Forgiving Dr. Mengele

"Good"

Forgiving Dr. Mengele Review


There are many things one expects to hear from Holocaust survivors when they talk about the Nazis who imprisoned and tortured them in concentration camps, but forgiveness is hardly one of them. Although the tough-as-nails survivor Eva Kor would be a remarkable subject for a documentary even without her quixotic quest to publicize her forgiveness of the Nazi doctor who experimented on her and her twin sister at Auschwitz, the fact that she is doing so just makes her all the more fascinating -- and controversial. It's one thing for Eva to say that she forgives Mengele and all the Nazis for what they did, and quite another for her to advise other survivors of the Holocaust to do the same: "Forgive your worst enemy... it will set you free." Not surprisingly, many of her fellow survivors take issue with this. Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh's documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele tries to come to grips with what Eva is talking about, remaining impressively nonjudgmental towards either side of the argument.

Born in Transylvania, Eva was sent with her family to Auschwitz at the age of ten. She and her twin Miriam were separated from the rest of the family -- none of whom survived -- specifically so that Mengele could perform his twisted experiments on them. Nine months later, the camp was liberated by the Soviets. After living in Israel, Eva married and moved with her husband to Terre Haute, where she is now a real estate broker. (Miriam died in 1993 due to complications with her kidneys, severely damaged during one of Mengele's experiments.) Today, Eva cuts an incongruous figure in the small Midwestern city: a hard-charging businesswoman in garish clothes with a strong peasant's build and a thick Eastern European accent, her faded Auschwitz tattoo still visible on her left arm.

Having decided that she was sick of being a victim, Eva made a shocking announcement of forgiveness at the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Even though she was careful to say that she was speaking only for herself and not for other victims or survivors, the comments angered many and ignited a controversy that still flares up today. The film follows Eva over the course of the last few years to her many public appearances at schools and conferences, making allies and enemies in almost equal numbers. Championed as a hero by people in Terre Haute -- where she runs a small Holocaust museum out of a strip mall -- Eva is just as vehemently attacked by others, who accuse her of trying to whitewash a great evil and of granting what one critic calls "cheap grace."

Although the filmmakers do their best to stay on the fence about Eva's views (though the film is resolutely impressed with her survivor's stamina), it's difficult not to feel as though many of these charges are gratuitous. Who has the right, after all, to tell a Holocaust survivor that forgiving her enemies in order to get on with her life is wrong? While the film is excellent at raising such questions as these, it has definite problems from an artistic standpoint. Structurally, the filmmakers tend to ramble and lose the string of their plotline. A later section in which Eva goes to Israel to see family and also meet with some Palestinian teachers and an Israeli peace activist -- a scenario which shows the limit of Eva's forgiveness -- is interesting in and of itself but is only loosely tied to the main body of the film. Forgiving Dr. Mengele is a rickety thing, all told, but it tells a powerful and unique story with no easy resolution.



Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Sunday 1st January 2006

Distributed by: First Run Features

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Bob Hercules, Cheri Pugh

Producer: Bob Hercules, Cheri Pugh

Starring: Eva Mozes Kor as Herself

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