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Students hear personal stories of the Holocaust in KEY experience

Apr 4, 2023
Two people look at museum exhibits.
Two people look at museum exhibits.

KOKOMO, Ind. — How do you forgive the unforgivable?

Students in two Indiana University Kokomo sociology classes heard the firsthand story of Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor and her message of forgiveness and peace during a Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) trip to Kor’s CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute.

Technology allowed students to “meet” Kor, who passed away July 4, 2019, in hologram form. She answered their questions via pre-recorded messages, programmed to respond with the reply most closely corresponding to their query. In one, she spoke of her decision to forgive a Nazi doctor who had worked at Auschwitz.

It was an eye-opening experience, said Paige Messmore, from Covington.

“I probably have grudges against people who didn’t do a third of what she experienced,” Messmore said. “Why am I holding a grudge when she’s able to forgive a whole group of people who enslaved, killed, and tortured millions of her people?”

Brandi Keith, adjunct faculty member in sociology, said it takes courage.

“She made an important point, that the forgiveness is for you and not for them,” she said. “You’re stripping away that power they had over you. It takes decades. You have to be strong to be able to do that. Her being able to do that had to be a huge weight off her shoulders, so she could enjoy the rest of her life.”

Kor and her twin sister Miriam were used as human guinea pigs in genetic experimentation led by Dr. Joseph Mengele. They were among 200 children found alive by the Soviet army when the camp was liberated in January 1945. They lived in refugee camps before an aunt in Romania took them in, as their parents and older sisters had been killed. Later, they immigrated to Israel where she met Mickey Kor, and joined him in the United States after their marriage.

Wondering what happened to the other children after liberation, she founded Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, or CANDLES, in 1984, to find survivors and shed light on this hidden chapter of the Holocaust.

Messmore, a nursing major, said it took a lot of courage for Kor to share her story, rather than keeping it to herself and never thinking of it again.

“Because of her courage, people will see what happened, and not want it to happen again,” she said.”

Megan Fultz, Flora, said hearing her story makes what they are learning more real.

“When we read about it, that’s an objective point of view, it’s not personal,” she said. “When we went to the museum, we saw how it affected one individual. Her life story provided a better perspective of the fact that six million Jews died. Each of those people had individual lives, but we can’t envision that with a number. Just seeing that one person’s life gives you a better understanding of why it was so horrible.”

Messmore said the museum reminded her why it’s important to study the parts of history that are difficult, even heartbreaking, to recall.

“These are things people need to be aware of,” she said. “We have to introduce it from a young age, to make it known this happened, and it wasn’t right. This is what people endured.

“We can’t prevent it from happening again if we don’t know it happened in the first place.”

The group also attended the Jamal Khashoggi Annual Address on Journalism and the Media, featuring author and journalist Lawrence Wright. The writer spoke about his experiences, including working for media in the Middle East.

Keith said the trip touched on sociology topics including religion, race, ethnicity, and government, in a memorable way.

“This day gave them a little more understanding of these topics by experiencing it, rather than just reading it in a textbook,” she said.

Travel has been a hallmark of the KEY program since it was founded. The goal is to provide students with real-world experiences, connect them with people, and offer a travel experience within their major.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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