Author: Joe Lee
Publish Date: October 2021
Publisher: Red Lightening Books
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1684351787
Book Review by Kevin Wolf
Regarding the holocaust[i] (see end of review for notes), “Never forgive. Never forget.” were instructions my grandmother gave me repeatedly in my childhood (more on my background in a bit), so I wondered how I would react to the graphic medicine work Forgiveness: The Story of Eva Kor, Survivor of The Auschwitz Twin Experiments by Joe Lee. To call it “graphic medicine” is wrong and probably better to call it graphic anti-medicine, because if it teaches anything about medicine, it’s how to not act medically and shows unethical, wretched practices. I’ve read a lot of books about the events of World War II, and several in the graphic works genre. [ii] Forgiveness may be triggering for those who’ve survived war trauma. My only general comments about the holocaust will appear in this opening paragraph. Death haunts World War II; and forced death haunts the holocaust. I may appear hyperbolic during this review; but I have trouble even thinking the horrors in a Nazi concentration camp are anything but insanity personified. Before I move on, here’s some background on myself. I’m a non-religious Jew. My father was born in Germany and left there with his brother and parents in 1937 for Holland; and fled Holland in 1939 about six months before Germany invaded Poland which began WWII. My views about the holocaust are strongly biased against the horrors that took place, but how can anyone’s not be? One last point that I want to make here is the experimentation, such as it was, at Auschwitz was bizarre and twisted, and it makes me uneasy to mention any specific experiments, though I do mention some in the endnotes. One of the obvious ironies of such experimentation is important to point out here. The Nazi’s under Dr. Josef Mengele carried out experiments on twins, among many other people, to allegedly help the Aryan (white) German race grow its population faster by birthing twins. Such experiments were done to those Nazi’s called inferior races (Jews, Roma, and other groups) to benefit Nazi alleged superiority. It’s hard to even conceive of such experimenters as being superior to anyone, let alone their subjects, or ethically draw any conclusions or use any results from such experiments. This is probably my longest review for only a single, fairly short book.
In the course of my research for this book review, I picked up a book I long owned but was reluctant to read. That book is The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, © 1986/2000) by Robert Jay Lifton, “Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York,” as stated on the back cover. Lifton interviewed—mostly in 1978 through 1980—28 ex-Nazi doctors and about 80 Auschwitz survivors, many of whom were also doctors and held as prisoners. Even at this time, I was only willing to read a few parts of The Nazi Doctors: Preface/Introduction (Lifton, pages vii – 18), Chapter 16, “A Human Being in an SS Uniform”: Ernst B. (Lifton, 303-336), the section called Research on Twins and related Method and Goals: “There Would Never Be Another Chance Like It” (Lifton, 347-360[iii]), and a few other scattered pages. Lifton writes that Dr. B. “… had been so appreciated by prisoner doctors that, when tried after the war, their testimony on his behalf brought about his acquittal …[at Nuremburg; Lifton, 303]” Lifton repeatedly uses some variation of the phrase “Auschwitz schizophrenic situation” when describing the conditions under which medical personnel worked while in Auschwitz. There were medical doctors who participated in, created, and added to the wretched life and continuous killing in Auschwitz. Many were perpetrators supporting the mistreatment of concentration camp prisoners during their selection for immediate death vs. being worked as slaves which often only delayed their deaths; or developing and carrying out experiments on prisoners, especially twin children. Joe Lee in Forgiveness writes that the twin experiment documentation was destroyed at the end of the war before the allies liberated the camp, whereas Lifton indicates (see footnote Lifton, 356) such documents might’ve been taken by the Soviet Union, one of the allied forces during WWII. Lee and Lifton—to discuss the twin experiments—use the only sources that appear available, namely