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Forgiving Dr. Mengele


Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Director: Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh
Runtime: 80 minutes

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In a piece of stock footage that repeats throughout the provocative documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele, a large group of Jewish detainees shuffle to freedom between barbed-wire fences after the liberation of Auschwitz. At the front of the line, holding hands with her sister Miriam, is Eva Kor, a "Mengele twin" who suffered cruel genetic experiments for nearly a year at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele, the remorseless "God of Auschwitz." This image of Kor front and center, leading the charge, turned out to be prophetic: Now a real-estate broker in Terre Haute, Indiana, she devotes much of her time to a campaign of "forgiveness" that's simultaneously brave and reckless in its mission to staunch the legacy of pain carried by Holocaust survivors. People tend to tread lightly around the Holocaust issue, but Kor doesn't have the patience for it, and her frankness often gets her into trouble.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele catches up with Kor as an aged but fiercely determined woman who's determined to reconcile with her past without forgetting it. When her beloved sister Miriam dies of health complications related to Mengele's experiments, Kor embarks on a quest to recover his files. Her search leads her to a remorseful former SS doctor at Auschwitz whom several Jews testify aided them or even saved their lives in defiance of the Nazis' genocidal intent. Her meeting with the doctor, who receives her warmly and seems blanketed in shame, gives her the idea to offer her personal forgiveness to him on the grounds of Auschwitz. This experience leads Kor to embrace the concept of self-healing through forgiveness, and carry it to the more extreme end of forgiving Mengele and the Nazis for the atrocities they inflicted upon herself and her family.

Though Kor insists she's speaking only on her behalf, her forgiveness campaign offended many, not least the other surviving Mengele twins, who adamantly condemn her mission. Her critics contend that an act of contrition on the part of the perpetrations is essential for absolution; Kor believes that forgiveness is empowering and liberating, and the only way to end the cycle of violence and hate. But she doesn't extend the same compassion towards the Palestinians, a group of whom she meets in a painfully awkward encounter, and that's just one of the contradictions that makes her such a fascinating subject. Though some of the heated exchanges in Forgiving Dr. Mengele seem awkward and staged, they put Kor at the center of a riveting debate over how best to come to terms with past horrors, and the potential (and limits) of putting them to rest.