Holidays are a mixed bag of emotions for most people. A holiday for one individual can be a time for enjoyment, for rest and for celebration and at the same time be a time of remembrance, a time of grief and a time of loneliness for another. For me and for most I would imagine, Remembrance Day is a day for reflection, a day to remember the sacrifice made by brave men and their families and a time to honor the fallen. It is one of my favorite ‘holidays’ as I believe strongly in the importance of this day and I believe it is vital to learn from history and honor the price that was paid by our veterans.
This year I got an early start on ‘Remembrance Day’ as I got to experience one of the things on my bucket list and walk through Auschwitz. Experiencing Auschwitz in person was a moving experience for me. I have always been drawn to reading about WWII and been enthralled by the history of that time and how the events of that great war changed our world. It remains the most brutal war in modern human history. It is hard to accurately guess how many deaths were a result of WWII but estimates have a death toll of at least 75 MILLION people. An utterly devasting war and a reminder of human depravity.
HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST | Skip if you don’t care
Within that war was the brutal, murderous ethnic cleansing that took place in Nazi Germany. It truly started shortly after WWI in 1923 when one Adolf Hitler(a veteran of WWI) was imprisoned for a failed takeover of the German government. While in prison he wrote ‘Mein Kempf’ which became a bestseller and essentially stated that the German(Aryan) race was pure and must be kept pure, lands were needed to occupy for this pure race in order for Germany to be great and the enemy of the Germans was the Jews who were to be expelled and eliminated.
Over the following decade, Hitler would slowly and methodically rise to power, gaining followers and establishing his regime the Third Reich. On September 1st, 1939 Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland starting WWII. In the following 6 years, Nazi Germany would carry out a brutal genocide, building concentration camps meant to eliminate Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, old folks and political prisoners. The Nazi’s implemented Mein Kempf and carried out ethnic cleansing policies brutally murdering people at these camps. It is estimated that 11 million people were murdered during ‘The Holocaust’; 6 million of which were Jews.
These are devasting numbers. Growing up I shed many a tear reading about the Holocaust, watching movies and imagining what it would have been like to have been sent to a concentration camp.
FATHER KOLBE | HEROISM
One story that stayed with me as a kid was that of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who died in the Auschwitz extermination camp. In the concentration camps when one prisoner escaped 10 others were to be executed as punishment and on this day a prisoner had escaped and an order was given to throw 10 men into a prison cell to starve to death. One of the men cried out that he would never see his wife or children again and Father Kolbe heard this mans cries and was moved to take his place. Kolbe asked to replace the man and take his place to die and was granted this request. He died two weeks later. To read the full story CLICK HERE
When I first read this story I was incredibly moved, that a man would give up his life to save another. I paid my respects at a memorial set up for Father Kolbe in Auschwitz during this trip in block 11, which was the block where prisoners were sent to be executed or tortured.
A LASTING IMPACT
Seeing Auschwitz in person, looking at the pictures on the walls, touching the crematorium and walking the railroad tracks that brought in thousands of innocent people to be murdered was just devasting. I sat down on the tracks and imagined being sent to Auschwitz. What a living hell that place was. I can’t believe it actually happened. At least 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz and the number could be a lot higher, but it’s difficult to estimate how many were killed as Nazi Germany tried to cover its sins at the camp in the final days of WWII.
In honor and remembrance of the victims, Jill created a video of our walk through Auschwitz. It is pretty powerful, take a look.