Forgiving Dr. Mengele (2006)

I have found myself in recent years increasingly wary of films that deal with extreme real-life tragedies or genocide, not because I am not interested in such topics or because I fear being overwhelmed by the subject matter. Rather, I am not interested in filmmakers who have little to say about such important subjects, simply using the tragedy to wallow in the heinousness of it all. Neither do I want to become numb to tragedy in the world. Thus, when I first heard about Mengele, a documentary covering the crusade of a holocaust survivor, I noted it and moved on.

Now that I’ve gotten a chance to see it though, I’d suggest this is one of the most important films about the Holocaust (and more broadly about tragedy) I am familiar with. The film gives us little new information about the genocide itself. Rather, it focuses on one woman’s response to her experience at Auschwitz. And if you’ve seen the title, then you can guess Eva Kor’s response to her captors.

At the age of 9, Eva and her twin sister Miriam were sent to Auschwitz, and survived initially simply because they were twins (who were favored for experiments by the Nazis). Mengele’s experiments involved injecting one child with a drug, and then charting the differences in the two children afterward. Eva and Miriam suffered through this for 10 months, with Eva near death at one point. Yet, as she says, she willed her way through the illness, and eventually, walked out of the camp with her sister. She eventually married another Holocaust survivor, moved to Indiana, and got started in real estate. In the early portion of the film, the interspersing of concentration camp footage with Eva’s daily routine evokes the way in which those images must have haunted her over much of her early life in the States.

Yet as her sister struggled and eventually died an early death from a kidney problem associated with their time in the camp, Eva is confronted with a desire to take action and help her. In the process, she meets a Nazi doctor, who was also at Auschwitz concurrent with Eva. She finds he too has nightmares, and struggles with his experiences there just as profoundly as she. This leads her to spontaneously offer forgiveness to him, a decision that eventually results in her forgiving all Nazis, including the head doctor at Auschwitz, Josef Mengele.

Even as Eva does this, she stirs great controversy in the Jewish community, many of whom don’t feel Eva has the right to forgive any Nazi, much less Mengele. Several responses to Eva’s act are interwoven through the film: She has no right to speak for other Jews, her comments could imply she is speaking for the dead, she dishonors her parents who also died in the camp, her decision implies she is willing to forget the evil committed in the Holocaust. Yet Kor fiercely stands by her decision, arguing that forgiveness will “heal your soul and set you free.”

Most interesting about this film is the complexity involved in its portrayal of forgiveness. What is forgiveness? What does invoking it entail? No one seems to know definitively. Everyone seems to have their own perspective. Does it mean one forgets the past? Does it mean one excuses the past? Is it necessary for the perpetrator to be sorry before one can forgive them? If so, how can one ever forgive Mengele, long since dead? Are those who suffered under him or other dead and/or non-repentant Nazis doomed to live as victims the rest of their days? How does forgiveness apply in current conflicts one has with others? Do the rules change? Is it harder or easier to forgive the living?

This film satisfies largely because Kor’s answers to a number of questions above resonate deeply within me. No, forgiveness does not entail forgetting or excusing the evil act. Neither is it dependent on the offender to be sorry. Forgiveness is an act which the victim bestows on another. It is an act they perform. No one can take it from them. All people have the option to forgive, to move beyond victim status and into a fuller life that looks forward in hope, rather than back in pessimism. And yet, in spite of all this, Kor is far from perfect, though she refreshingly recognizes her own limitations, and seems, at least to this eye, to be moving forward, bettering herself, and working out how one forgives, not just for the past, but also for the present. The doggedness and optimism in Kor is a refreshing antidote to the horrors of the genocide she and her people were subjected to.

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29 thoughts on “Forgiving Dr. Mengele (2006)

  1. Great comments, John. They enrich my appreciation of this film. Thanks for either remembering (or taking the time to remember) Miriam and not just call her Kor’s sister. As Eva says, forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting.

