EVA KOR has propped up her sign on a table. It is a little island of space in the caverns of the Washington Convention Center where 10,000 survivors of the Holocaust have gathered. She was 10 when she went to Birkenau with her twin sister, Miriam, and became a subject for the barbaric Dr. Josef Mengele. She was liberated three days before her 11th birthday. Her sister, Miriam, lives in Israel now.
Eva Kor is 49 with short brown hair and an animated German-accented voice. She carries a dog-eared typewritten copy of her memoirs, "Nothing But the Will to Live," which she eagerly shares with visitors.
"I would love to be able to meet somebody else who was there. Some of the things that happened are so foggy, I'd love to verify whether they were true as I remember them. There were several kinds of experiments. They would do psychological experiments where they would take us to Auschwitz, take off our clothes and watch our behavior for six or seven hours. And there were the experiments in the lab. They would take blood from twins --they had huge vials for it--and inject it into gentile, German women to see if they would have twins. You see, Dr. Mengele wanted the Aryan race to multiply."
She wears a brown pantsuit and fashionably tinted glasses. "This is what I remember," she says, her voice intense and agitated. "I've never heard it from anyone else. I'd like to hear it from someone else."
A minute later, a woman walked by and paused to examine Kor's sign, squinting a little at the words. A faint smile came across her face. "Are you from the twins?" she asked.
"Yes," says Kor. "Were you at Birkenau?"
The woman nods.
"What do you remember about the twins?" asks Kor.
"I saw some of the twins," says Frieda Knoll Bassman, 64. "They took the blood from them . . ."
Kor gasps a little and her arms reach out toward Bassman.
". . . until they died," finishes Bassman.
"Yes," says Kor, nodding, "some of them died."
Bassman sits down next to her. "I thought all the twins died," says Bassman with a smile, patting Kor's hand. "You were one of the lucky ones. I used to jump over a fence and bring them water. They were so thirsty."
Bassman lives in Chicago now, Kor in Terre Haute, Ind. Bassman again looks at Kor, a smile of amazement spreading across her face. "I'm so happy to meet you," she says, putting an arm around Kor. "I thought no twins had survived."
Among 10,000 survivors of the Holocaust some extraordinary reunions occurred. But mostly, they didn't occur. People searched--bearing their own names or those of lost friends and relatives on their T-shirts, on large pieces of paper stuck in their hats or pinned to the backs of their blouses and shirts: HAVE YOU SEEN; MY SISTER HENA MILICH? FROM LODZ
Esther Milich Kozminski, from Beverly Hills, wore those red letters on her sweatshirt, looking for the sister she has not seen since 1940. She didn't find her sister but she found another woman at the gathering named Esther Milich. "I took out my checkbook and it said, 'Esther Milich'; she took out hers and it said, 'Esther Milich,' " she says smiling. "We exchanged addresses. Why not?"
Over an Indian cotton blouse and full skirt, Mona Baum, 23, wears her small billboard sign around her neck with the word 'Auschwitz' painted on, dripping red. An old photo of a young man is pasted on with the following message: "This is My Father. He is alive and well. We are looking for his sister, Adel Elbaum." The billboard originally was for her father to wear, but he slipped a disc and could not attend the gathering. Baruch A. Lieber Born--Nowy Sancz Krakow, Poland Buchenwald--Gros Rosen
The sign wraps around Lieber's straw hat. It attracts the attention of a network television crew and draws the anger of a convention attendee who walks by and declares hotly, "This man wants to be on television." The angered man is scolded by relatives who pull him away.
Anna Maria Smulowitz also spied Lieber. "I went up to him and said, 'Did you know my father?' He just put his hand on my arm and said, 'I wish I had.' " She blinks back the tears. "I have this heavy fantasy that I'm going to find someone here," she said. Her father, now dead, was a Buchenwald survivor. "He had 10 brothers and sisters that we never knew about, because he never talked. He told me nothing." PAULA KEMPINSKI KOLO POLAND
"I went all out," says Kempinski, an Auschwitz survivor, of her white T-shirt with big black letters. "I said if this doesn't work, forget it."
Sometimes survivors leave urgent but discreet notes at the message center. Regina Spiegel of Silver Spring unfolds one left for her husband, Sam, to find a printed message: "I hope you are the son of Mr. Spiegel who sold shoes to my father, Jozef Krim in Lwow. Please call." It is signed by a survivor.
"It's unbelievable," says Spiegel.
Only an hour earlier, Sam Spiegel and several of his friends ran into each other--they had last been together shortly after the liberation of the camps. There was a great jumble of hugging and kissing and exclamations reminiscent of school reunions. Spiegel put one arm around Max Weizman and one arm around Saul Flame. "We were in camp together," he said proudly, grinning. It was Auschwitz.
"I hadn't seen this guy in 30 years," Flame said of Spiegel. "But I know him--same face."
Bella Bialkowicz has tears in her eyes as each of her friends hugs her.
"I worked in the kitchen; I used to cook soup," she says of the labor camp, Pionki, where she was.
"But she knew us, so she gave us more," Weizman says with a grin, putting an arm around her.
"I used to go out and steal the potatoes to put in the soup so there would be more for everyone," Bialkowicz says, laughing.
Her daughter Susan watches, smiling and crying softly. "We were looking all day for this," she says, "looking in people's faces . . ."