Three years ago, Seymour resident Charles Moman visited the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute.

It was an option offered through a summer teachers institute at Indiana State University for recipients of Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowships, of which Moman has received three.

Moman, a retired Seymour Community Schools music teacher, was familiar with CANDLES founder Eva Mozes Kor through a documentary he had watched on Netflix.

“It was called ‘Forgiving Dr. Mengele,’ and in it she tells her life story, about herself and her twin sister, Miriam, and about losing their whole family within minutes of arriving at Auschwitz,” Moman said.

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Kor, now 81, and her sister survived the death camp and in 1984 organized CANDLES, which stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors. The purpose of the organization was to seek out and make contact with other twins who had suffered the experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele.

Of 1,500 sets of twins who entered the concentration camp from 1942 until late 1944, some 200 survived, including Kor and her sister. Through their efforts, they have been able to locate 122 other surviving twins around the world.

In 1995, Kor opened the CANDLES Museum to share the stories of Mengele twins. With the support of others, the museum continues to search for surviving twins to help shed light on the Holocaust in an effort to educate future generations to prevent genocide.

After sitting through Kor’s presentation, Moman talked with her and received an autographed copy of her book, “Surviving the Angel of Death.”

“I hugged her and thanked her for the book and then said, by the way, I’m a twin too,” Moman said. “In fact, there are two sets of twins in my family.’

She leaned over and whispered, ‘Dr. Mengele would have loved you.’ What she said was very chilling, and it really shook me up.”

Moman had been under the impression Mengele had experimented on only identical twins, but he learned from Kor that wasn’t the case.

“He also experimented on fraternal twins, she said, because he wanted to increase the twinning rate of the Aryan race,” Moman said. “He thought for some reason he was going to figure that out.”

After talking with Kor, Moman decided he would like to travel to Europe to see Auschwitz first hand.

“I’m 17 years younger than her. One generation earlier, and if I had been born in Germany or Poland or any other place, that could be me,” he said.

Fast forward to this past March when Moman was involved in a near fatal car accident. He spent two months recovering, unable to move much.

“I stayed in my office and watched Netflix,” he said. “By that time I had forgotten about going to Auschwitz.”

While searching for movies to watch on the popular online streaming site, Moman came across Kor’s documentary again.

“I watched it again and then it popped up on the screen with suggestions about other films related to the Holocaust,” he said.

So for several months, he studied one of history’s darkest times.

“I describe it as immersing myself in the Holocaust and drowning,” he said. “My wife came in so many times and I’m crying. She said I was addicted, and I really was.”

That addiction came from disbelief, he said.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I had such a superficial, shallow understanding of it all. I didn’t understand the depth of the details.”

The Holocaust was a much larger event, physically, than he realized, with Auschwitz being just one of many locations involved.

“If you look at a map, here’s Auschwitz, and there are 38 sub camps,” he said. “There are all these lines coming from all these different countries. All roads led to Auschwitz; and if they didn’t go to Auschwitz, they went to one of the other five death camps in Poland.”

Moman was surprised to learn Poland had Europe’s highest population of Jewish people at the time at 3.5 million.

With his desire to learn more, he signed up for the CANDLES mailing list and was sent information about a special trip the museum planned for the last week in January of this year. The trip would be a once in a lifetime experience, an opportunity to tour Auschwitz during the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp. One of the trip leaders would be Kor herself.

Fewer than 1 percent of the people who tour Auschwitz each year do so with a survivor as their guide, and even fewer get to experience it with a Mengele twin, Moman said.

“This is considered the last great gathering because they are getting so old,” Moman said of survivors. “I told my wife this is never going to happen again, and I wanted to go.”

Although Moman knew it would be very cold at the time of the trip, he also knew it could never compare to the conditions those who were sent to Auschwitz experienced.

“It was 30 below sometimes, and they wore pajamas with no underwear and no socks,” he said.

Once he learned there were only four spots left on the trip, he called to reserve his spot. A total of 70 people from 18 states and several countries went.

One of those was a former student of Moman’s, Brielle Hill, 17, who now lives in Franklin.

They flew into Krakow, Poland, where they stayed for the duration of the trip. On the first day, they visited the Plaszow concentration camp and explored Krakow. On Jan. 27, the official commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, they spent eight hours at the camp. The next day they toured Birkenau with Kor and two other survivors, Stan Kalmanovitz and Leon Schwartzmeyer. The trip also included a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mines and an evening at the Galicia Jewish Museum in the Jewish Quarter.

Moman said his decision to go was a way to help preserve history and keep alive survivor stories such as Kor’s.

“They’re going to be gone someday, and you go to be a witness,” he said. “I knew the numbers and the generalities. I had watched the videos and documentaries, and they were on individual people sometimes, which made it more personal.”

But nothing could be more personal than being there with a survivor, he said.

At one point on the trip, Moman said, he skipped lunch and went to take more photographs. During that time, something happened that made the whole trip worthwhile.

“Here I am at Auschwitz II — Birkenau, and I get into a conversation with a man,” Moman said. “I asked if he was a survivor, and he said yes. So I asked him some more questions.”

The man was Polish and had been at the concentration camp when he was 17. He was later liberated from Buchenwald, Moman said.

“I asked him how many of his family members had died, and he stopped, took a breath and he whispered in a wavering voice — ‘Everyone,’” Moman said. “Nothing could be more personal than that. I was stunned. That one moment is why I went.”

Moman recalls seeing the Auschwitz gas chambers where untold numbers of Jews and others died and the crematorium where their bodies were burned. He also saw the autopsy tables where Mengele performed side-by-side autopsies on twins.

“You’re just stunned walking around. It’s overwhelming,” he said. “Here you are in a gas chamber, and it’s this benign, empty room. You realize this is not a Hollywood set. This is real. Thousands upon thousands of people died right where we were standing, and you can try to imagine what it was like, but you don’t really want to.”

For Moman and the others, it was impossible to make sense of what they were seeing.

“You can’t comprehend the incomprehensible,” he said. “You don’t make sense of this. It had a profound effect on all of us.”

Moman said he never cried at any of the sites, although he was sure he would. Since coming home, though, he has experienced tears and strong emotions when he thinks about it.

“It traumatizes you,” he said. “Different people handle it in different ways. My pastor told me it would take months to process everything, and that’s really true.”

Because it’s difficult to take in everything in just one week’s time, Moman plans to return to Auschwitz this summer.

When people ask him about the trip, he tells them this: “It was heartbreaking. I don’t know how people survived. The words I use are I had a wonderful trip to a horrible place.”

But even in the most horrible of places, Moman said, there was still good that came from those survived.

“As bad as it is, you meet survivors and you see human will and hope, and you see love,” he said. “In one of the worst places on Earth, you can still find that, now and back then.”

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What: My Trip to Auschwitz — Attending the 70th Commemoration Ceremony of the Liberation of Auschwitz with Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele torture survivor Eva Kor

Retired Seymour Community Schools music teacher Charles Moman will present a multimedia presentation on his trip, showing many of the pictures he took. There also will be a discussion and question-and-answer session.

Where: Seymour Library meeting room

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19

Cost: Free

Registration is preferred by Feb. 17 online at myjclibrary.org/events or by calling 812-523-INFO.


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