- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - When German-born Thomas Adams was 9 years old, he taped swastikas around both his arms and wore them to the American elementary school he attended.

In his young mind, it was a way of boasting about his Nazi heritage.

When Eva Kor, a Romanian Jew, was 10, she and her identical twin sister were one of the 1,500 pairs of twins subjected to the inhumane experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp.

In the mid-1990s, Kor found the strength to forgive the Nazis and Mengele, who had inflicted so much terror and pain on her and her people. On Tuesday night, she extended that same kindness to Adams, who eight years ago rejected his neo-Nazi skinhead past.

The hulking figure of Adams, now 42 and a born-again Christian, embraced the tiny 81-year-old Holocaust survivor, and the two spoke together for about five minutes as Adams’ family looked on.

“You are among the rare people who realizes that this is not for you, and you really have to divorce yourself from the past, right?”

“It’s been a struggle, but yeah,” Adams said.

“You realize ‘I am my own person, I don’t have to do what all these people do,’ ” she said. “And that is really the way you change the world, by changing people who have taught you wrong and find your own way in life. You are a role model for them.”

Toward the end of their conversation, Kor told Adams she understood how tough his life had been.

“But everything is OK?” she asked.

“Everything is OK,” he said.

“You have a wonderful family,” Kor said.

Then she encouraged him to smile.

“Smiling makes us all look a lot better than crying,” Kor said. “And it’s good therapy. Somebody said a long time ago, laughter is the best medicine.”

Before he left, Adams said Kor made him feel comfortable.

“She never met me before, but I know she loved me,” he said. “She just has a presence about her.”

The meeting was arranged by Rocky Erickson, one of the organizers of Kor’s appearance at Billings West High School. It took place about an hour before her speech.

Adams was born in a small town in Bavaria, in southern Germany. His grandfather was a member of the Schutzstaffel, the SS, which, upheld the purity-of-race philosophy and controlled both the German police force and the concentration camp system.

Adams is uncertain the role his grandfather, who died not long after he was born, played. But he knows that two of his great-uncles, also in the SS, were assigned to concentration camps.

When Adams was 4, his mother married an American soldier, and Adams grew up alternating between the United States and Germany, moving wherever his stepfather was based.

“I had a great childhood. My mother loved me; my stepdad loved me,” Adams said. “But I remember growing up that a certain amount of pride and entitlement engulfed my thinking about the superiority of the white race.”

He attributes that thinking to other members of his family in Germany he spent time with, apart from his parents.

“I had pride in myself and my race, and when I got older, I got SS bars tattooed on my back” and, eventually, swastikas, Adams said in an interview days before his meeting with Kor.

By the time he was an adult, Adams lived in Colorado, where he started to explore gang life as a neo-Nazi skinhead.

“That’s where I got in community with hundreds of other people that believed what I believed,” Adams said. “We wanted to see our white race protected for generations to come. We did not want to see a world with anyone but us.”

The gang was preparing for racial holy war where the white race would be the victors, preserving the world for themselves and their children. Thomas used to travel to Billings periodically to recruit believers, and he also had a hand in the white supremacist events that led up to the Not in Our Town campaign.

Then, in 1997 he got married and downshifted his role in the organization.

“But I still had the beliefs, and the beliefs were always there until I got saved,” he said. “I believed in white superiority over all.”

The irony of how Adams became a Christian doesn’t escape him. It came about when a friend invited him, hangover and all, to a service at Faith Chapel, where the Rev. Alex Chai was then on staff.

“I couldn’t tell you what he said,” Adams said. “When he gave the invitation at the end, I raised my hand. And I knew God had a crazy ride for me when he had a white supremacist give his life to Christ facilitated by a Korean pastor.”

Looking back at his childhood, Adams can only now see more clearly how his worldview was shaped.

“I felt that because my grandfather was in the German army, that was what I wanted my identity to be,” he said. “I was just looking for it in the wrong place.”

Kor, after Adams had left, said Adams was just one of many descendants of the Nazis she has met over the years. They have a particularly difficult time, she said, because they are inculcated from such a young age with a philosophy that they have a difficult time leaving behind.

She called Adams and others like him ones who have “switched from being a hater of humanity to ones who love it, from being a problem to being a solver.”

“Thomas is doing an important job,” Kor said. “It’s tough, really, to realize that your whole philosophy and direction of life is so wrong. Admitting that and changing direction is remarkable, and it should be applauded.”

___

Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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