Friday, July 05, 2019

Eva Kor (1934 - 2019)

I heard about my friend Eva Kor's death through the national media today. (Well by text message from Michael, who heard it announced on NPR.) I have had Eva on my mind all afternoon.

During a massive power outage one Friday morning in February of 1994, I was at work at WEIU-FM, a college radio station in East Central Illinois. We had gone off the air. I knew there was an older guest coming to be interviewed that morning in the television station (WEIU-TV) that shared the building with the radio station. I grabbed the flashlight that was in the radio station and helped make sure that this guest could see her way to safety.

That's how I found myself spending two or three hours sitting in a darkened room with Eva Kor.

She had traveled the one-hour journey to Charleston from Terre Haute, Indiana where she sold real estate. A few years earlier Eva had taken a speech class at Indiana State University from Sue Kaufman, the newly-hired news director at WEIU-TV. She took the class in order to be able to learn to speak publicly about her experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz. Sue wanted to give Eva the chance to speak on television, and also thought it was a great chance for the (fledgling) television station to do something of real substance.

In those few hours Eva told me about her experiences as a victim of Mengele's experiments. She told me about the struggles she had to get people to take her seriously. She really needed to speak, and knew that what she had to say was important. Being taken seriously was a constant uphill struggle for her, and she was desperate for people to believe in her work. She told me that her dream was to create a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute. I offered my string quartet to play (as a gift) for the opening of her museum.

Once the date for the museum opening was set I started thinking about music to play. I couldn't find anything that was truly appropriate for the occasion, so I looked through a book of Chassidic melodies with the hope that I might be able to find something to arrange. I looked first at the texts, and I chose five that seemed to resonate with Eva's character and mission. Then I used the melodies associated with those texts as a basis for a set of pieces.

You can listen to a performance of the Five Pieces through these links:

I. Im en ani li
II. Mi ho ish
III. El male rachamim
IV. Rikud
V. Ani m'amin

Earlier this evening I picked up my copy of Echoes from Auschwitz (which I hope will go back into print) and found this inscription inside. I believe that date (my birthday!) was the date of the museum opening.

Eva and I continued to have a close relationship (sometimes a "surrogate" mother-daughter relationship) for many years. In 2005 Michael and I played for the museum's reopening after the building was destroyed by an arsonist.

Over the years Eva reached a wider and wider audience with her message of love and forgiveness (the only way she could see a way to heal from the trauma she experienced was to try to forgive the people that hurt her and her sister) and every time I read about her activities I would be filled with pride. I knew where she came from. I knew her struggles (and there are many I'm not sharing here). I knew her need to be taken seriously and to do what she could to try to ensure that the ugly part of history that robbed her of her family and her childhood would not repeat itself.

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