Stephanie Stabile, of Cranston, shared the story of an unlikely friendship she has developed with Holocaust survivor Eva Kors during a presentation at the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center on July 14.
Stabile’s interest in the Holocaust was kindled in English class at Cranston High School West. During her senior year, she was browsing Netflix and came across “Forgiving Dr. Menegle,” a documentary about Kors’ family being taken to Auschwitz and how she and her twin sister, Miriam, survived the medical experiments they were subjected to.
On July 14, Stabile told an engaged group of middle school students from Central Falls that she was inspired by Kors’ journey to forgiveness.
Stabile said she was intrigued by “this 4-foot-10 older woman with her charming Zsa Zsa Gabor-type accent.” She felt empowered by Kors’ spunky and triumphant spirit, and thought that “she would be the kind of person that would be so cool to have as a best friend.”
Wondering if Kors was still alive, Stabile googled her – and found her in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she had opened CANDLES, a Holocaust museum and education center, and was offering summer trips to Auschwitz.
Stabile says her parents did not approve when she told them she wanted to go to Auschwitz with Kors. They thought that going to a Nazi death camp would be depressing and overwhelming, and was not appropriate for a 17-year-old. They told her if she wanted to go, she would have to pay for the trip herself.
Determined to make the trip, Stabile saved for seven years. During that time she kept up with Kors through monthly updates from CANDLES, Kors’ tweets and her lectures on YouTube. Stabile said she was drawn to Kors’ personality, her story and her message of forgiveness.
Finally, in 2016, and again in 2017, Stabile joined Kors on trips to Auschwitz. Since that first trip, Stabile wanted to share Kors’ story and get involved with the Holocaust center.
Upon returning from her first trip, she was asked to speak at a retreat for Holy Apostles Church, in Cranston, on Kors’ journey to forgiveness.
“The response and interest I received from the teens was overwhelming and inspired me to continue speaking and educating,” Stabile says. “My generation is one of the last that will be able to build relationships with survivors and hear their stories first hand, so it is, in turn, our responsibility to continue sharing these stories and lessons.”
Stabile then contacted Paula Olivieri, the center’s education coordinator, about volunteering and sharing Kors’ story, which led to the July 14 presentation.
Stabile said she thinks Kors’ three life lessons are inspiring and particularly worth sharing. First, never give up on yourself or your dreams. Second, stand up to prejudice and judge people only on their actions and their character. And finally, by forgiving, you can set yourself free.
“We are not all going to have to survive Auschwitz or forgive the Nazis, so how can we use Eva’s story to better our lives and our community? To me, the answer is sharing and applying Eva’s lessons,” Stabile said.
LEV POPLOW is a communications and development consultant who writes for the Bornstein Holocaust Center. Contact him at at firstname.lastname@example.org.