eyewitnesses and their recollections; though Lifton uses Nuremburg trial testimony and documentation, too. For Forgiveness, Lee relied on talks by Eva Kor, Lisa Rojany Buccieri’s Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz and “most importantly” Ted Greene’s documentary: Eva – 7063, both about Eva Kor. Medical doctor Josef Mengele was nicknamed “Angel of Death” because of his practices at the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Because Dr. Ernst B. meets Eva Kor late in both their lives, I’ve decided to write about Dr. B. from Lifton’s book first. Dr. Ernst B. is the pseudonym of Dr. Hans Münch, according to his Wikipedia postingiv. Joe Lee misspells his last name as Munch. Lifton interviewed Dr. Ernst B. five times over two years totaling about thirty hours. Dr. B. had expertise in bacteriology and was assigned to Auschwitz’s Hygienic Institute independent of, though near Auschwitz. When interviewing him, Lifton “reminded myself silently that, whatever his virtues, [Dr. B.] had been one of them: a Nazi doctor in Auschwitz. [Lifton, 303]” Dr. B. initially wanted no part of Auschwitz, but stayed to support a friend (Bruno Weber) who had recommended him and leaving would damage Dr. B’s future in the Nazi medical hierarchy. Weber had explained, in Dr. B.’s words, “‘the most important thing to me’ … how the autonomy of the Hygienic Institute from the camp and its medical hierarchy would enable them to keep their own hands clean and ‘stay out of this whole business. [Lifton, 305]’”
Dr. B., a member of the SS (Schutzstaffel), befriended, helped, and saved the lives of some Jewish doctor prisoners at Auschwitz; and Dr. B. had dreams/nightmares with a Jewish childhood friend playing a prominent role. Lifton indicates these dreams/nightmares “… were insistent assertions of Ernst B.’s humanity, and of his discomfort and guilt at being part of the Auschwitz machinery [Lifton, 307].” Dr. B. became an alcoholic to numb the reality, though he says he continued expressing “fantasies of escape rather than serious moral questioning. [Lifton, 307]” He even shockingly called Dr. Mengele “the most decent colleague that I met [Lifton, 308]” And he never changed his opinion of Dr. Mengele over the course of the five interviews (Lifton 321). Dr. B. went out of his way to meet all he could and win their trust. But after six months (summer of 1944) his “comfort was shattered” when he was asked to make selections for gas executions “with enormous numbers of Hungarian Jews … arriving [Lifton 308];” but he didn’t report to Auschwitz personnel and Dr. B. refused with many reasons including he was psychologically incapable. His Hygienic Institute leadership supported his decision; though that leader was later hanged after the Nuremberg trials as a war criminal; and another Hygienic Institute doctor (Delmotte) did selections in Dr. B.’s place, but wanted out after his first such occurrence feeling, “as a doctor his task was to help people and not kill them.” Lifton states, “no other Auschwitz doctor [except Delmotte] I came upon in the research expressed that truth so clearly and repeatedly. [Lifton, 309]” Dr. B. hypocritically wasn’t supportive of Delmotte’s selection refusal “to my shame. [Lifton, 310]” Within weeks, Delmotte was selecting; and post-war before Delmotte could be captured by American troops, he killed himself.
Dr. B. formed solid relationships with prisoner doctors (“about a hundred of whom were assigned to the Hygienic Institute. [Lifton, 315]” He cared for them if they became ill, arranged visits with wives and friends in the camp. He saved lives “by protecting prisoner doctors from selection, by finding them and rescuing them from the gas chamber when they had been selected, and by benign experiments … [Lifton, 315].”
Why do I bring up Dr. B. in this review? Two reasons. First, not all doctors (indirectly) connected to Auschwitz were all bad all the time; one was decent most of the time. And second, he—under his real name: Dr. Hans Münch—meets with Eva Kor very late in her life. Eva, in 1993, meets Dr. Hans Münch (more later) and provides the reason for this graphic work’s title: Foregiveness. Dr. B. was known as “‘the good man of Auschwitz’ for not only refusing … to participate in the selection, but for actually saving lives. [Forgiveness, page 102]” According to a footnote in Münch’s Wikipedia page[iv] Lifton’s Dr. B. is Münch.
