My motivations for going to professional conferences usually revolve around staying abreast of new information relevant to my field, networking with others, and earning CEUs. I’ve never gone to a professional conference expecting to be emotionally moved in a giant way, but that’s exactly what happened at an ACRP meeting about 10 years ago when I attended the keynote address given by Eva Mozes Kor, one of the “Mengele Twins” on whom horrific medical experiments were conducted at the Aushwitz concentration camp during WWII. I vividly recall Kor’s strength as she marched us all through her experiences which started when she was only 10 years old. Only 10 years old. Let that sink in.
She recalled being the “lucky” one of the two sisters. Sometimes they were both subjected to the experiments, but sometimes she was the “control” twin of the two of them. She was always acutely aware that if her sister died from one of the experiments, she would also be killed so that an autopsy could be performed in order to get the comparison data they needed to complete their experiments. She had seen it happen with others all too often.
Hearing her stories was heart wrenching, and there was not a dry eye in the packed auditorium. What was also moving was her unbelievable capacity to forgive. Not forgiving those who conducted experiments on all of those unwilling participants meant that they still had control, and she was too strong for that. She wanted to move on. On January 27, 1995, 50 years after being liberated from Aushwitz, Kor signed a Declaration of Amnesty which served to urge world leaders to open the files of the Nazi experiments to the survivors and to the public so that they might know what substances were used on them, and to convey her personal forgiveness to all those involved.
Sitting in that large auditorium that day, I was inspired to do my job better. I was reminded of our immense responsibility to protect human subjects every day. Every single day. In this highly regulated industry that sometimes has us buried in paperwork and details, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the data we’re reviewing came from someone’s wife, someone’s child, someone’s brother or sister, or someone’s grandparent. Within the story of those weekly follow-ups, imaging scans, adverse events, and medication lists is a human being that we need to protect.
Eva Mozes Kor passed away peacefully in her sleep on July 4, 2019 while visiting Auschwitz on one of her annual trips. I will always be grateful to have heard her speak. She leaves behind an amazing legacy and will be remembered for her strength, her courage, and her amazing capacity to forgive, among other qualities. On her Declaration of Amnesty, Kor stated “Here in Auschwitz, I hope in some small way to send the world, a message of forgiveness, a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of healing.”
Rest in peace Eva Mozes Kor.