  2. Thanks, Ken. “Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting.” Indeed. In fact, it seems to me that remembering can often propel one’s forgiveness forward.–>

  3. I watched this movie yesterday. I was overwhelmed. I know there is nothing that cannot be forgiven. For me, this means allowing myself to want the best for every individual, even those that hurt me. Justice IS, indeed, the best thing that can happen to someone, for sure. But, hate is never ending and NEVER an answer. Hate hurts me the more I hold on to it. To say “God bless you” allows forgiveness and allows the world to see that there is better way. It’s definately not the easier way though.

    Thanks so much for moving me as you have,

    Katie Martin

  4. Hi Katie, thanks for commenting. Coming up on nearly a year since having seen this, the film continues to stir discussion among those I meet and work with. In fact, I’ve just been having an ongoing dialog about the film with a co-worker this week.

    I think your comment about “wanting the best for every individual” is apt. This is certainly in line with my own response to what Kor is doing and to forgiveness in general. In speaking about this film recently, I’ve been taken by the absolute radicalness of her choice. Forgiveness, when truly done, will leave one standing out from the pack. Rather than simply living in grudging peace, forgiveness demands something of the one who offers it. It forces them into a shift in both perspective and relation. Kor’s decision dramatizes this beautifully.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the film as much as I did. It really is a remarkable portrayal of a complex subject.

  5. I just watched the movie this morning and I was so impressed by it. I have watched a number of documentaries about the Holocaust subject and I think this is one of the best I have ever seen, both in terms of subject matter and filmmaking. Eva Kor is an inspiration. Her ability to forgive and not let her past hold her prisoner is something we can all learn from. Thank you to the filmmakers for this movie, and to Eva Kor and her family, for their stories.

  6. Thanks for chiming in, Dawn. Your comments are appreciated. I’m so glad to hear this film is still finding people. Without much in the way of publicity, I suspect word of mouth must be propelling this one forward. How did you hear about it?

  7. This is beautiful.
    it is so hard to forgive and her message is so powerful. I love the emphasis on healing and the power of forgiving bringing freedom while taking the power away from the perpetrator.

    She was very brave to speak with Dr. Much. It was inspiring to see the two of them walking together, I am sure the healing was gained for both parties.

    I wasn’t sure what the connection was between timothy mcveigh and the burning,but the point is hate happens.
    I highly recommend this movie.

  8. to John who asked how i heard about the film. I subscribe to Netflix, and I found it browsing the Documentary category. The name intrigued me, and as I read the summary, I thought it was something I should see. It was the first documetary I saw about the Mengele Twin Experiment.

  9. Thanks, Dawn. Glad to hear Netflix is kind of democratic in what movies they push.

    And thanks for your comment, Jennifer. Agreed about the mutual healing.

  10. I just watched this movie and also found out about it on Netflix. I too was deeply moved. The subject was handled with such respect and honesty. Even people who disagreed with Eva were shown in a respectful light.

    There was no surprise that other victims would have trouble with her message of forgiveness. What saddened me was the ignorance that met her in America, including the hateful act of burning her museum.

    I felt sympathy for her when she met with the Palestinians. That meeting was set up wrong to begin with. You don’t bring in an old woman, a survivor of the holocaust, and then take turns dumping accusations on her. It looked like she was on trial, and there’s no healing that can come from that.

    Mrs. Kor is nothing less than a hero. She fought for her own life, and she chose to forgive because it was the best choice for her own emotional health. In doing so, she raised humanity a little higher. She gave us all an example to look to.

  11. Indeed, Sean. On the Palestinian scene: the distrust between the parties in that room was palpable. I am reminded of a quote by George Eliot, from her novel, Middlemarch: “What loneliness is more lonely than that of distrust.”

  12. I got this movie from Netflix also; we just finished watching it. I have nothing but admiration for this feisty woman named Eva. I admire her courage, her convictions and her willingness to take a stand in the face of opposition.

    The maternal side of my family is Jewish, so the movie was particularly poignant for me.

    If I had anything to add to what Eva says it’s that by holding onto the hate, we only harm ourselves. Hatred against Dr Mengele or anyone doesn’t hurt them; it hurts only those who harbor it. I completely understand the hatred that the others in the film feel toward the Nazis. But their hatred inflicts pain on themselves, not on the people who hurt them.

