When Eva Kor was 10 her family was forced from a small village in Romania, loaded onto a cattle car and taken to Auschwitz in 1944.
Around that same time, 23-year-old Helen Rappaport and her loved ones were kicked out of their home in Czechoslovakia, crammed into a similar train and transported to the Nazi death camp as well.
While completely different, Kor and Rappaport had one big similarity: They both were twins who, along with their twin, would be stripped from other family members and placed into a special category. They never saw most of those family members again.
In a packed gymnasium at (CJHS) in Deerfield on Sunday, the now elderly women chronicled their experiences at Auschwitz and detailed the horrific experiments they and their respective sisters, Miriam and Pearl, endured under the instructions of Dr. Josef Mengele.
“I made a silent pledge,” Kor said after she discovered three dead bodies in the outhouse when she arrived at the concentration camp, which was 37 miles west of Krakow, Poland. “Miriam and I would not end up on the latrine floor.”
According to the survivors, Mengele used them and thousands of other children as human guinea pigs for genetic experiments that usually ended with death.
Rappaport said she was strapped down while a nurse pricked one arm multiple times looking for a vein to take blood and then injected an unknown substance into her other arm.
“My arms were black from injections,” she said, recalling the same needles were used for everyone until they broke in the skin.
“Every part of my body was measured and compared to Miriam’s,” Kor said about having to undress for the measurements. “They would always take blood from the left arm and I would take at least five injections in my right.”
Those injections eventually landed Kor in the hospital. But the current Indiana resident said patients weren’t given any medicine, food or water, but instead left to die.
“I made a second silent pledge,” Kor said after a doctor at the camp gave her two weeks to live. “I would prove Dr. Mengele wrong.”
After five weeks, Kor was released and reunited with her sister who, she said, was locked in isolation during her hospital stay. That way, Kor explained, if she died the staff would be able to quickly kill her sister and start dissecting their bodies at the same time.
According to the Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project, Mengele was notorious for his barbaric experiments. The organization gives a horrific example of the German doctor sewing two children together to create Siamese twins. Its website states Mengele’s purpose “was to establish the genetic cause for the birth of twins in order to facilitate the formulation of a program for doubling the birthrate of the "Aryan race,” which was touted by the Nazis regime.
After months of experiments, Rappaport said she weighed 88 pounds and was forced to set off on a “death march.” She and thousands of other starving and weak prisoners walked dozens of miles in the snow while Nazi soldiers tried to escape capture by advancing Soviet forces. It’s estimated 15,000 died during those marches.
Rappaport said three months into the march she and her sister were liberated by U.S. soldiers in Austria.
Kor mentioned she and her twin sister were two of 8,200 that remained at Auschwitz during those marches. “I thought the whole world was a concentration camp,” she said about her distorted mindset at 10 years old until she sneaked to a nearby creek for a drink of water and spotted a schoolgirl.
Kor and her sister along with those who remained at Auschwitz were liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, by Soviet troops. “They gave us chocolate, cookies, and hugs,” Kor said.
Mengele, who was nicknamed the Angel of Death, managed to elude capture and ended up in South America, where he died in 1979 as a wartime fugitive.
Kor founded Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) 39 years later and reunited 122 sets of twins living around the world that survived Mengele's experiments.
“What I learned in Auschwitz is never ever give up,” she said. The four women eventually moved to America and started families of their own.
While their sisters are no longer alive, Kor and Rappaport travel to events like the one at CJHS to tell their stories. But Kor told the audience Sunday that she also had an ulterior motive.
“Prejudice against Jews was why [Adolf] Hitler gained power," she said "Prejudice is still with us today.”
Kor explained that was why 50 years after Auschwitz’s liberation she returned to the site with a Nazi doctor and announced her forgiveness.
“I believe prejudice is a poison of the soul,” she said. “I have forgiven the Nazis. I have forgiven everybody…I feel like I’ve healed my soul.”