A Holocaust survivor, who embraced a former Auschwitz guard in a historic gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation at his mass murder trial, has defended her decision after receiving harsh criticism from fellow victims and co-plaintiffs.
Eva Kor, an 81-year-old Jew who lost her parents and older sisters to gas chambers at the Nazi death camp in 1944, briefly hugged former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening, 93, after testifying against him before a German court last month.
She shared a photo of the encounter on Twitter, writing "two old people reaching out", and later questioned the opportunity of jailing former Nazis for crimes committed during the Third Reich as she appeared on a German TV show.
Her stance angered other Holocaust survivors, who interpreted her words as a call to end prosecutions of former SS officers.
Kor's 49 co-plaintiffs in the trial against Groening released a joint statement to distance themselves from her, arguing she should have expressed her forgiveness in private.
"The subject of this criminal procedure is NOT that Mr Groening has done anything personally to Mrs Kor or any of the other co-plaintiffs," the statement read, according to The Guardian.
"Whether it is Mrs Kor's place to forgive Mr Groening's participation in the murder of her relatives is up to everyone to decide for themselves. But Mrs Kor says, 'These prosecutions must stop'. Then she should not have become a co-plaintiff."
"We cannot forgive Mr Groening his participation in the murder of our relatives and another 299,000 people – especially since he feels free from any legal guilt," it added.
Kor, who lives in the US state of Indiana, has replied in a long blog on question-and-answer website Quora, saying it was "absurd" to pit survivors against another and that her words had been misread.
I have never, ever asked for the prosecution to end. On the contrary – I even told Mr Groening to encourage all the other Nazis to come forward because we need their help now to fight the neo-Nazis. What I was saying and still will say is that I see no merit for a 93-year-old guy to go to jail. They are not going to live that long in jail, and they are already limited in their mobility. But if they can do something as a community service as part of their punishment, I think it would help Germany and it might even help the survivors realise that we need the help of the perpetrators to document that it happened in the eyes of the neo-Nazis and revisionists.
She went on to say that she personally approached Groening at the trial as she believes that, through personal contact, she could better persuade him to commit the rest of his life to denouncing the appalling crimes he witnessed at Auschwitz.
Kor also defended the decision to publicly forgive Nazi crimes, arguing she hoped her experience could help others coming to terms with the suffering they inflicted. She wrote:
I am not trying to publicise me, but I am trying to publicise the idea that we don't have to remain victims, and there is something that each one of us can do to heal our own pain. And by healing our own pain, we are actually helping heal the cancer that is eating the inside of many people's hearts and souls.
Groening is on trial in Lueneburg, northern Germany, for alleged complicity in the murder of 300,000 people.
As an SS non-commissioned officer deployed at Auschwitz as a guard from 1942 to 1944, he is one of the few Nazis who have confessed to "moral guilt" over the Holocaust.
He has openly acknowledged he was aware of atrocities committee at Auschwitz during his time there and claims he feels a moral obligation to tell what he saw.
However he denies charges against him, arguing he was tasked only with collecting and tallying money and valuables plundered from Jews and other victims, a job that made him infamously known as "the Auschwitz bookkeeper".
Prosecutors claim that, as a camp guard in that period, he should be held responsible for murders committed there, even without evidence that he was directly involved in any killing.
They also allege he helped the Nazis benefit economically by dealing with the belongings stolen from the victims.
At the trial Kor told judges how she and her twin sister were used as human guinea pigs for notorious camp doctor Josef Mengele's cruel medical experiments.