human being.
“Nothing can prepare a person for a place like Auschwitz,” she told the audience. Upon seeing bodies of children sprawled on a bathroom floor, Kor said she pledged to herself to survive any way she could.
“Each day I was determined to live one more day,” she said, “and survive one more experiment.”
Even at such a young age, Kor said she and her sister knew they had no choice but to submit to Mengele’s experiments if they hoped to survive. They would often sit naked in a room for up to eight hours at a time, as blood was drawn from one arm and unknown substances were injected into the other arm. The rumor spread around the barracks was that if one was taken to the hospital that person never came back.
“It was very easy to die in Auschwitz,” Kor said. “Surviving was a full time job.”
Eva stole potatoes to keep her and her sister alive. Guards sometimes looked the other way when she stole food, because the girls were protected by Mengele. “As long as he wanted us alive, no one would harm us,” she said.
Then, just four days before the girls’ 11th birthday, Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army. The twins were marched out of the death camp before Russian movie cameras, and eventually they were allowed to move to Israel.
Eva met and married Michael Kor, another Holocaust survivor, and moved to Indiana. Her sister Miriam also married but stayed in Israel. The sisters worked together to organize CANDLES, Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, to help locate other survivors of Mengele’s deadly experiments. Through their efforts, 122 twins living in 10 countries around the world were eventually reconnected.
“I do believe in the need for medical research and ethical human experimentation,” she told the audience of scientists and physicians. She introduced them to her son, Dr. Alex Kor, a podiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.
“Alex was diagnosed with advanced cancer that had metastasized to other parts of his body. The treatments he received saved his life,” she said. “I am so very grateful that you (the medical community) found a cure for my son.”
Medical advances also helped Eva’s sister Miriam, the only other survivor of the Mozes family. Miriam suffered kidney failure after the birth of her first child, and doctors in Israel found her kidneys had been damaged, most likely by Mengele’s experiments. Miriam eventually died in 1993 of complications from the condition.
Kor implored all physicians and scientists to remember Mengele’s human subjects when they are conducting their own medical research. “Medical science can only benefit mankind when the researchers respect the wishes of their human subjects and treat them with dignity,” she said. “Science should be for the sake of mankind, not for the sake of science alone.”
In 1995 Kor was able to meet face to face with a Nazi physician, and they traveled together back to Auschwitz to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp. On that journey, she said she discovered a way for her to heal both her body and her soul.
“I forgave the doctor, who oversaw the gas chambers where the rest of my family was killed,”
“This act of forgiveness is an act of self healing,” she said. “I believe forgiveness is a modern miracle of medicine.”