    My idea of forgiveness does not mean forgetting, just as Eva said in the film. To me, it also means that I give to God my desire for retribution and revenge. I make the choice to let Him deal with it.

    There is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I can make the decision to forgive someone who has hurt me in unbelievable ways, but there can be no reconciliation until that person has repented and expressed remorse for what s/he has done. I can forgive someone without them having to do anything at all; it’s my own personal process.

    And forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen in an instant. It starts with “I am willing to begin to forgive”.

    This is an excellent film; it’s powerfully told, and I highly recommend it. When I Googled Eva’s name, I was extremely distressed that the first hit was a website whose author strongly implied that she’d made the whole thing up. Her story is true. And she is a courageous woman to have told it.

  13. My husband and I just finished watching “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” (also from Netflix). I was very impressed with Mrs. Kor’s willingness to forgive others who hurt her so deeply. I am so glad she found freedom in forgiveness. I believe she discovered the truth of one of God’s spiritual laws, that forgiving others brings freedom to ourselves. This was the way of Jesus, who forgave others even as he was being crucified. In fact, he died so that we could be forgiven for our sins. All we have to do is accept His forgiveness.

    Have you heard of Corrie ten Boom, and her book, “The Hiding Place?” She, too, shared a message of forgiving Nazis. She even met one of the guards from her concentration camp, and, with the help of Jesus, was able to forgive him personally.

    Thank you to Eva Kor for sharing this message, and reminding us of the power of forgiveness.

  14. Thanks for commenting, Becky. I’ve often wondered about Eva’s theological loyalties. Certainly, there is a sense in which her forgiveness is akin to that of Jesus, though the film itself (I think wisely) skirts the issue of any religious commitment she might (or might not) have.

    As a film about Jews dealing with the horrors of the Holocaust, I suspect such an inclusion would only complicate the film in a way that would cause the close attention to forgiveness to become diffuse and more difficult to engage for some.

    Having said that, I find myself wondering what it would be like to make a film about forgiveness as seen in religious traditions. Which traditions encourage it? For which traditions is forgiveness not much of an issue?

  15. Eva certainly has a lot to teach all of us. But her reaction to the Palestinian issue was instructive and sad.

    Eva has every right to her own opinions about the issues, but if SHE cannot see the injustices that have been heaped upon them from her perspective in the US, away from the day to day dramas, what hope is there that both sides are going to begin to make the compromises necessary to bring peace and justice to that troubled part of the world?

  16. B”SD
    Today in Australia our multicultural TV station SBS (we only have 5 free to air stations and SBS is one of them) televised “Forgiving Dr. Mengele (2006)”. I watched the program in Melbourne. Before tonight I had been unaware that you had established a museum dedicated to the holocaust. I live around the corner from one in Melbourne. Many survivors settled in Melbourne as Australia was so far from Europe and felt “safer”. My parents were one of the fortunate few whose families left Europe in the early to mid 1920’s to settle in Australia and hence I am fortunate to have not lost immediate family members although I am aware that many distant relatives did not survive the atrocities of the holocaust. Most of my school friends (from Mt Scopus college) however are first generation survivors and both my children Zeev and Rachel are named after my husband’s Aunt and Uncle who perished at Auschwitz. Many of my friends parents wore the concentration camp numbers on their arm like you do and all have/had a similar accent to yours. One used to walk along the shopping strip at Balaclava in Melbourne and hear everyone speaking with the same heavy accent but times are changing and there are less and less survivors remaining so I appreciated listening to you recount your story. It is very important for all to hear that the atrocities really occured and are not fiction. My in-laws like most of my friends parents cannot speak of their youth as it is too painful for them. I applaud your views and am pleased that you have found the means to “move on and forgive” and educate future generations. Kol Hakovod! May you continue until 120!

