Answer by Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate:
Many of the people who survived the Holocaust have the "victim mentality," which is to me a poor me mentality with too much focus on what was done to me. They have extreme difficulty in getting rid of that feeling, that I was used as a human guinea pig, or I was used in slave labor, or I was not treated like a human being. It is understandable, of course. I was a good victim for many years. There is a lot of anger that comes with that. The question is, what does the anger do to you? Does it help you? Who are you hurting when you are angry? You are not hurting the perpetrator - you are helping the perpetrator by remaining the victim. You are only hurting yourself.
In my experience, anger is a seed for war. Healthy, happy people do not start wars. Some people take out their anger on their children, or on themselves. But if you look at people who forgive, they are at peace with themselves. Therefore, forgiveness is a seed for peace. When I forgave Mengele, and then all the Nazis, and then anyone who had ever hurt me, I felt a tremendous burden lifted from my shoulders. I realized that although I was liberated in 1945, I was not free until I forgave in 1995.
I have spent a lot of time and effort promoting the idea of forgiveness because it helped me to heal. I am willing to do anything I humanly can to convince survivors to at least try it. I joke about it, but it's a fact: forgiveness is free. Therefore everybody can afford it. It has no side effects. It works. If people do not like how it feels to be free, they can always take their pain back and remain victims. But I have not found a larger platform where I can advocate it. If some organization would adopt the idea and help me advocate it on the world scene, I think it would help some survivors. But maybe it is too late. They have lived like victims for 70 years. What are the chances they will try something new?
I will just mention a guy by the name of Jack who is a survivor of Auschwitz. Very bitter. He said to me, "You know I carry with me two guns in my car at all times. One by my seat and one in my trunk." I asked him why. "Because," he said, "if I ever meet someone like a revisionist or a former Nazi who would cross my path, I will just blow them away". He distrusted the world that much and was that suspicious of everyone. He didn't believe there were good people in the world at all. He said, "I was all alone in Auschwitz, and I survived all alone." He had to be against the hardships of surviving Auschwitz all by himself. He was in the middle of that dog-eat-dog world where he couldn't trust anybody or rely on another human being to help him. All he could do is try to survive. Who can blame him? At least I had my twin sister with me to help keep some of our humanity intact. But mental health-wise, Jack did not survive in as good a condition as some of us.
That is a big problem for aging survivors who suddenly have a lot of health problems, and on top of that the emotional problem of feeling as a victim and not realizing they have the power to remove that victim mentality from their lives. With the simple act of forgiving the Nazis, they can live a much better life.
My recipe for everyone who has survived trauma is to forgive. I always emphasize that you should do it not because the perpetrator deserves forgiveness, but because the victim deserves it. The only way you can heal yourself is to forgive those who have harmed you. I call forgiveness the best revenge. Because from the time you forgive, the perpetrator no longer has the power to control you. Or we could call it the greatest gift one can give oneself: the gift of healing, freedom, and self-empowerment.Suggest a correction