A survivor’s Message: Research for the Sake of Mankind, Not Science

Two women pose for picture

Eva Mozes Kor, left, with Carolyn Koenig, Clinical Trials Director for the UC Department of Neurosurgery. Photo by Cindy Starr/Mayfield Clinic.

In describing her role as a “human guinea pig” and “a disposable subject” in Nazi Germany’s human experiments during World War II, Eva Mozes Kor delivered her story to a spellbound audience of 400 Wednesday at Kresge Auditorium on the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center campus.

“I am a human being who survived many deadly experiments,” Ms Kor said. “I was treated as a sub-human being who remained human.”  She praised the physicians, researchers and others who attended the lecture for making “a most appropriate tribute to those who died.”

Ms. Mozes Kor was a special guest of the University of Cincinnati Department of Neurosurgery and Mayfield Clinic, affiliates of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute. Her appearance was supported by a grant from the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation. “Ms. Mozes Kor’s searing story and the topic of ethics in human research are timeless and of critical importance,” said Department Chairman Mario Zuccarello, MD.

Ms. Mozes Kor and her identical twin, Miriam Mozes, were among 200 twins who survived the macabre human experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Ms. Mozes Kor’s parents, grandparents, two older sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins did not survive the Holocaust. Miriam Mozes died of a rare cancer in 1993.

Eva and Miriam were 10 years old in 1944 when they and their family were taken from their home in a tiny Romanian village, packed into a cattle car, and transported to Auschwitz. Upon their arrival, standing on a narrow platform, they entered a sinister selection process.

“Are they twins?” an SS officer asked. “Is it good if they are twins?” their mother replied. “Yes, it is good,” the SS officer said.

When their mother answered in the affirmative, Eva and Miriam were led away. Eva looked back at her mother, who stood helplessly with arms outstretched, and would never see her again. Upon arriving at the building where the experiments would take place, Eva and Miriam saw three corpses. The backs of their new clothing, marked with a red cross, identified them as human subjects.

During the months she was at Auschwitz, Ms. Mozes Kor was subjected to dehumanizing examinations, countless blood draws, and injections of disease-containing mixtures. Clever and feisty, she made it her defining goal “to live one more day, to survive one more experiment.” She furthered her odds of survival by learning how to steal raw potatoes, which she and her sister boiled at night.

Following one potent series of injections, Eva (pictured above, far right) became seriously ill. She tried to hide her illness for as long as possible, knowing that, “the rumor was that anyone who went to the hospital never came back.” She eventually was taken to hospital, where Mengele presumed she would die. “When the doctors came in to look at me, they did not try to help me,” she recalled. “Mengele said only, ‘It is too bad she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ ”

Ms. Mozes Kor recalled crawling across the hard floor to get water, fading in and out of consciousness, yet determined “to do everything in my power to prove Mengele wrong.” Two weeks later, her fever broke. At three weeks, her health had returned to normal.

To this day, Ms. Mozes Kor does not know what microbes the injection contained. In addition to the high fever, she experienced severe swelling below her knees and elbows and a patchy rash. Her sister, Miriam, who also survived the experiments, developed kidney problems following her pregnancies. Miriam’s kidneys, it turned out, were still the size of a 10-year-old child’s. Eva donated a kidney to Miriam in 1987, five years before Miriam’s death.

The inspiration behind Ms. Mozes Kor’s visit came from Carolyn Koenig, Clinical Trials Director for the UC Department of Neurosurgery, who heard Ms. Mozes Kor speak at a meeting for research coordinators last year. “The impact was not only immediate, but it grew with my recollections of her words over time,” Ms. Koenig said. “It did not take long before I realized that more people should also have the opportunity to hear her words.”

Ms. Koenig urged researchers in Wednesday’s audience to think about their CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) requirements, the certification in research ethics they must complete and renew every two years. “The next time you take the course, think of Eva Mozes Kor,” she said, “because she is the Nuremberg Code, she is the Declaration of Helsinki, she is the Belmont Report.”

These research codes are anchored by the concept of “informed consent,” the principle that no patient can be forced to participate in a research study without understanding the study, without understanding any inherent risks involved, and without agreeing to participate. Exceptions to informed consent exist in today’s research environment but are strictly regulated. They include the Neurological Emergencies Treatment Trials – NETT – which allow physicians to provide emergency investigational treatment to an unconscious patient when several conditions are met: 1) the patient’s relative or guardian cannot be reached; 2) the situation is life-threatening; 3) no proven or effective treatment is available; 4) preclinical studies have shown that participation in the research holds the prospect of direct benefit for the patient; 5) the risks of the treatment are reasonable in light of the known risks and benefits of standard therapy; and 6) the research could not be carried out without a waiver from consent.

“Research is for the sake of mankind and not for the sake of science,” Ms. Mozes Kor told her audience. “If you ever have a doubt, ask yourself, ‘Would I want to be treated this way if I were in the place of the research subject?’ ”

In 1995 Ms. Mozes Kor founded a museum named CANDLES, an acronym for the words “Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.” She estimates that she has given 4,000 lectures about her experience at Auschwitz.

Sarah Weiss, Executive Director of The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education in Cincinnati, thanked the Department of Neurosurgery for arranging Ms. Mozes Kor’s lecture. “Her story and its lessons are so important to hear first-hand, and we are the last generation to live amongst eyewitnesses. Thank you for the gift you gave everyone in yesterday’s auditorium.”

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