Forgiving the Perpetrator

Recently, a client of mine recommended the documentary called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” This documentary focused on the torment victims were made to endure in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, during the time of Nazi, Germany, specifically the sets of twins whose lives were spared for the sole purpose of human experimentation by the sadistic and infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. He chose twins because with them, he had the perfect control group at his disposal. He ran experiments on one of the twins to measure the results against the other. To Dr. Mengele, these people, mainly children, were as lab rats. He was a cruel narcissist that had no regard for them as human beings. Clearly, these people experienced horrors that were unimaginable to many in the world.

Years after this nightmare ended, hoping to find an antidote for her beloved twin sister, Miriam, who was dying of kidney failure, Eva Mozes Kor, sets out to find the medical records of Dr. Mengele. This information would be important as it could tell which harmful substances had been injected into her sister’s body when she was a child. Along her journey, Eva meets and interviews SS doctor, Hans Münch, who had been acquitted of war crimes during the Krakow trial of 1947. He is able to tell her that there were no records kept or saved by Dr. Mengele, so basically, she would never know this most important detail; therefore, never have any chance to save her dear sister’s life.

As she prepared to meet with this doctor, she anticipated confronting the same cruel indifference she experienced in the past. Instead, racked with guilt, he hung his head in shame, expressing that he was sorry that he had ever been a part of such a horrific assault on human kind. As he so sincerely apologized, something happened that some might even call a miracle. Eva’s heart was warmed, and for the first time, she not only got the idea, but the experience that she could be set free by forgiving the people who were once so cruel and inhuman to her and her people.

From this fateful meeting, Eva made a choice to give up her pain for the sake of her own healing. Releasing herself from her past, she forgave and released Hans Münch, who was a living representation of all her previous perpetrators. With this incredible act and change of heart and mind, she was set free – no longer to be trapped as a victim and no longer to be affected by the perpetrators of her past.

With this new revelation, she had a great idea! What if Hans Münch could come to Auschwitz for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, to acknowledge the atrocities and share his apology with them too? Perhaps those survivors in attendance would be set free as well. But as he shared his beautiful words of apology, and after that, as Eva personally forgave all of the Nazi’s involved in the atrocities, they were met with anger, contempt and even hatred by some survivors. With such controversy, many could and would not find it in their hearts to accept this courageous attempt and act of love that was intended to bring peace and healing to the past. Instead, some were more committed to holding onto the pain and remembering the pain, as not to forget the suffering they and their people had endured at the hands of these ruthless Nazi’s.

This puzzled me. The actual atrocities of Nazi Germany have not existed for well over 60 years. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hang onto a painful and horrific  past when they could leave it behind. It took a lot of effort for me to change my perspective long enough to understand theirs. But in the end, forgiveness won out. As a point of view, I personally settled on forgiving a painful and horrific past as a path to peace, freedom and self-healing. It just makes sense and it’s so inspiring when one can overcome such incredible adversity, especially in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Watching this documentary made it all so clear that there are many perspectives in the world. I see that all perspectives are valid and true for the person experiencing them. But, as I listened to the arguments for and against forgiveness, I couldn’t help but wonder how life occurs to those who refuse to release a horrible past, along with the horrible people in it. To me, forgiveness does not have to mean forgetting. How could someone forget an experience as that? Forgiveness can just mean that one is unwilling to allow the perpetration to exist in one’s mind for one more second longer than the actual event.

More than forgiving to set others free, I see forgiveness as a tool and choice to set ourselves free. Please do not think for one moment that in saying these things, I’m implying that forgiveness is easy. It can be very challenging and as human beings, we are not automatically wired for it. So many times it takes an incredibly strong commitment to transform pain and suffering into peace. As you can see with the example of Eva, forgiveness can be a process that takes a long time to complete, and sometimes … a short one too.

I found this quote and thought that it was so clear and such a beautiful case for forgiveness, that I wanted to include it with this story. I would only change one thing. I would change the word “survivor” to “thriver”, because I know that it is possible for human beings to overcome even the worst situations. It just takes the courage and commitment to leave the past behind, by changing your heart and mind.

In my experience, the worst part of the resistance to healing does not come from what actually happened in the past, but long after the event, the continued story about it that still lives in the shadows of our own minds.







– letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to Thriver.

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