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My thoughts on life, movies, and books...

A Day of Remembrance

May 7, 2012: Heidi and I toured the most evil place I have ever experienced in my life--the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Nazi leader Adolph Hitler believed in the superiority of a Germanic or Aryan master race, and he desired to eliminate lower class humans not up to the standards of the master race. Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, people with mental and physical disabilities, and others who fell into this tragic category were confined in camps like Auschwitz. Said to be “labor” camps, by the end of World War II their true purpose was revealed--they were extermination camps where millions of people were processed for mass execution.

While walking these somber grounds, which were full of barb-wired fences and warning signs in the German language, I saw pictures and read stories of horrific evil that occurred here. Much of the world is aware of the atrocities, but the stories of courage, selflessness, and sacrifice proved inspirational.

When the Nazis gathered ten prisoners to kill by starvation, an incarcerated priest volunteered in place of a man whose son was also imprisoned with him. Most of these prisoners starved and died within three days, but not the priest. He survived 17 days without food and water! The Nazis grew inpatient and administered him a lethal injection.

The innocent prisoners at Auschwitz formed a secret underground system of very talented artists. They painted pictures of daily life at Auschwitz—all from the watchful eye of Nazi guards, of course. These “lower-class humans” created beautiful portraits of fellow inmates. These were moms and dads who Hitler deemed unworthy to breathe, yet seeing their artwork reinforced that every person possesses unique skills and gifts that are superior to others. Each painting contained a story—life’s joys and triumphs, successes and failures, wins and losses.

Out of these hellish depths birthed a new psychological theory called logotherapy. The inventor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, survived Auschwitz and described his amazing story of survival in his best-selling memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning. He recounted how the Nazis stripped him of everything he held near and dear. They stole his family, his earthly possessions, and even the clothes off his back. They robbed him of everything, except the one thing that allowed him to be more powerful than his circumstance. He declared, “The last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” He envisioned surviving so that he could tell people how he did it. He saw his future self in front of a crowd telling others how he survived.

I walked the graveyard where more than a million people were murdered! To say that such an experience changed me is understatement. This visit caused me several nights of uneasy sleep, and brought my wife nightmares for days. One building we entered had thousands of shoes piled in one corner, and human hair in another. The walls lined with portraits of the victims, and one lady’s smiling face haunted me. Was she in denial, or like Dr. Frankl, had she miraculously found some sense of purpose in her circumstances?

Whether death visits by way of crime, accident, or natural, the reality is that none of us is a stranger to death. We have all lost people close to us. Reverend Billy Graham said, “The fact is, we cannot truly face life until we have learned to face the fact that it will be taken away from us.”

I’m viscerally sickened by what happened here, but I’m thankful to have experienced the memorial. I go forward emboldened by the statements of Dr. Frankl and Reverend Graham.
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