Dr. B., as apologist for Dr. Mengerle, claimed (in Lifton’s words, except where ‘ ’ appear which are in Dr. B’s quoted words):
“…human experiments were ‘a relatively minor matter’ in Auschwitz; children (who made up most of the twins Mengele studied) had little chance to survive in Auschwitz, but Mengele made certain they were well fed and taken care of …[And] ‘because under the conditions of Auschwitz one must always say that Mengele’s [twin] experiments were not forms of cruelty.’… [And] Mengele ‘assured’ [Dr. B.] that he ‘most [B.’s emphasis] carefully prevented them [the children] from finding out about their future fate of being gassed.’ …[And] ‘One must be aware that in the Auschwitz milieu, where thousands were being killed continuously, such a thing [Mengele’s killing a few twins] was nothing at all extraordinary. Absolutely nothing that might be particularly noticed or come especially to his or anyone else’s mind. … But as an outsider one cannot understand this.” (Lifton, 321-323)
One study, whose data survived for presentation at his Nuremburg trial and acquittal, that Dr. B. carried out at the Hygienic Institute involved “how long an ill prisoner and prisoners in general could survive in Auschwitz on the diet provided them. … [And] concluding seriously ill inmates had a life expectancy of no more than fourteen days and the general life expectancy of an ordinary prisoner was no more than three months. [Lifton, 327]” This also begs the ethical question whether such a study should ever be used or published in a peer reviewed journal? Dr. B. viewed ‘his scientific study of life-death factors was his ‘Auschwitz confession’ [of his personal wrongdoing; Lifton 328].” After acquittal at Nuremburg, Dr. B. avoided experiments of any kind and went back to general medicine practice.
Lifton concluded that Dr. B.’s driving forces were connection with other people and integrity, both of which were almost impossible to balance in Auschwitz. His rejection of making selections and his work as a physician-healer saving lives of prisoners he worked directly with were admirable.
The few generalities I could glean from Lifton (347-360iii) about the twins’ experiments were (please skip to Foregiveness review, if not desiring information, but no results, about such experiments)
- They were run and controlled by Dr. Josef Mengele.
- That he kept meticulous records, including reporting back to a Nazi institute at a university run by his mentor.
- That everything bodily about the twins were measured, especially all aspects of the head.
- That Dr. Mengele wanted to measure inherited traits, especially effects induced diseases had on twins.
- That if one twin died the other was executed
- That he wanted to develop a way for the Germans to reproduce faster; namely by having them birth twins.
- There were surgical experiments.
- The last record in any twins’ file was their dissection and autopsy.
- Mengele thought his research would lead to a university professorship.
- Prisoner doctors assisted in all experiments, mostly treating twins who became ill due to an experiment, but sometimes in experiments [Lifton, 295].
Forgiveness: The Story of Eva Kor, Survivor of the Auschwitz Twin Experiments.
In 1995, Eva Mozes Kor opened CANDLES (“Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors”) Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute Indiana. In Joe Lee’s preface, he writes, Eva “… was loving, feisty, funny, forceful, and completely commanded her audience” (page x). Lee went with the museum tour group, including Eva, in July 2019 to Auschwitz. Eva died on July 4, 2019 on that trip. Eva wanted her story to be a message of forgiving and to never have the holocaust repeated.
