WASHINGTON — After nine days of heavy fighting near the camp, an unusual silence permeated the section of Auschwitz where Eva Mozes Kor, then 10 years old, hunkered down with her twin sister, Miriam. The relative tranquility was broken in the late afternoon.
“A woman ran into our barrack yelling at the top of her voice: ‘We are free! We are free! We are free!’ Well that was wonderful. It sounded great,” says Kor.
But it wasn’t until a half-hour later that the reality of deliverance settled in for Kor on January 27, 1945: In the distance, though the snow, she could see “lots of people, and they were all wrapped in white, camouflage raincoats.”
“They were smiling from ear to ear,” she says. “And the most important part for me was that they did not look like the Nazis. We ran up to them. They gave us chocolates, cookies, and hugs. And this was my first taste of freedom.”
Kor, now 80, and her sister were among some 7,000 prisoners liberated from the notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp by the Soviet Army 70 years ago next week.
She is also among the few child prisoners to have survived Auschwitz after being subjected to disturbing medical experiments by one of the most infamous Nazi criminals, Josef Mengele.
Later that evening, Kor recalls, the Soviet soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front came to the barrack where she and her sister were living. “They drank some vodka, they danced a lot of Russian dances, and we stood in a circle applauding,” she told RFE/RL.
The soldiers returned two or three days later bearing massive cameras and a peculiar request: They asked the children to put their striped Auschwitz uniforms back on and recreate a march through the camp.
The reenactment yielded the only images known to exist of the two girls during their time in Auschwitz, showing them walking at the front of a group of children and next to a mother carrying a child cloaked in the prison uniform.
Not everyone agreed to put the stripes back on, but Kor said there was a January logic to her and her twin’s decision to do so.
“I told my sister, ‘It’s cold outside, let’s have another layer of clothing,'” she said. “And so we did. And then they filmed us marching between the two rows of barbed-wire fences.”
‘We Were All Alone’
Eva and Miriam had arrived at Auschwitz with their mother, father, and two older sisters in May 1944 after spending four days packed in a cattle car with thousands of other Jews being transported to the camp from the Simleu Silvaniei ghetto in the Transylvania region of Romania.
It was on the so-called “separation platform” at Auschwitz that the twins last saw their family. Their father and sisters disappeared into the crowd, while their mother held firm to their arms.
Amid the sound of human cries and barking dogs, a uniformed German rushed up to the girls’ mother and asked if they were twins. Her mother asked if that would be a good thing. The German said it would be.
Her mother informed him that Eva and Miriam were indeed twins, after which they were pried from her embrace.
“All I really remember is seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away,” Kor said. “I never even got to say goodbye to her. But I didn’t really understand that this would be the last time we would see her.”
The twins never learned the fate of their parents and sisters.
“Miriam and I no longer had a family,” Kor said in a recent interview. “We were all alone, and we had no idea what would become of us.”
‘I Refused To Die’
The girls joined the estimated 1,500 sets of twins subjected to medical experiments at Auschwitz under the guidance of Mengele, whose grisly practices earned him the nickname “Angel of Death.”
The sisters, like many of these twins, were subjected to torturous examinations, injections, and other genetic experiments. Unlike most, however, Eva and Miriam did not die after being treated like human guinea pigs.
Kor recalls being separated from her sister and being injected with an unknown substance that likely caused her temperature to spike.
Years later, Kor says, Miriam told her that during this time the Auschwitz doctors were observing her closely, as if they were waiting for something to happen. Kor has concluded that if she would have died from the injection, the doctors would have killed Miriam to conduct a comparative autopsy.
She also recalls Mengele’s words after the fever hit her.
“Laughing sarcastically, he said, ‘Too bad she’s so young. She has only two weeks to live,'” she recalls. “I knew he was right. But I refused to die. So I made a silent pledge that I will prove Dr. Mengele wrong. I will survive, and I will be reunited with my twin sister Miriam.”
‘My Childhood Was Lost’
Eva and Miriam managed to survive the medical experiments and the last-ditch efforts by the Nazis to exterminate the prisoners of Auschwitz before it was liberated by Allied forces.
Kor says she miraculously survived an attack by four Nazi guards who sprayed the prisoners with machine gun fire a week before the Soviet soldiers arrived.
After the camp was liberated, the sisters were initially placed in the care of local nuns, who gave the girls “lots of toys.”
That to me was in a strange way insulting, because they did not understand that I was no longer a child and I was no longer playing with toys,” Kor said. “I’m sure they tried their best, but they really did not understand, at age 11, what we survived. I never played with toys again. My childhood was lost in Auschwitz forever.”
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