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Film: Too soon to forgive Dr. Mengele?

by Robert David Jaffee

November 16, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Just when the film world seems to have examined the Holocaust from every possible angle, a new film comes along that shakes up our complacency.

"Forgiving Dr. Mengele" focuses on the story of Eva Kor, one of the so-called "Mengele twins," who along with her sister was subjected to the Nazi doctor's experiments. Most notably, it deals with the forgiveness of Nazis, a concept antithetical to many Holocaust survivors.

The documentary, directed and produced by Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh, also taps into a "universal theme of how one grapples with and moves beyond the trauma of the past," Hercules said in a phone interview from his office in Chicago. "It could be about a rape victim."

Released by First Run Features, "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" will have a one-week run at the Laemmle Grande in downtown Los Angeles.

The film is set primarily in the present in Terre Haute, Ind., where Kor, a septuagenarian dynamo, is shown bustling about in her job as a real estate agent. A zaftig woman with a cherubic face, Kor wears cheerful, bright blue and red outfits with matching scarves, including one in the pattern of the American flag. We see her working out on a treadmill and lifting weights, driving her car around town with prospective home buyers, cooking grilled-cheese sandwiches with an iron to demonstrate how she used to make them at a time when the family was very poor.

The film also flashes back to scenes at concentration camps, including archival footage of the Soviets liberating Auschwitz. Remarkably, Kor and her twin sister Miriam were captured in that film: two girls dressed in striped prison-like attire and holding hands at the front of the line.

Kor, who years after the Holocaust donated a kidney to her sister, who had suffered organ damage from Mengele's injections, has engendered controversy from those who claim that she has no right to forgive murderers. But the controversy actually comes down to a question of semantics, since Kor has not really forgiven the Nazis so much as she empowered herself by exorcizing that evil from her past.

The real controversy of the film lies in the fact that it draws a moral equivalence to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting that lessons learned from Kor should be applied there, as well, a subject that seems to have no place in a film about the Holocaust. Kor reveals her own discomfort with this issue, looking restless in her seat at a Palestinian home, but she remains dedicated to "spreading this idea of forgiveness all around the world."

"Forgiving Dr. Mengele" will be screened at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa, from Nov. 17 through Nov. 23. Tracker Pixel for Entry

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