The fifteen-page first chapter (How Could This Happen?) provides background for all that follows, and is a well-drawn, fairly detailed, almost frantic history of Hitler’s and the Nazi nationalistic, pro-Aryan, anti-Semitic and anti-other “undesirables” rise to power in Germany. Some medical-related, specific events occurred along the way, including in September 1939—the same month WWII began—when the Nazi first legalization of “euthanasia” of the mentally and physically disabled (aka Aktion T4). Aktion T4 was led by Hitler’s personal physician, Karl Brandt, and “targeted, for systematic killing, patients with mental and physical disabilities living in institutional settings in Germany and German-annexed territories.” Euthanasia was in quotes in the preceding because it was forced on unwilling and unknowing people; whereas euthanasia is supposed to be ending a life to relieve pain and suffering, and now goes by names like physician-assisted suicide, and is supposed to help a suffering person to knowingly control their own end-of-life care. “In January of 1942, the Nazi’s Wannsee Conference formalized the ‘final solution,’ the death camps with the sole purpose of killing the Jews and all those others deemed undesirable. … and create a Europe to be inhabited completely [and solely] by the Aryan [i.e., white German] race (Between 1939 and 1945 this democide killed at the very least seventeen million guiltless men, women, and children of every age with over six million being Jews [Forgiveness, 13]).” During Germany’s occupation of Hungary in mid-March 1944 or soon after, Eva Mozes (age 10) was taken to the Auschwitz death camp with her three sisters, parents, and some 550,000 other Jews from Hungary to various death camps. Note: Eva’s family was Romanian, and Romania had been annexed into Hungary by the Nazis.
Eva and her twin, Miriam, were born January 31, 1934. Lee writes, Eva was a “strong determined, and troublemaking girl .” At home their mother taught the girls the importance of reading, writing, history, languages, math, and “…to compassionately help the sick, the confused, and anyone in any way [they] could .” They lived an illusion of safety, until it was too late. This illusion ended in 1940 with Hungary taking control of their part of Romania. Anti-Semitic propaganda dominated. The twins were physically abused by their teacher. The family tried to flee in September 1943. In March 1944 they were sent to a Jewish ghetto; and in May sent via tortuous, deadly, only-room-to-stand cattle car—in graphic (5-pages covering 4-days) detail—to Auschwitz-Birkenau (aka, Auschwitz II)! Forgiveness unnecessarily goes out of its way to not just call those imprisoned and killed in Auschwitz people, but “innocent people” as in Auschwitz was “…built to house up to one hundred thousand innocent people … [becoming] the Nazi’s largest death camp. ” This type of treatment should happen to no one whether innocent or not!
Slightly, but not significantly, confusing, Lee indicates they arrived in Auschwitz II in March 1944 (39) though on page 30 Lee states it’s May 1944 when they boarded the cattle car for Auschwitz. Upon arrival, “Doctors in white coats directed into which lines [the Mozes family] was to be put …” (36) Lee provides a history of Auschwitz (38-70) and Eva and Miriam’s life there. Eva never finds out what happened to her parents and other sisters; but were presumed killed soon after arrival. Eva was painfully tattooed illegibly “into her little arm ” with A-7063, while Miriam got “…clear and easily readable… ” A-7064. Wretched living conditions were described.
Dr. Josef Mengele, a physician, first appears on page 45. Some experiments are mentioned in Forgiveness, but if you want more information about the pseudo-science practices by Dr. Mengele and his staff, I suggest reading Lifton’s chapters 15 (The Experimental Impulse) and 17 (Dr. Auschwitz: Josef Mengele). Lee indicates the woman who stayed nightly with all the girls in the barracks was called “snake,” who was physically and verbally cruel to these girls. Lifton (page 348) explains for female twins these women were often mothers, allowed to live, of twins or older female twins. “Snake” told them, “… the only reason you are alive is for Dr. Mengele to experiment on, and when he’s done, you are off to the gas chamber and up the chimney.” “If one twin died during a procedure, the other twin was executed. ” Typically some care was given while both twins remained alive. For example, Eva—with an extended fever—went to an infirmary near the gas ovens and known as The Valley of Death. No food was provided, but Eva pushed herself to survive for her twin Miriam. For two weeks she lived on found water alone. An adult prisoner (Mrs. Csengeri) with twin sons snuck bread to Eva from Miriam’s portion. With some survival trickery, Eva returned to the regular barracks to an extremely weakened, un-eating Miriam. All got dysentery. Eva volunteered to get food; and was able to sneak extra potatoes and shared with everyone, bringing Miriam back to health such as it was. Eva later would say, “Dying in Auschwitz was easy; surviving was a full-time job. ” After over 1 million died, about 7,500 Auschwitz prisoners, including Eva and Miriam, were alive to be freed when the Soviet soldiers (the USSR was part of the allied forces at that time) liberated this death camp in late January 1945[v].
