I saw a wonderful documentary recently, Forgiving Mengele (2006 directed by Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh). This film follows Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor. Eva, along with her twin sister, was one of the many twins subjected to inhumane experiments by Dr. Mengele. The film focuses on her decision to forgive Mengele as part of her own empowerment and healing process to enable her to let go and move on with her life.
“Just to be free from the Nazis that did not remove the pain they had inflicted upon me. There might be an other way that survivors can heal themselves. I have found one way: forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and it will set you free.
I found it sad how many people, particularly other Holocaust survivors, reacted to her decision. Many people were angered, feeling that it was not her place to forgive him or seeing her decision as in some way taking away Mengele’s responsibility or condoning what he did. Some felt that forgiveness was not possible unless the individual being forgiven had repented for what they had done and asked for forgiveness. Still others felt that while we should seek justice, only God has the power to forgive. It was difficult for many of them to see that forgiveness is not about the perpetrator. It is about letting go of anger and hatred that will otherwise control your life. I see forgiveness not as a gift to the perpetrator but as a gift to oneself that enables individuals to heal and move forward. In my book, The Quilt of Humanity: A Metaphor for Healing and Reparation, I write about how forgiveness of a family member was essential to my own healing and well-being. Not to forgive leaves one as a prisoner to one’s anger and resentment.
As Catherine Ponder, minister of the Unity Church writes:
When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.
Who do you need to forgive and how will it liberate your life?
For more on forgiveness, see Part 2 on Forgiving the Past vs. Being Able to Empathize in the Present.