Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who emerged from a trauma-filled childhood to become a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome, will be the speaker at Butler University’s Spring 2015 Commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 9, at 10:00 a.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Kor and Jean Wildman, a longtime Butler benefactor, will receive honorary degrees.
“Eva Kor’s life is one of the greatest examples of what we mean when we talk about ‘the triumph of the human spirit,’ ” Butler University President James M. Danko said. “In living an inspiring life powered by what she calls a ‘never-give-up attitude,’ she has served as a champion of human rights, a tireless educator, and a community leader.”
Born in 1934 in Portz, Romania, Kor and her twin sister Miriam were 6 when their village was occupied by a Hungarian Nazi armed guard. In 1944, the family was transported to a regional ghetto, then packed into a cattle car and transported to the Auschwitz death camp. There, Eva and Miriam were subjected to experiments by Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele.
Estimates are that 1,500 sets of twins—3,000 children—were abused, and most died, as a result of Mengele’s experiments. Eva herself became deathly ill, but through sheer determination, she stayed alive and helped Miriam survive.
When the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945, approximately 200 children were found alive, including Eva and Miriam Mozes. They returned to Romania to live with their aunt, then immigrated to Israel in 1950. Over the next 10 years, Eva received a good education from an agricultural school, and went on to attain the rank of Sergeant Major in the Israeli Army Engineering Corps. She met Michael Kor, a Holocaust survivor and American tourist. In 1960, the couple was married in Tel Aviv, and Eva joined her husband in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Eva became a U.S. citizen in 1965, and the couple raised two children, Alex (a 1983 Butler graduate) and Rina. In 1984, Eva founded CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors), a name she chose because she wanted to shed light on this dark chapter of the Holocaust.
Eleven years later, she opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute. Thousands of people, mostly school-aged children, have visited the center since then.
Butler’s other honorary degree recipient, Jean Wildman, and her late husband, Robert E. “Bob” Wildman, built a family and at least three businesses during their long life together. General Equipment Manufacturing Company was a joint endeavor with her father and brother. The business expanded and prospered largely through the development of a conveyor system for broiling hamburgers, which in turn led the small firm to give birth to the Burger Chef restaurant chain. Burger Chef grew to over 1,200 locations before they sold it to General Foods in the late 1960s.
Jean and Bob went on to manage other family businesses, including restaurants, real estate, and standard breed horses.
As a Butler student, Jean was involved with Alpha Chi Omega sorority, was a Band Majorette, and worked in the library. She and Bob were recognized in 2002 with a Butler Athletic Hall of Fame Special Service Award. In 1998, they received the Mortar Board Award, and Bob was awarded the Butler Medal in 1990. Jean additionally was named as an Alpha Beta Honorary Member in 2011.
Jean and Bob have endowed two scholarships at Butler—the Robert E. and Jean T. Wildman Athletic Director’s Scholarship and the Jean T. and Robert E. Wildman Scholarship, which is in the College of Business.
In choosing honorary degree recipients, Butler University selects individuals who have demonstrated the highest standards of excellence, integrity, and concern for the public good. Furthermore, they are individuals whose personal qualities and values are consistent with those espoused by the University for their graduates.