As presented in Forgiveness, Miriam and Eva were inseparable until Eva’s marriage. Lee provides their trek back to their prior Romanian home. They suffered PTSD, dysfunctional family relations, and anti-Semitism. They joined their uncle (father’s brother) in Israel in June 1950, when the twins were sixteen, and only then felt safe. Joe Lee on page 83 uses “visa” when he means “passport.” In 1960, Eva meets and marries a holocaust survivor: Michael Kor, who immigrated to the United State (now in Terra Haute, Indiana). The final chapter—that carries the title of the book (Forgiveness) is 29 pages, covering Eva’s remaining 59 years. That chapter, for me, leaves out a lot of important events; such as their marriage ceremony (around age 26), Eva’s move to Terra Haute, what it was like for Miriam and Eva to separate, and then Miriam disappears from the story until 1984.
Eva was interviewed by local Terra Haute TV news station appearing after an April 1978 NBC television series on the holocaust. She became a speaker and wanted to connect to other twins of Auschwitz’s experimentation. In 1984, Eva and Miriam found an organization that’s eventually named CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors). Other twins (180 to 200 Eva knew of) started coming forward. Jack Anderson, the muckraking columnist, wrote a September 2, 1984 cover story for Parade magazine entitled The Twins of Auschwitz Today. [vi] After the Anderson article, eighty twins made contact with CANDLES and four of them joined Eva and Miriam at Auschwitz’ 40th anniversary of liberation in 1985. Miriam in Israel appears again as having kidney failure due to some of those twin experiments which caused her kidneys to remain the size they were when she was ten. The book implies, but doesn’t explicitly state, that Eva “rescues” Miriam by donating one of her kidneys to her.
Joe Lee on page 102 of Forgiveness, states Münch was “assigned to the gas chambers to look through the peephole in the door and certify that all within had died.” That to me makes no sense, if true than why was he acquitted at Nuremburg. According to Lifton and those who testified on his behalf, Münch appeared periodically in Auschwitz but was never involved with the killing of prisoners and reported to the nearby independent Hygienic Institute.
To avoid any Forgiveness spoilers, skip all but the last two paragraphs of this review, because now comes the forgiveness parts. I appreciate the honest portrayal of these events, but Eva went well beyond personally forgiving perpetrators, but implied forgiveness by everyone. First, Eva meets with Dr. Hans Münch in 1993 and she gets him to agree to sign an affidavit about crimes against humanity that occurred at Auschwitz, though he allegedly didn’t participate (according to Lifton and those who testified in his favor). Lee writes that Münch “signed his affidavit attesting to the atrocities committed and the exterminations of Jews, Roma, and all the others at Auschwitz and Birkenau by the Nazis. ” This is all well-documented history. Münch in the 1990s is tried in absentia in France for inciting racial hatred against the [Roma] because of then recent statements he made while possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s. Eva agreed he never did anything to her, and she decides to forgive him. She goes further in 1995. They have a joint signing ceremony at Auschwitz; Münch signs his affidavit, and she signs a forgiveness document which reads in part:
“I … hereby give amnesty to all Nazis who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of my family and millions of others. I, Eva Mozes Kor, in my name only, give this amnesty to heal our souls: it is time to forgive, but never forget. … It gives me no joy to see any Nazi criminal in jail, nor do I want to see any harm come to Josef Mengele [odd because it was known that he had already died in 1979 under an assumed name which was found out in 1985] or the Mengele family, or their business corporations. I urge all former Nazi’s to come forward and testify to the crimes they have committed without any fear of further prosecution. …”
Of course, Eva had no such authority to stop “further prosecution.” And since many others would never forgive, Eva had to explain in talks that her amnesty was only for “her personal salvation. ” She felt it freed her from the crimes done to her.