  17. Have just finished watching the movie on TV here in Sydney, Australia. Wow! What an inspiration Eva is!
    A woman of great courage, living a significant life because she chose to forgive those who have caused her much pain. And the result? Incredible Peace and
    Healing that the world cannot give…only given to us Supernaturally!! Indeed, she has caused a ripple effect…her act of forgiveness has touched thousands of lives through this movie. Some who watch this movie may have issues from years ago they battle with everyday and this movie might just provide them with the healing
    they’ve been searching for.

    Forgiveness is healing for our souls..absolutely!
    For the other survivors to get rid of their pain they need to do the same and let God take charge. Hate and anger consumes you like fire and life is not meant to be like that.

    Eva’s cause will linger on for years, generations after generations. A superb movie…highly recommended!

  18. Forgiving Dr Mengele has just this evening (2nd Jan, 2008) been shown on SBS television in New South Wales. I, like your other respondents, have found the example of Eva Kor transforming her life moving and thought provoking. That the film finished with the rebuilding and reopening of the CANDLES museum after the arson hate crime exemplifies Eva’s determination and leadership. I’m still digesting the personal resonances, but I am grateful to the makers of the film.

  19. My husband and I watched the film last night on SBS. I am a baby boomer, born in 1946 and therefore have had to research in an effort to understand the holocaust and the state of the world during 1939 to 1945. It is obvious, in hindsight, that Adolf Hitler was a mentally deranged person. Germany was caught up in the delusions of a mad man…for Eva to forgive is to forgive a society who forgot to love…unconditionally! To love others unconditionally, regardless of race, gender, religion or colour of skin, is often hard. To strive towards that ideal in an effort towards peace in the World, is imperative. Eva exemplifies an evolved soul, struggling to make sense of a most heinous crime against humanity. I love you Eva and I am sure that God, Budda, Allah, Yahweh, the Supreme Being or whoever created all, feels the same way.

  20. I have just watched this film and was so overwhelmed by it. If Eva can forgive what happened to her and her family then I too can forgive the trivial wrongs that have been done to me. I also saw the peace in her eyes whilst all the others who refused to even try the first steps towards forgiveness, because they don’t believe they have the power to forgive, eyes still had a tortured look about them and this will only cause illness in themselves. I know this from personal experience but have refused to believe that it could possible be caused by the knot of holding onto my grudges. I sat down and wrote forgiveness letters to everyone and then went outside and burnt them so that their essence would pass to the people concerned. Some are no longer on this earth. I do believe thoughts are very powerful and I feel so much lighter today and ready to tackle the other niggles in my life. So thank you Eva for making it possible for me to forgive. No you don’t forget but the sting is no longer there. May you continue to glow in the radiance that is now shining out of you.

  21. Dear Ms Kor;

    Last night, I had a chance to see “Forgiving Dr Mengele.” l wanted to thank you for your courage to come forward and forgive the NAZI. Unconditional forgiveness is by no mean the hardest thing any of us can ever achieve in life because it forces us to remove the curses or/and psychological “control” perpetuor(s) once put on us.

    In the show, you said that forgiving the NAZI liberated you from them. In my life, I was once hurt in very unpleasant ways that will never come close to the suffering you once endured. For the longest time, I was hungry against the people who hurt me. My hunger controlled me and my actions in many possible ways. The day, I forgave them is the day I became free again. Best, the day I saw “Forgiving Dr Mengele” is the day I understood my recovery process.

    Thus, I wanted to thank you for giving all of us such a lesson of life! May God Bless You!

  22. Dear Ms. Kor,

    Though I have not seen the documentary, I believe that forgiveness (especially by all suffrers of genocide)is the most difficult action for anyone. You are verily a great lady.

    I am going to certainly see this documentary. Dr. Mengele and others of his ilk were monsters, whose souls shall never find peace.

    I sincerely hope that mankind learns from the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and other tyrants who followed them (as also preceded them) and stops forthwith persecution and genocide of the “other” and learns to live in peace with other human beings.

    God bless you!

    With best regards,
    Abhay Sapru

  23. I believe it is reasonable to hear the complaints of how others have been hurt. We want others to hear our stories in order to understand us. It is also healing to be heard. People across the world want three things: to be respected, to be believed, to be heard. It is healing to pour out the grief in a safe atmosphere. Grievances DO matter — if not then we would have no need of a holocaust museum, no way to understand or understood, no need for a book or truth. We must listen as well as we speak. There are many facts to teaching and helping others learn to forgive. Listening to their hearts is one of them.

