A Holocaust survivor who criticised the prison verdict handed to a former SS guard at Auschwitz has explained her path to forgiveness, making an emotional plea for other victims to follow her example and to liberate themselves.
Eva Kor, an 81-year-old Jew who lost her parents and older sisters to gas chambers at the Nazi death camp in 1944, has told IBTimes UK she was "disappointed" that a German court sentenced one of her jailers, 94-year-old Oskar Groening, to four years behind bars.
"I believe he was made an example of," she says. "I find that makes no sense. Human beings do not need to treat one another with that much anger and animosity."
"How does it make any sense to make an old man go to jail?" she asks, explaining that Groening, who was found guilty of complicity in the killing of 300,000 people, could better serve the community doing social service, as an advocate against neo-Nazism.
"We could use him to teach young people what happened; his statement about Auschwitz carries a lot more weight with a young neo-Nazi who doesn't want to believe me as I am a survivor," she says.
In a Skype interview from the Holocaust museum she started in the US state of Indiana, Kor explains she opposes the verdict but not the trial itself.
Lueneburg state court served as the scene for a unique moment of testimony, recording into history accounts of both victims and perpetrators at the infamous death camp, she says.
'We were starved for food. We were starved for human kindness'
A Romanian native, Kor was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Most of her family was almost immediately gassed to death, while her and her twin sister, Miriam, were spared to be used as human guinea pigs for notorious camp doctor Josef Mengele's medical experiments.
Living with other children in filthy barracks infested with rats, they were subjected daily to cruel parallel tests, aware that at the death of a sibling, the other would also be killed for body examination.
"We were starved for food. We were starved for human kindness, with the only determination to survive one more day, one more experiment," she recalls.
On some days she was stripped naked in a room and measured for hours in what she describes as an "unbelievably demeaning" experience.
"Even in Auschwitz I couldn't cope with the fact that they treated me like I were nothing more than a piece of meat," she says.
On other days, she was subjected to at least five injections. Kor says she still does not know what substances they were forcibly administered and is hoping to trace down Mengele's records to find out.
Both twins suffered health problems in their post-Auschwitz life and Kor says her sister's death in 1993 was the result of Mengele's experiments.
The fight against neo-Nazism
Despite the torture she was exposed to, she says she has forgiven all Nazis, including Groening, whom she describes as "an old fashioned proper guy", who she believes holds her as a friend.
"It's a fascinating idea that you can be friends with someone who wanted to kill you," she says. "You don't hurt anybody but defeat the enemy."
The pair made headlines in April, as a brief embrace between them in court was caught on camera.
Kor says their first meeting came at the very start of the trial, as she approached him to introduce herself. He stood up too quickly, she recalls, grabbed her hand and fainted.
"You just knocked down a Nazi," some of her friends quipped.
After taking the witness stand at a later hearing she again went up to the former SS non-commissioned officer to thank him for his testimony and convince him to become an advocate against neo-Nazism.
"My idea is that you cannot change what happened but you can change these young minds that are so misguided," she says.
He once again grabbed her hand and to her surprise embraced her also, landing a kiss on her cheek. "I really didn't expect it," she says, adding that she however appreciated the kind gesture.
"How could I be angry at someone showing the highest form of caring for me," she says.
Despite the warm exchange, she was not able to get a full commitment to her cause form Groening.
Steadfast, earlier this month she bought a plane ticket to Germany and requested a private meeting with him to continue the work of persuasion but was turned down by Groening's lawyer, who cited the 94-year-old's frail health as reason.
"I was very disappointed that his attorney stalled me," she says. "I also wanted him to answer some questions that have never been answered in court.
Kor explained she is seeking confirmation to rumours that many officers at Auschwitz got drunk because they couldn't cope with the endless murders, while others turned a blind eye when prisoners stole potatoes to survive - an unusual behaviour for guards at a death camp.
"I wanted to know if Oskar Groening got drunk; how he coped with the daily killings," she said.
Kor says she discovered forgiveness two decades ago after Nazi doctor Hans Munch accepted to release to her a signed account of the mass gas-chamber killings he witnessed first-hand at Auschwitz.
The document was a great win in her battle against holocaust deniers, so that she felt like thanking Munch.
After spending hours in the unsuccessful search of a suitable card to send a Nazi, she realised a letter of forgiveness would have made a better present.
"I knew immediately that Dr. Munch would find that a meaningful gift but what I discovered for myself was life changing. I discovered I had the power to forgive. Up to then I had always reacted to what other people did to me. Now I was initiating action and let the rest of the world react to it or not," she says. It took her four months to write that letter.
She then applied the experiment to Mengele, testing if she could force herself to forgive her main torturer. She found out she could. The discovery, she says, gave her power over her life.
"I felt completely liberated, healed and empowered and that is what I am trying to advocate," says Kor.
"Every victim on the face of this Earth should realise that forgiveness is the best revenge because from the moment the victim forgives, the perpetrator no longer has any influence on the victims' life."
The power of forgiveness
For that reason her forgiveness also applies to Nazis, such as the late war criminal Erich Priebke, that differed from Groening by having not shown remorse for their actions. "That [unrepentance] is his problem," she says.
Earlier this year, Kor even adopted the grandson of Auschwitz commanded Rudolf Hoess, Rainer, but the two have since grown apart because of some behavioural incompatibilities, she said.
Her choice to forgive has not been shared by many other survivors, who instead believe justice was served in Lueneburg. To Kor, justice had already long failed instead.
"The judicial system in the world has failed the victims. For 50 years nobody did anything for my pain," she says.
"If they didn't do anything why I do not have the right to heal myself? Every victim has the right to be free of what was imposed on them. I have the right to be a happier and better human being."