Eva Mozes Kor: January 31, 1934 – July 4, 2019
It’s horrible news. Our dear friend and inspiration, Eva Mozes Kor, passed away on the Fourth of July while on a trip to Poland – the same journey many have taken, and one I have taken with her two times before. It has been heartbreaking, truly, truly, heartbreaking.
We all know her story and about her mission. We all know her message of overcoming tragedy, finding forgiveness, and healing. The impact Eva has had on hundreds of thousands of people who were fortunate enough to hear her speak, travel with her, and talk with her is still felt today, regardless of how much time has passed since.
When I went with her to Auschwitz for the first time, it was January 2015 during the 70th anniversary of the liberation. While I was with a group of 80 people, I knew no one at the time. No one can prepare you for a visit to Auschwitz, especially in the dead of winter. At lunch on the first day of touring Auschwitz I, I was distant from the group; truthfully, I was in a daze. I couldn't stop thinking: "How could something like this happen? How can I help? What on Earth can I do?" Today, with the passing of my role model, those same thoughts are swimming in my head.
But there's one major difference between then and now: Then, I had my first full conversation with Eva, and she was more than alive. Alex, Eva's son, came over to talk to me that lunch and told me to talk to Eva. That conversation with that little lady in blue completely changed the trajectory of my life. She told me that crying and wallowing does no good; we must turn that anger, that pain into determination and motivation to fight the good fight. She challenged me to take the lessons that I have learned and the anger I held and turn it into positive energy – to let that positive energy drive me to change the world.
While we don't have Eva anymore to speak these words to us while we’re mourning, hurting, and missing her deeply, we do have that invaluable lessons she taught us to guide us through this tough time.
Throughout that trip and my subsequent trip in the summer of 2017, everyone kept saying it's up to me and my generation to make sure something like this never happens again, which was a lot to put on the shoulders of a 17-year-old. When I was overwhelmed and lost that day in Poland, I asked Eva how on Earth I was supposed to do that? She said, simply, that we all have the power and responsibility to make our corner of the world a better place. She said that something as simple as picking up trash on the bathroom floor and holding the door open for someone makes other peoples' days a little brighter and keeps hatred at bay. She said that you never know what that person behind you in the bathroom or walking through that door is going through – that the piece of trash on the floor or the door slamming in their face might just be the straw that broke the camel's back, and now they're going to go through the rest of the day spreading hatred.
I told her I needed to do more, so she challenged me to give a speech to the group on our last dinner together. No prompt, no guidance, just do it. So, I did it. What she taught me through that exercise is that I have the power and responsibility to share these stories, these experiences to help with the fight to ensure a more humane and just world. So that's what I am attempting to do today.
And so now I challenge you, as Eva challenged me. We MUST continue to press on. She has been preparing us for this time all along. We must draw on her as inspiration to continue sharing these stories, these lessons, and these messages. And it's not just Eva's story that needs to be shared. It's not just sharing stories that needs to happen. We know we must move past the tears, the grief. We must transform the pain into strength and motivation to keep her legacy alive. We bear that responsibility as Eva's seeds. We cannot be passive. The world needs her message; Eva needs us to spread it. Her legacy and the legacy of all survivors must not fade away. It is my responsibility; it is your responsibility; it is all of OUR responsibility to be keepers of that flame.