Iran hostage crisis survivor speaks of forgiveness

HANSKA – Katherine Koob, one the 52 American hostages held for 444 days during the Iran Hostage Crisis, delivered a speech about faith and forgiveness Saturday night at the Lake Hanska Luthern Church.

Organizers said they had been interested in having Koob speak for two years, and that she had been interested in coming because she knew the sister of a congregation member.

Koob focused her speech on the events she endured during captivity, and on the religious understanding she gained out of her ordeal. She said she learned how important faith is in daily life, and how important the act of forgiveness is for everyone.

Trapped in a historical


The Crisis grew out the Iran Revolution when the United States accepted the recently overthrown Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran, who had led an oppressive regime. Resentment over the United States previously supporting the Shah in overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected government boiled over when a large group of Iranian college students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostages.

Koob blamed the incident on cultural misunderstandings and “bad decisions by both sides.” She said the Iranian people, whom she called “friendly and welcoming,” saw the acceptance of the Shah by the United States as a signal the country was plotting to return him to power.

During the crisis, Koob eluded capture on the first day by fleeing to the West Germany Goethe Institute. But, she felt she had a duty to continue to provide information to the U.S. State Department. So, she returned to her office at the Iran-American Society, where she was captured during a second sweep by the Revolutionary Guard.

At that time, she had been in Iran for only four months as the director of the Iran-American Society, which was established by the United States for improving community and education ties with Iran. She said she met many of the U.S. Embassy who escaped to the Canadian embassy prior to the crisis, but did not learn their fate until after her release. The escape of that group was recently dramatized in the film “Argo.”

Koob was initially held alone, but eventually was housed with fellow captive Elizabeth “Ann” Swift. She said she never faced physical violence while in captivity, but struggled with not knowing the fate of her colleagues. She said her captors treated her well, but she would face difficulties sleeping some nights due to the sheer volume of student protests chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Carter!” She said she also remembers watching public executions on Iranian television.

Prayer and loving

thy neighbor

Koob said her strong Christian faith was a major factor in helping her to get through her captivity. She said her daily walks evolved into a daily “prayer walk,” where she focused on praying for her family and all other people facing challenges in the world.

She said the biggest lessons she learned during captivity were forgiveness, empathy and reconciliation. She said clinging on to anger or resentment only “allows the bad guys to win every day” by continuing the cycle of negative feelings. She said that letting go and learning to understand the other side, even if they are your enemy, is essential for a good life and helps you better understand the world.

“I spent a lot of time [in captivity] to live up those Bible verses [that say ‘Love thy enemy’]. It’s a very clear command,” said Koob, “Everybody deserves our prayers. It does no good to try to hate your enemy. It only ends up trapping you.”

Koob said she hopes that the United States and Iran will eventually be able to develop better relations through dialogue. She encourages people to overcome the dehumanizing impact of political rhetoric by reading Iranian literature and watching Iranian films. She said it will help people learn about the “average, normal Iranians” that face the same daily challenges as everyone else.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at

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