I read a lot of dystopian literature. I have heard the complaints that these imagined futures (that serve as a warning to excesses in our own present) are too dark and violent, but they have nothing on the real life horrors from our history. Even with as much as I have read, I still have trouble comprehending the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
I knew that Dr. Mengele conducted experiments on twins who arrived at Auschwitz, but I am still shocked at the evil and cruelty he inflicted. Eva Mozes Kor (with Lisa Rojany Buccieri) shares her story in Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz. It is in reading her story that I am able to glimpse what living through that horror felt like. Even more, I am in awe of the courage and grace with which Eva was able not just to survive, but to triumph over evil beyond imagination.
Eva grew up in a loving Jewish family in the village of Portz in Transylvania, Romania. All too soon the evil of the Nazis invaded their rural village until it was too late to escape. Eva and her sister Miriam are separated from the rest of their family on the train platform when they arrive at Auschwitz. They never see the rest of their family again, and must depend upon each other for their survival.
Every day they marched from their lice-infested barracks to the medical labs where doctors drew blood and injected them with multiple shots. They didn’t know it at the time, but some of the shots infected them with deadly diseases. Others were bizarre experiments dreamed up by Mengele to try to change the children’s gender or eye color. She still doesn’t know all of the things injected into her. On top of the medical experimets, Eva and Miriam had to survive the cold, hunger, and diseases while living under the cloud from the gas chambers and crematorium that killed the rest of their family. Life was still hard once the end of the war freed them from the camp and they returned to live with an aunt in Communist Romania. Eventually, they were able to leave for Israel, and finally, the United States.
Fifty years after their liberation from Auschwitz, Eva returned in January 1995 to commemorate the event. While there she presented one of the Nazi doctors, Dr. Münch, a letter of forgiveness. In forgiving not only Dr. Münch but also Dr. Mengele, her parents, and herself, Eva realized the power that forgiving gave her. She says, “I discovered once I made the decision was that forgiveness is not so much for the perpetrator, but for the victim. I had the power to forgive. No one could give me this power, and no one could take it away. That made me feel powerful. It made me feel good to have any power over my life as a survivor” (Kor 132). I don’t know if I could do it.
After the death of her sister Miriam, who suffered many health problems from Mengele’s injections, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. I want to visit the museum sometime this year to learn more.
I’m glad the Young Hoosier Book Award list brought this book to my attention. Surviving the Angel of Death is a valuable addition to Holocaust literature for young adults.