Alex Kor is the son of not one, but two European Jewish Holocaust survivors. Alex is a doctor in Indiana, where he was raised. Being the son of two survivors imbues him with an obvious yet unspoken sense of compassion and wisdom. His mother, Eva — famous for her work ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust would not be long forgotten –was a force to be reckoned with. Eva, along with her twin sister Miriam, survived Auschwitz camp, one of the most deadly concentration camps under Nazi control and was a victim of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele twin experiments.
When Alex recounts his mother’s story, you cannot help but be impressed by the willpower and survival instincts of a young girl who was only ten years old. While in the camp, Eva was injected with a substance and became very sick. She was so sick that she was relocated to the “barracks of the living dead”, where Nazis sent victims when they were likely to die. Eva developed a fever and knew if she couldn’t get her fever down, she would likely be removed from Mengele’s experimental cadre and her odds of survival would diminish. Eva was determined to survive and fooled the Nazis into thinking her fever had gone down by tweaking the thermometer. She was reunited with her twin sister and the experiments resumed. To Eva’s knowledge, she was one of the only survivors of the barracks of the living dead.
Alex’s father was less vocal about his story until much later in life. Alex says he’s surprised on occasion when he learns new details about his father’s experience. Mickey hailed from a larger city in Latvia. In 1940, he was moved to the Jewish ghettos when the country was occupied by the Germans. His father already passed away and his mother was killed in the Rumbula Forest Massacre, where Nazi death squads killed over 25,000 people on two separate days in late 1941. Eventually Mickey was brought to Stutthof Camp in Poland and then Buchenwald. While in the camps, Mickey focused on finding ways to survive from one day to the next. Eventually, he was led on a death march by the Nazis where he escaped and hid in a barn for two days. Mickey was eventually liberated by US soldiers and befriended an American Army colonel, Andrew Nehf. Colonel Nehf eventually arranged for Mickey to come to the United States and stay with a local family in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Mickey remained for most of his adult life.
Eva’s journey to the US was less straightforward. Eva and her sister Miriam were liberated from Auschwitz camp and then sent to a convent to live. The girls had yet to find out the fate of their immediate family, which included siblings and their parents. Unfortunately, everyone perished during their imprisonment except the young girls. While at the convent, an aunt discovered they survived and arranged for the girls to come back to their village, which was now under Soviet control. Conditions under Soviet rule were harsh and Eva immediately recognized the efforts the Communist regime undertook to sell their propaganda. On a stroke of luck, their aunt was able to secure Israeli visas and the family moved to Israel in the mid-50s. In Israel, both Eva and her sister served in the military and adapted to their new lives. Eventually, when Mickey visited Israel, Eva met Mickey and luckily for Terre Haute, moved to the US where she undertook her life’s work of advocacy for Holocaust survivors.
There is a gravity to being the child of genocide survivors that most of us will never understand. Alex says it made him more aware of the world and that from a young age. While he never faced intense anti-Semitism Alex says he was always aware of its quiet pervasiveness, even in the relative safety of his community, where his mother was a well-loved public figure. Early in his career as a medical doctor, career a patient who had visited his clinic a few times implied that because Alex was Jewish he was likely going to take all of the patient’s money. Instead of lecturing the man or kicking him out of the office, Alex told him that he was not going to take all his money and in fact Alex would provide the rest of his treatment pro bono. The lesson was one Alex’s mother would surely be proud of.
Prior to her death in 2019, Eva Kor established herself as one of the most prominent Holocaust survivor activists in the world. With a relentless veracity, she worked to preserve artifacts from the Holocaust and took students to the remnants of concentration camps across Europe. Eva even opened a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, that sits on an unassuming site off Highway 41, or “third street” as known by the locals. With an unbelievable amount of grace and character, she also led a campaign aimed at forgiving Nazis that had participated as captors and killers during the Holocaust. Her husband continued this work, as recently as last July, publicly declaring his forgiveness for a Nazi guard from Buchenwold.
Although Eva passed, her family continues telling their stories to ensure that the Holocaust will not be forgotten and to preserve the lessons for future generations.