In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist , psychologist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl explained that, as prisoners, men were stripped of many things. From being stripped from their clothing, jewelry, and finally their identification, prisoners were only left with a number assigned to them and a new uniform. Frankl described the three phases of the inmate’s mental reactions to camp life as the following: the period following admissions, the period when they are well entrenched in camp routine, and finally the period following their release and liberation. However, despite what stage prisoners found themselves in, Dr. Frankl argued “that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
We are always surrounded by an abundance of hope. Hope takes shape in multiple ways, and sometimes it goes unnoticed. The hate displayed on the news can sometimes over- cloud our minds. And a clouded mind blinds you from seeing the good that the world has to offer. As Dr. Frankl explained, what makes human beings different “… is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future – sub specie aeternitatis.” Hope is a powerful tool a man can have. Hope will get you through the tough seasons life has to offer.
There are countless well known and unknown stories of unmatched heroism displayed during the time of the Holocaust. My personal favorite story is the story of the Catholic Saint Maximillian Kolbe. Saint Maximillian Kolbe was a Catholic Polish priest who was arrested and sent to Auschwitz for speaking out against the German authorities. The day came where a prisoner managed to escape the camp, and everyone in the cell was forced to line up outside. Once outside, the guard picked a group of men to be sent to a cell where they would be forced to starve until they each passed away. Father Kolbe was among those outside, and a man who was chosen to be sent away cried out for his wife and children. St. Maximilian Kolbe then stepped out of the line and went straight to speak to the commander of Auschwitz. He told the commander, “I want to take his place. I am a Catholic priest.” Father Kolbe took the man’s place, and inside the starvation bunker that week he led men in worshiping and praising God and even hearing confessions. St. Maximilian served as a vessel of hope for his fellow prisoners during those days. Twelve days later, he was the only one left alive in the bunker, and his last act was to bless the man who killed him. The man who Father Kolbe saved that day was Franciszek Gajowniczek and he later served as a witness to Father Kolbe’s canonization for sainthood. Gajowniczek, years later while speaking in a church in Houston,,Texas, said, “So long as he … has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe.”
The aspect of the March of Remembrance that impacted me the most is hope. Without hope man loses his ability to dream, to love, and to help others carry their crosses. By giving survivors a platform as the March of Remembrance does, survivors, their descendants, and supporters are able to give hope to others that might have lost hope. Among the people who participate in the march together, they hold onto the hope of living in a society that will one day recognize the beauty in diversity; at the same time, they hold onto the memories and stories passed down by loved ones. As American Rabbi Harold S. Kushner said, “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chamber of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
My response to the March will affect my actions in the future in multiple ways. First, I believe it’s important to realize that a personal connection to the Holocaust is not needed in order to show your support to the survivors and their descendants. As philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can keep the victims’ memory alive by reading memoirs like Dr. Frankl’s. We can continue to introduce new generations to the stories of extreme heroism like St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Benedicta of the Cross, and Witold Pilecki to inspire them to take a stand against antisemitism. Acts of charity do not have an expiration date and continue to pierce countless hearts for generations.