Though Eva wasn’t completely forgiving. Near the end of her life, Eva led a lawsuit of a German company’s WWII crimes, lectured on bioethics, and led over 30 “pilgrimages” to Auschwitz where she gave talks. Her CANDLES Museum was firebombed in 2003 and reopened in 2005! Her life philosophy is summed up as “Anger and hate are the seeds of war. Forgiveness is the seed of peace. ” Miriam died in 1993 from kidney cancer, likely connected to experiments at Auschwitz. Münch died in 2001 at age 90. Eva died at age 85 in 2019 at Auschwitz during her final pilgrimage.
Beyond the holocaust, there have been—and likely continue to be—many medically and ethically dubious experiments when compared to current ethical standards. There are horrible historical events that accidentally became medical experiments—should we use those results? If one was to consider animal experiments, then what’s medically troublesome is sometimes still not clear or not viewed as nearly as problematic as those experiments using humans. With that in mind, here are a few—with no attempt at being comprehensive—non-holocaust historical problematic experiments and their sources, including Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harvard Medical School’s ethics fellow Harriet A Washington (2006), the Little Albert Experiment (of a 9-month old infant), Three Identical Strangers (2018 documentary film of triplets unknowingly separated at birth to different adoptive families, along with an unknown number of twins also separated), Harry Harlow’s 1950s – 1970s Rhesus Monkey love and cruelty experiments with positive and negative aspects (see graphic medicine work Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love; and Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Blum (2011), as only a few examples.
Here’s an example of an “experiment” from war that led to additional research and actual treatments. In World War I, Mustard gas (aka, chlorine gas) was used by the Germans—as a counter to the French previously using tear gas. The British had accidentally used mustard gas against themselves when the wind changed. Not only did chlorine gas kill many, but it was also later found that those who survived had very low white blood cell counts. Leukemia is the overproduction of white blood cells. Knowledge of a chemical causing low white blood cell counts and its opposite, high counts, being a danger to humans, led to trying to make this chemical work to cure or slow leukemia; that is, the beginning of chemotherapy[vii].
[i] From Greek meaning burnt offering; or more recently called shoah, Hebrew meaning catastrophe; see https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/go-in-depth/what-is-the-holocaust/ for a lot of background history as well as the meanings of these words.
[ii] See Maus I: A Survivors Tale: My Father Bleeds History & II: And Here My Troubles Begin by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon, 1986 and 1991), Holocaust for Beginners by Stewart Justman and Rebecca Shope (Writers & Readers, 1995), Artist’s Journal of the Holocaust by Alfred Kantor (Schocken Books, 1971), Boxer: True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft by Reinhard Kleist (Michael Waaler, translator from German, Self-Made Hero, 2011), Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children edited by Kath Shackleton (SourceBooks, 2019), Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz (Farar Straus Giroux, 2020), and Judenhass (Jew Hatred or anti-Semitism) by Dave Sim (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 2008) among many others created or yet to be.
[iii] There are many mentions of “twin experiments” in The Nazi Doctors, including these pages: 269, 295-6, 340, 347-60, 366, 368. There were non-twins’ experiments or medical practices imposed on prisoners that occurred, including abortions, anthropological study, artificial insemination, autopsies often after induced death, castration and sterilization, dissection, diphtheria, eugenics, eye color, on “Gypsies”/Roma, Hygienic Institute experiments “medicalized killing,” mass and individual,” poison susceptibility, surgeries, syphilis, typhus, and see Chapter 15, The Experimental Impulse, for more details.
[vii] See The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis, Basic Books, © 2007, pages 199-204. Leukemia means literally white (from Greek luekos) blood (from Greek heima).