I wonder if some people are more inclined to forgive than other people. In other words, might some people just have a natural disposition to forgive compared with most of us? I think of Maximilian Kolbe as my example here. He was in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He willingly gave himself up as a substitute for a Jewish man with a family. Fr. Kolbe was calm and did not fight his abusers, which suggests to me that he forgave. Most of us could not do that and so quickly. What do you think?
I doubt that this saint of the Catholic Church only had some kind of natural disposition to forgive. After all, his very life was giving to others as he became a priest. In other words, he had many times in which he engaged in smaller sacrifices for people, which likely gave him much practice in the moral virtues, particularly love and forgiveness. When it then came time for his momentous act of self-sacrifice, which probably included forgiveness, he was ready. Further, theologians in his particular faith would include God’s grace as a large part of why he could love in this way by giving up his life. So, did he have a natural tendency? He might have, but at the same time he had abundant practice in love and forgiveness and he had God’s grace to accomplish heroism.
Dr. Viktor Frankl was the first mental health professional who emphasized the term “meaning” in the context of great suffering. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. He observed that when prisoners found no meaning in their suffering within the concentration camp, they died. Those who found meaning in their suffering lived. Dr. Frankl found meaning by looking up to the mountains when on a forced march outside the camp. He reveled in the beauty and found meaning in the fact that this is a world filled with beauty despite grave suffering. He found meaning in being determined to be reunited with his wife. When people are treated unjustly and then forgive, they often find this meaning: They now are more aware of the suffering in other people and they are motivated to help alleviate that suffering. This can give determination, energy, and hope to a person and help to re-establish psychological health.
For additional information, see Finding Meaning in Suffering.
Eva Mozes Kor (January 31, 1934 – July 4, 2019) is one of my heroes. This is the case because of her unrelenting message that she, personally, and not representing any group, forgave the Nazis for their abuse of her twin sister, Miriam, and herself while they were imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during World War II.
Their experience was horrific. Both were injected with a poison, which eventually took Miriam’s life and left Eva almost deceased in the camp. Yet, Eva’s will to live dominated and not only did she survive but also, later, she donated a kidney to Miriam in the hope of aiding her survival. When Miriam passed, there was not sufficient time for Eva to get from her home in the United States to the Israeli funeral, thus adding one more incident which could have embittered her. Instead, she lived a life of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
What I find so intriguing about Eva’s exemplary life is her steadfastness when it came to forgiving the Nazis. She had ample opportunities to back off from such a gesture because of heavy criticism from others. Mengele did not apologize; you cannot forgive on behalf of others (which she did not); to forgive such a horror is improper. While it is true that many have their convicted reasons why they, personally, would not forgive in this context, Eva realized that hers was a private decision that she willingly chose.
The forgiving worked well for her. As one example, in the film, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” she is shown, in her elderly years, running robustly on a treadmill in a gym. A crushed heart with no hope does not lend itself to such strenuous exercise. In another segment, she is seen comforting a teenager who was shouldering deep pain. Eva was the comforter, showing a motherly love to this teenage whom she was meeting for the first time. Her love was brighter than all of the atrocities perpetrated against her.
“Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and tragedy.
It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.”
Eva Mozes Kor
I know of Eva’s strong and loving attributes from personal experience, having had the honor of sharing air time with her on the radio and having met her and her strong son, Alex, for a dinner engagement.
Eva found a freedom, an independence from what could have been a lifelong hatred. The freedom won. It, thus, is fitting that this immigrant to America passed away on Independence Day in the United States, when the new nation shed oppression in 1776. Eva, having known oppression, rose to her Independence through forgiveness.
May your forgiveness live on, Eva. Thank you for a life lived with integrity, steadfastness, and forgiveness.
Read more about and by Eva Mozes Kor:
- “My Forgiveness” – A guest blog Eva wrote for this website last year.
- “Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness” – Eva talks about forgiving Joseph Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death of Auschwitz” who tortured her and her twin sister.
- “Forgiveness Brings Peace” – Eva discusses a new film (“Eva”) about her life.
- History of the Holocaust – Learn more about the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.
- “I Survived The Holocaust Twin Experiments” – Eva discusses the horrors she and her family endured during the Holocaust (a 14:47 video by BuzzFeedVideo on YouTube with actual concentration camp footage).
- “Nothing Good Ever Comes From Anger” – Eva talks about meeting former Nazi prison guard Oskar Groening during his trial in 2015.
“Let’s heal the world through forgiveness.
Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness.”
Those are the words of Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust who, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Both of her parents and two older sisters died at the camp; only she and Miriam survived the near-starvation, illness, and other indignities of the camp.
In one of her many interviews following her release, Eva told the anecdote of how she once sat in her room, imagining that Joseph Mengele was sitting right next to her. .