Ind. Museum Founder Vows to Rebuild

Associated Press/November 26, 2003
By Deanna Wrenn

Terre Haute, Ind. -- Inside the burned-out shell of the Holocaust museum she spent years creating, Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor digs through a pile of scorched insulation, charred books and glass shards, searching for the collection's most sobering artifacts.

"Bones are somewhere here," she mutters with a Hungarian accent, her hands protected only by thin gardening gloves. Finally, she makes a find.

"Here it is. Here is a bone," the 69-year-old says, holding a small, ivory-colored human bone she found years ago during a visit to Auschwitz, where the Nazis exterminated as many as 1.5 million Jews and others.

On Nov. 18, the museum and much of its contents were destroyed in an arson fire that Kor is convinced was an act of hate. The words "Remember Timmy McVeigh" were spray-painted on the museum. McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who shared sympathies with white supremacists, was executed at a federal prison outside Terre Haute in 2001.

Thousands of schoolchildren have filed through the one-story CANDLES Museum since Kor opened it in 1995 in hopes of teaching Midwesterners about the horrors of the Holocaust. CANDLES stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.

Kor lost more than 100 of her relatives at Auschwitz, and she and her identical twin sister were subjected to ghastly medical experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's "Angel of Death."

Kor said she hopes to rebuild the museum with tighter security.

"Surviving the camps has taught me to never, ever give up. And the need for teaching how to prevent tragedies and hatred is even more clear in my mind now than before," she said.

The FBI is investigating the blaze. Police said they have no suspects, but prosecutor Bob Wright said Tuesday that one person of interest is a Terre Haute man who, a police informant says, made anti-Semitic comments and was trying to recruit people to a neo-Nazi group.

Joseph Stockett, 57, was convicted of setting a fire to a Planned Parenthood building in Oregon but insisted he played no role in the CANDLES fire. He was charged Monday with an unrelated federal gun violation.

"I was set up ... by the ATF," he told reporters.

Kor and her twin, Miriam Mozes Zeiger -- who died of cancer in 1993 -- were 10 when their family was sent from present-Hungary to Auschwitz in a cattle car. The Nazis pulled the girls away from their mother for Mengele's use, and they never saw any of their relatives again.

In Mengele's lab, Kor and her sister got weekly injections, and every part of their unclothed bodies was measured and compared. She vividly recalls going to the filthy latrine and finding the corpses of three children, their eyes open and gazing eerily at her.

Kor's museum never had throngs of visitors, but educators say it helped children comprehend a dark chapter of history. It contained books on the Holocaust, bricks from Auschwitz, and maps and photographs about the Nazi destruction of 6 million Jews.

Among the items Kor retrieved from the museum's ruins were lumps of melted pennies that had been in jars in a display case. Schoolchildren had collected more than a million pennies to help them grasp the enormity of the Holocaust.

Lindsey Hall, the principal of Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School near Champaign-Urbana, Ill., brought Kor to speak to students in 1997. They listened, rapt, for nearly two hours.

"To have a primary source of history is always an incredible gift, especially when you're trying to teach kids about lessons we learned from the awful parts of history," Hall said.

Richard Hirschhaut, the Anti-Defamation League's Midwest director, said he looks forward to the museum's reopening.

"Survivors of the Holocaust will tell you how very lucky they were, but so many of them were tough. There was a toughness and a resolve and a determination to live," he said. "It's that spirit and determination that she has brought to this museum."

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