by Zoe Musselman
Eva Mozes Kor is one of the world’s last remaining survivors of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany’s 20th-century genocide of more than six million European Jews. As it happens, Kor is also close friends with Marie Conn, Ph.D., a professor of religious studies at Chestnut Hill College. What follows is the story of Kor and Conn’s friendship, one established years ago as the two bonded over the common goal of using education to prevent future genocides.
At the age of 10, Kor and her family were taken from her hometown of Portz, Romania, and brought to Auschwitz concentration camp, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration and extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. During their time in the camp, Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were subjected to cruel tests by Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death.” Although her parents and two older sisters did not survive, Kor and Miriam were liberated by Soviet troops 10 months after their arrival.
Kor’s life after her liberation from Auschwitz is the subject of “Eva: A-7063,” a documentary that Conn will screen at the College at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27. The film fills in the gap between Kor’s liberation and her later work as an advocate of healing through forgiveness. Conn said that viewers may be surprised to learn how diverse, challenging, and interesting that part of Kor’s story is. The screening is part of an event, “The Story of Eva,” which will be held in the East Parlor of St. Joseph Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
Conn has known Kor for about six years, thanks in large part to Hannah Brown, a former student in one of Conn’s women’s seminars. Brown was searching for a woman involved in the Holocaust when she found the website of Kor’s museum and read the announcement of a summer trip to Auschwitz. Brown then asked Conn if she would join her and Kor’s group on a tour to Auschwitz concentration camp. Conn agreed, and her life has been dramatically different ever since.
When discussing her interactions with Kor, a smile appears across Conn’s face as she reminisces about the memories the two have shared together over the years. She noted how electric Kor is and how anyone who meets her is an instant friend. She told stories of Kor performing “Singing in the Rain” into a microphone as she drove through Auschwitz on a golf cart, leading a tour group in the pouring rain.
Conn also remembered heavier moments, such as when Kor is overcome with emotion at Auschwitz. This occasionally happens when Kor is near the crematorium where it is assumed her parents and two older sisters died, and when she is close to the children’s barracks where she and Miriam once stayed. The trips take an emotional and physical toll — they are exhausting, Conn said — but the chance to be by Kor’s side keeps her going back year after year.
Over the past six years, Conn has visited Kor’s hometown in Portz, Romania, and joined several of Kor’s summer tours to Auschwitz. Conn has also volunteered at CANDLES, (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors), Kor’s Holocaust museum located in her current hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana.
Conn has made it a personal mission to carry on Kor’s message after she is gone. They both fear the doubt that is spread by Holocaust deniers, and they are concerned about the recent failures to prevent genocides.
In a more positive light, Conn mentioned how much the attitude toward the camps has changed since her first visit to Dachau concentration camp many years ago. Although the thought of the camps becoming tourist sites makes Conn uncomfortable, she is reassured by the recognition of the camps as historic landmarks, which are visited by thousands of travelers every year. This summer will be Conn’s fifth trip to Poland.
Aside from her relationship with Kor, Conn also mentioned the bond she has formed with members of the tour groups that visit Auschwitz every summer. She said the groups comprise people from different nationalities, ages, and religious beliefs, and everyone feels connected by the experience and Kor’s message of forgiveness. Over the years, Conn has stayed in touch with these friends and those she has worked with at Kor’s museum. The tour groups grow so close over their week-long trips that some even organize reunions to visit one another and stay connected.
Conn is inspired by Kor’s story and attitude toward the events that irreparably altered the course of her life. Their long-distance friendship is one that picks up right where it left off every time they reunite, whether they happen to meet in Terre Haute or at Auschwitz. And their friendship will no doubt continue, as Conn has no plans to stop her travels anytime soon.
Conn will screen "Eva: A-7063" on March 27 at 6 p.m. in the East Parlor of St. Joseph Hall at Chestnut Hill College. For more information, please visit www.thestoryofeva.com or www.chc.edu/events/story-eva.