Don't let your tormentors hold you back. Forgive and progress.
Eva Mozes Kor was just 10 when she arrived in a cattle rail car at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. She and her identical twin sister, Miriam, were immediately separated from the rest of their family and never saw them again. Eva recalls her mother's outstretched arms.
Twins were kept alive because they were required for a series of grisly experiments led by the notorious ‘Angel of Death’ or Dr Josef Mengele who claimed to be seeking the secrets of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan race. Historians agree it was just an exercise in cruelty. Eva became horribly ill at one point after being injected with a mystery substance and remembers Mengele laughing with the other doctors as he gave her just two weeks left to live.
Memories of what happened at the concentration camps are still very much alive and on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem which I visited in June 2018. These were some of the displays I saw:
Eva and Miriam were lucky in that they survived Auschwitz. They weren't able to talk to each other about their experiences for years though, until Eva saw a TV show about the 'Mengele Twins' and started wondering what happened to the other survivors. She and Miriam resolved to locate them and set off on a journey which eventually led Eva back to Auschwitz in the 1980s where she met a Nazi physician, Dr Hans Munch. He had worked at the camp but was acquitted of war crimes.
Eva asked Munch to confirm the existence of the gas chambers formally and he agreed to sign a document that she was able to use against the Holocaust deniers. Eva wanted to thank him and wrote Munch a letter in which she found herself forgiving him for his role in the Holocaust. She found the experience liberating and decided to forgive all the Nazis, including Mengele. She famously travelled to Germany for the trial of Oskar Groening where she embraced the former SS Sergeant in front of the world's media just before he was found guilty of complicity in the murder of 300,000 people.
Eva now travels the world preaching forgiveness. That's how I met her, for an interview in front of a studio audience in 2016. 'Hate is a very strong emotion,' she said in response to one question from the floor, 'and it is actually hurting the victim more than the perpetrator. Forgiveness gave me the power to do something that they could never change and it healed me because, then, I was no longer angry. I could go on with my life without carrying that baggage of pain with me.’ Here's the interview:
Eva's story prompts you to question your own hang-ups and whether you are able to move on from them too. Before the interview I asked Eva how she thinks she connects with people and I wrote about what she told me in my book. Here's an extract:
'I am connecting on the human level that we all have problems in our lives and we have been wronged or all feel like we have been wronged and so hurt so there are wounds that we want to heal and only we can heal them. Nobody else can. I cannot forgive for anybody else’s problem. It’s not going to help them. I can only forgive in my own name, for my own pain, and the forgiveness is a proactive act rather than just letting go. Because forgiveness is very empowering,’ she said pointing to her cause.
Kor was leading by example, showing that if she was able to forgive, then you certainly should be able to and perhaps you owed it to her to try.
Give it a go now, as you read this. Think about that person who’s hurt you. Now try letting it go. You’ll feel the cloud starting to lift … you’re reclaiming all that energy you’ve wasted on someone who doesn’t deserve it.
We've all have people who have caused us pain and have held us back. Eva offers a simple remedy which is to forgive and move on, even if you can't forget. Don't let your tormentors hold you back from the success you deserve.