  24. Eva suffered horribly, and the loss of her family, in Auschwitz. Other survivors witnessed and recieved more brutality from the nazi’s than did Eva. Which is simply the conflict other survivors have with Eva. They cannot deal with the thought of trying to forgive the unforgiveable.

    I understand the rationale that Eva has found for her sanity and to keep her respect/love for life on earth.

    We are born innocent and whoever you are, you will grow up in an environment that will create you into the person you will become. Regardless of your cultural, educational, and religous training. Today in the 21 st century we understand more about developmental psychology. Why homo sapiens behaviour is acted out.

    Eva is trying to be helpful to the whole of the human race. Her belief and her practise of forgiveness is not going to be accepted because of the conditioning of judging/hating other people is part of mimicing (irresponsible and impulsive)behaviour. The immaturity of our childish behaviours that have never been corrected/groomed with love, and nurturing. We grow up socially retarded.

    People quite literally have to be trained to understand and acknowledge the worst of homo sapien behaviour that is inherent in all of us. People quite literally have to be trained to empathise and be sensitive to other people’s feelings.

    If the cycle of revenge/hatred is to be broken from one generation to another. This is the only time in history that it can be accomplished. It is up to each and every parent to not let their greivances/prejudices poison their childrens mind.

    People like Eva and Ghandi are offering us to take the initiative to become better people within ourselves and maybe then we can save the human race. Maybe then we can all save our dying planet.

    Richard Gaulin
    Vancouver, BC

  25. Having just written a book for a Holocaust survivor, Remember Us, I am humbled by this film. Eva Kor’s forgiveness is her way of dealing with her trauma and I believe it is impossible for any other person to step inside of her shoes and judge her. I do, however, commend her tireless effort in Holocaust education. She clearly touches the hearts and minds of young people in experiences that will carry them through their lives. Eva has made it clear that forgiving does not equate with forgetting. It has to do with quelling some of her personal suffering in a situation where no outsider could begin to understand. Further, the individuals who burned down the museum stand as proof that hate and destruction are forces to contend with and that history is only a meaningful, progressive tool for those who take the time to understand others. If not, hate, disrespect and fear continue to perpetuate destruction.

  26. As a member of the Board of Directors of CANDLES Holocaust Museum, I would like to thank you all for your candid and gracious comments and input regarding the film “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” Eva certainly is an inspiration and someone whom I am proud to call my friend. On August 1st Eva and the museum sponsored its second Forgiveness Conference, which was a wonderful success. I wanted to let everyone know that Eva is planning a trip back to Auschwitz for the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation and there are openings if you would like to travel with us. Please contact the museum at (812)234-7881. I took the trip in June 2007 and it is certainly an amazing experience when viewed through Eva’s eyes. Check the museum website often – http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org – for information about what we are doing and accomplishing!

  27. I viewed “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” this evening and am completely touched by Eva’s story. I have been trying to deal with my own personal pain (which pales in comparison to Eva’s) and this beautiful woman has given me hope. I know I can forgive my childhood. Unless I forgive, I will continue to be a victim. I choose to be free.

    Thank you Eva for touching so many peoples lives with your pure spirit.
    Thank you,
    Amber
    age 29 from Louisiana

    “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and realizing the prisoner was you.” Unknown

  28. Dear Eva,

    I wanted to express my gratitude for all your efforts going into the wonderful film you have put out. I am a mid-twenties, white, non-Jew 7th generation American and was in no way directly affected by the war or Holocaust. That being said, I’ve always known that my grandfather was in the war, but more than ever understand why he was willing to fight. My grandfather wanted to help end the suffering of millions just like you and Miriam and to prevent the suffering of millions more. Thank you, then, for helping me understand my grandfather and his story in Europe as well as show me that to this day effects of his and the millions of others’ efforts and sacrifice was not for naught.

    Charlie

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