Why this photo of a Holocaust survivor and a former Nazi guard is going viral

Recently, an unexpected photograph has been spreading across the Internet. In it, 81-year-old Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor is being embraced by Oskar Groening, a 93-year-old former Nazi guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the concentration camp at which Kor was held. And the story behind the photo is absolutely astonishing.

Groening is currently on trial in Germany for his part in the murder of 300,000 Holocaust victims, due to a 2011 court ruling which holds elderly war criminals responsible for their past crimes, according to the BBC. Groening’s job at Auschwitz was to “guard” the belongings of those brought to the camp to be murdered, and to count stolen money — earning him the name the “Accountant of Auschwitz,” The Washington Post reports. He is one of the last accused Nazi war criminals alive, and if found guilty, will face between three and 15 years in prison — likely the last years of his life.

Kor was present at the trial in order to testify against him; and in a moment of inexplicable kindness, she decided to introduce herself. Upon meeting her, Groening fainted. She took to Twitter to recount the exchange.

She later expanded on Q&A website Quora that she wanted to shake hands with Groening for two reasons: the shock of their first exchange (“This was not the interaction I was hoping for. I knocked out an old Nazi.”) and because she wanted to know what would happen “when someone from the victims’ side meets with someone from the perpetrators’ side.” Kor then implored Groening to encourage other living Nazis to come forward in order to denounce fascism and address neo-Nazism in Germany today. Because, as Kor explained, young neo-Nazis have no interest in listening to what a survivor has to say — but might be swayed if members of the former Nazi party denounce fascism themselves.

“As I was talking to him, he grabbed me and gave me a kiss on the cheek,” she said. “Well I probably wouldn’t have gone that far, but I guess it is better than what he would have done to me 70 years ago.”

As she testified in the trial, over 100 of Kor’s relatives were killed during the Holocaust. She and her twin sister, Miriam, survived only because they were one of about 1,500 pairs of twins subjected to the notoriously cruel and inhumane experiments of Nazi researcher, Josef Mengele. During the trial, Kor recounted that every other day, she would be taken to a lab where they would draw blood from one arm and administer at least five deadly injections into the other — prompting Mengele to once sarcastically claim it was a shame she was so young, as she likely only had two weeks to live.

But Kor persevered, and as MSNBC reports, she told the court that she had a “fierce determination to live one more day, to survive one more experiment.” To this day, she does not know what was injected into her body and has been appealing to anyone with access to Nazi documents that might reveal what kind of experimentation she was forced to participate in.

In her testimony, she forgave Groening — but was quick to state that her forgiveness did not mean he shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions.

“My forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrators. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment,” she said. “My forgiveness does not absolve the perpetrators from taking responsibility for their actions, nor does it diminish my need and right to ask questions about what happened at Auschwitz.”

Kor has faced criticism from her fellow co-defendants for speaking out on Günther Jauch TV this past Sunday, claiming Groening shouldn’t face a trail, despite taking the stand against him in court. “Instead, Mrs Kor urged remaining Nazis to counter neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers in Germany – some of whom gathered outside the courthouse at the start of the officer’s trial last week – by speaking publicly about their inhumane actions,” reports the Independent.

“Everything he is accused of — I am saying he did all that,” Kor explained on Quora. “I have forgiven the Nazis and everyone who has hurt me, but I told him that my forgiveness did not prevent me from accusing him nor from him taking responsibility for his actions.”

Kor shared a second photo to Twitter, in which the two shake hands and share conversation.

“I know many people will criticize me for this photo, but so be it,” she said on Quora. “For the life of me I will never understand why anger is preferable to a goodwill gesture. Nothing good ever comes from anger. Any goodwill gesture in my book will win over anger any time. The energy that anger creates is a violent energy.”

“If I had it my way, the dialogue between the survivors and perpetrators would have started a long time ago,” she continued. “And it would have helped the survivors cope and maybe heal themselves, but even more so not to pass the pain on to their children.”

And while Kor knows that, perhaps, she is in the minority in her opinions, she has hopes that by creating a human connection between victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust, both will be able to “come together, face the truth, try to heal, and work together to prevent it from ever happening again.”

(Images via, via.)