02/17/2015 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Holocaust Survivor on Returning to Auschwitz and What Freedom Really Is

What does Eva Kor think it will feel like to walk into Auschwitz 70 years later?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor

In many ways I can remember every detail of the liberation that happened 70 years ago. Nobody prepared us for what liberation would be like. I hoped then I could go home and find my family. We had a daily saying, like a mantra, "Someday soon I will be free and I will go home." But going home to me meant reuniting with my mother, father, and two older sisters, not just an empty house with four walls, which is what we found.

The day the liberation happened, it was eerily quiet after weeks and months of artillery and bombing and noises of war that even the best film cannot reproduce. We thought maybe this is the day we will be free, but how would it happen? Well, it was January 27, 1945. It was a Saturday I believe, about 4:30 pm. A woman ran into the barrack and yelled at the top of her voice, "We are free! We are free!" Simple words. I thought to myself, That's wonderful, but what does that mean? Can I just now go home? What does it really mean to be free?

[My twin sister] Miriam and I both looked outside the second story window of a building in Auschwitz I (we were there for nine days before liberation). We looked out, but we couldn't see anything. We went downstairs and still couldn't see anything. It was snowing so heavily it was a complete whiteout. We stood there maybe half an hour until my eyes adjusted and at a distance I could see lots of people, I don't know how many. Looked like a whole army. They were all wrapped in white camouflage raincoats. They had the biggest smiles I have ever seen, and the most important part of it was they didn't look like Nazis. That was good enough for us to run up to them. They gave us chocolate, cookies, and hugs, and that was my first taste of freedom. For me to realize that Miriam and I were alive, that we had triumphed over unbelievable evil, and that my little promise to myself to survive had become a reality - that was an unbelievable feeling.

Here is the photo of the liberation. Miriam and I are in the front row holding hands. I am on the left, Miriam is on the right.

So when I go back [after 70 years since liberation], I will remember all those thoughts. And in some way, it will feel like it just happened yesterday. Yet I look at myself in the mirror and I surely don't look like that little girl holding Miriam's hand. And Miriam is gone (she died in 1993). So the feeling of being free is very, very important to me. People who know me know I fight fiercely for my independence and freedom. So to be free and to relive that moment is always very rewarding.

The first time I went back, I went into the camp and I walked outside and I walked back in, and I said, "I can do it! No one is stopping me!" That is actually what we did right after the liberation, because we wanted to understand, what does it mean to be free?

That is an interesting question for anybody to ask: What does it mean for people to be free? It's a deep question. From my perspective, freedom means as long as you have the ability to follow your will, then you are free. If you don't like a place where you live, you can leave. If you don't like the job you have, you can quit. If you don't like your country, you can move. We could not leave Auschwitz and if we dared approach the gate of the fence, we would be shot at, so that is a very important aspect of what freedom really means to me. It is a most basic feeling and in some ways it is very deep. Sometimes we feel we are stuck in a job we don't like and we feel we cannot leave it, or stuck in a relationship we don't like and cannot leave it. I believe that any person can leave it unless they hold a gun to your head. So going back to Auschwitz always brings back the reconfirmation that I am free, and that freedom happened 70 years ago.

Here is another photo taken at liberation. I am on the far right. I will participate in a reunion of some of the surviving children in this photo on January 26 in Poland.

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