By Elizabeth Witek, Staff Writer
World history teacher and researcher Gabrielle Conlin traveled to Romania and Budapest,
Hungary in early October with her team of Holocaust educators and adoptive grandmother and Holocaust survivor, Eva Mozes Kor.
Conlin has dedicated years of research to studying the Holocaust and World War II history. As a teacher’s assistant during graduate school at Monmouth University, Conlin created a course, “Children of the Holocaust,” where she taught Kor’s book, Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of A Mengele Twin in Auschwitz, which is how she initially connected with Kor. After the wave of emotions she felt while teaching Kor’s story, Conlin felt compelled to reach out to her.
“Eva is my source of inspiration and great role model to me,” said Conlin. After meeting Eva, which she calls a very fateful meeting, her research and studies in the Holocaust increased. From that initial meeting, Conlin started to research for and travel with Kor to spread her message of forgiveness and to share her remarkable story. Conlin has traveled with Kor the past few summers to Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland to retrace the steps of her concentration camp experience where she managed to survive the gruesome genetic experiments conducted mostly on twins by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
This most recent trip was taken to recount Kor’s life before the Holocaust and her experience after liberation. In addition, the purpose of the trip to Romania was for Kor to reclaim some of the land that her family had lost while she was in the concentration camp. While in her hometown of Portz, Kor revisited her former home and schoolhouse to rekindle fond memories of her distant past. The experience became a reunion of childhood friends, where everyone shared pictures from the 1940s and, as a form of hospitality, shared desserts as well. While in Cluj, Romania, Kor also spoke to students at a Romanian high school, where she is idolized as a hometown hero and survivor of the war.
“She was a sign of hope for the students because they’re still coming out of the communist regime,” said Conlin. “Portz is a small village stuck in time…It was like I went on a time machine walking through 1940.”
On the return trip, Conlin stayed in Budapest for a few days to continue her Holocaust research trip, which included a visit to the famous Shoe Memorial located along the Danube River. This memorial features hundreds of statutes of shoes lined along the edge of the river to symbolize the murder of the Jews from the Budapest Ghetto during the war.
“The Arrow Cross, Hungarian soldiers under the rule of the Reich, took Jewish people from the ghettos and lined them up and shot them all on the Danube River. There were so many pairs of shoes because they told the Jews to take them off,” said Conlin. “The thing that really got me was there were baby shoes there, so I left my memorial candle by those shoes.”
In addition to visiting the Shoe Memorial, Conlin visited and spoke at the Hungarian Parliament building to address the issues of War Crimes.
Conlin has been involved with Holocaust research since she was an undergraduate student, when she interned as a Holocaust researcher for C.H.A.N.G.E. (Center for Holocaust Human Rights and Genocide and Education based out of Lincroft, NJ). She became a part of a team that helped design an exhibit highlighting the Holocaust survivors who reside in New Jersey. During her time in graduate school, she interviewed more than 50 Holocaust survivors to create an oral history collection for the Guggenheim Library. Conlin now conducts research on the Mengele twins of Auschwitz for CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which Kor opened in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1995.