“I forgive you.”
They are three simple little words but I’ve begun to wonder, after watching a documentary called Forgiving Dr. Mengele, if people really know what it means to forgive. What is the meaning of it? What does forgiveness do for the offender and the forgiver?
The documentary was about a woman named Eva Kor and her struggle throughout her life to overcome her time during the Holocaust as one of Dr. Mengele’s human guinea pigs. She was part of a pair of twins, her sister being Miriam, and the family was taken to Auschwitz where Dr. Mengele was doing horrific experiments on dozens of sets of twins. He injected things into the children that people still can’t identify today because he never explained his experiments to anyone and no files of his have been found regarding the Mengele twins. He injected both Eva and Miriam with something that nearly killed them at the time and stunted the growth of Miriam’s kidneys forever. Eva donated her own kidney to Miriam decades after the fact but without knowing what Mengele injected into her, she died even after receiving the new kidney.
Eva has dedicated her life to three things: 1) no longer allowing herself to be a victim, 2) educating children about the Holocaust, and, 3) forgiving the Nazis. All three of these things are linked for her because through forgiving the Nazis, namely Dr. Mengele, she has freed herself from living as a victim and her message of peace through forgiveness is the basis of her educational work. The affects of the Holocaust are still with her in many ways but she has used forgiveness as an empowerment tool so that fear and anger no longer control her in regards to the Holocaust. She has met with a few Nazis and gone to Auschwitz many times as well. Most of the Mengele twins refuse to condone her forgiveness and refuse to even speak to her. They admittedly have not been able to pull themselves out of the darkness of Auschwitz and one woman in particular admitted that she just doesn’t know how to be happy or feel happiness.
The heart of the documentary’s theme was getting to the center of what forgiveness is and what it does to people. I realized from watching people’s reactions in talking to Eva that they don’t understand her position because they haven’t fully defined what forgiveness is for themselves. Many asked her what her criteria was for forgiveness and went on to point out that not enough has been done for the Nazis to earn it. In Eva’s point of view, forgiveness is not something you offer to people who deserve it while handing out revenge instead to those who don’t deserve to be forgiven. Revenge only causes pain for everyone involved and doesn’t solve anything, in her opinion. Forgiveness is something you have to create from within for your own peace and freedom without expecting any sort of reaction from the offender. “I forgive you,” means, “I’m letting go of the pain you inflicted upon me and I will no longer be held prisoner by it. I’m letting go of past negativity in order to regain control of my life.” I agree with Eva on those points. Forgiveness is not about the other person. It’s about yourself.
The most difficult act of forgiveness in my life was not on the scale of Eva Kor forgiving the Nazis but it was extremely difficult and took years. I was sexually abused as a minor by my ex-stepfather. For a long time, I went through life with my head stuck in the sand, going through bouts of depression and being suicidal, etc., before I realized that he was never going to face justice or show remorse for what he did to me. I reached a crossroads where I had to choose between drowning in the control he still had over my life and eventually killing myself, or realizing that I had the choice to make peace with it and regain control of my life without his apology or witnessing revenge. What he did was illegal and he should have been put in jail but by the point of reconciling it, he was long gone and seeking revenge wasn’t going to change the fact that I had been sexually abused. If I had done something to ruin his life, it would have given me satisfaction for a little while but my own psychological damage would have still been there and I would have been right back at square one as soon as the momentary satisfaction wore off.
I had no choice but to forgive him, let go of the past, and move on to regain control of my life. It’s a lot easier said than done, of course, and a very long process. Forgiveness gives you freedom in the sense that you recognize that what was done to you was evil and wrong but the way you cope with any psychological damage in your future is fully within your control. People don’t have control over you if they are no longer in your life unless you’re allowing past hurt and damage to control you. Yes, I still suffer with some of the after-affects of sexual abuse. I occasionally have nightmares, I do not enjoy sexual contact with men and got very good at pretending just to please them, I don’t touch or hug or show physical affection much at all, among other things. The difference is I take control of my own damage and I work toward healing myself, having nothing to do with what my ex-stepfather did to me. What he did was not my fault but lying down and remaining a victim for the rest of my life would be my fault if I allowed that to happen.
I forgave my ex-stepfather a long time ago. His actions will not determine my future.
What does forgiveness mean to you? If you think of the worst thing that was ever done to you, do you think you could find a way to forgive and take back that piece of your life?