Eva Mozes Kor was 10 years old when she was thrust into an unthinkable environment of inhumanity and pain. Eva and her family, including her twin sister Miriam, were sent to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1944.
Eva managed to survive her ordeal and went on to unofficially adopt Rainer Hoss, the grandson of Rudolf Hoss, the SS commander who oversaw the systematic slaughter of Jews at Auschwitz. Over the course of World War II, 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz.
"When we arrived at Auschwitz we asked for water, but instead we got Germans yelling orders. I looked around and, just like that, my father and two older sisters (Edit and Aliz) disappeared in the crowd. I held onto my mother for dear life. I thought she could protect us,” Eva told Vice.
Eva and Miriam were taken away together, and never saw their mother, father or older sisters again. "We never got to say goodbye,” she said “I had the best mother on the face of this Earth.”
For months, Eva and Miriam were subjected to brutal experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele — the SS "Angel of Death” — who used twins to conduct gruesome medical research. Six days a week, Eva, Miriam and many other pairs of twins were examined by Nazi doctors and injected with pathogens. At one point, Eva was dying but through sheer will power, she survived. Miriam would have been murdered soon after if Eva had died, as Mengele planned to examine the bodies of both twins if one died.
Eva and Miriam were one of 200 sets of twins that survived their ordeal; 1,500 sets of twins had been selected for experimentation.
After moving to the U.S. with her husband, Michael Kor, Eva joined forces with her twin to found CANDLES — Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors — a foundation whose primary message is that there's always hope.
Eva went on to write a letter forgiving the Nazis for their crimes. "When I finished, I realized that the guinea pig had the power to forgive the god of Auschwitz," she said. "I had the power to forgive. No one could give me the power, or take it away from me. I refused to be a victim, and now I am free."
Eva soon received an email from Rainer, who said he wanted to meet her in person and give her a hug. In 1985, Rainer severed ties with his family, no longer able to bear their refusal to speak out against his grandfather, Rudolf, who was hung for his crimes in 1945.
Rainer asked Eva to become his adoptive grandmother and, after their first face-to-face meeting last July at Auschwitz, she accepted. "I'm proud to be his grandmother," she told me. "I admire and love him. He had the need of love from a family he never had.”
Eva, now 80, sometimes disagrees with Rainer’s refusal to forgive his family.
"I do argue with him, as I don't always agree with everything he does. But I definitely love him," she said. "There is a real camaraderie and emotional understanding. People from different places who call each other grandma and grandson can give a sign of hope.”
Though Miriam passed away in 1993 due to cancer, Eva maintains CANDLES and holds lectures on hope and forgiveness. She sometimes visits Auschwitz, where she dances on the platform where she was separated from her family forever.
"That's where they took away the joy of my life and my family," she said. "This way, I reclaim it."