Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hope for humanity

My book for Sam is coming together, but I find my writing flows better when I am inspiring myself, so over the last week I have been watching the 20th Anniversary collection of the Oprah Show. I just love that woman! She inspires me to reach the heights of my potential that I know I can reach, but sometimes feel too scared to do so. I have laughed, cried, been inspired and horrified as I’ve watched the snippets of her interviews.

All of them have made me think but one in particular struck the core of my soul. It was her interview with Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, who was taken to Auschwitz with his parents and family as a small boy. A few years ago, I visited Auschwitz while on a trip to Poland with my (now ex) boyfriend. It was January, minus 16 degrees, thick snow. I remember having a cold and the wet tissues froze in my coat pocket. I was wrapped up in thick layers and a warm coat but the cold still tore at my face, and I wouldn't take off my gloves, even to blow my nose. The people incarcerated in that camp had worn just one thin layer, supplied by the Nazis; their own clothes taken away.

It was the most haunting place. You could feel the raw pain of those thousands of lost souls. It was just horrifying to see the train lines which brought thousands of men women and children into the camp. People believing that that were coming to a new life, people who had paid hard cash for that journey, holding that belief, and who were in fact coming to their death. This picture shows the train lines (in the snow) and the main guard house at the Birkenhau part of the Auschwitz-Birkenhau camp in Poland.

Immediately on arrival at the camp Elie Wiesel was separated from his mother and sister and he never saw them again. As people got off the train they were directed right or left depending on gender and age. It was usually the last time women saw their husbands and boys; the last time men and boys saw their wives and mothers. Thousands of them went directly to the gas chambers. Others were sent to these huts and put to work - frequently that work involved assisting in the murder of their fellow travellers.

Among the many horrors Elie witnessed were children being thrown alive into fire pits because the gas chambers were full. I can't begin to imagine how horrific that would be. And the fact that similar atrocities still happen the world over sickens me.

The image that sticks in my mind from my visit to Auschwitz is this one. It isn't a great picture but maybe you can get the gist. This display cabinet, which was floor to ceiling and at least 16 feet wide, is full of human hair, taken from the corpses in the gas chamber.

What struck me about Elie Wiesel in his conversation with Oprah, was his hope for humanity. He said ‘I have six million reasons to give up on the world, to give up on any other person, to give up on God, to give up on faith…and in spite of that, I must have faith in the possibility of every human being to remain human in spite of everything.’
I am humbled by his hope and by his faith. I guess ultimately that is what keeps us all going - faith and hope, one way or another. I still have to ask myself though, how can we even tolerate a world in which these atrocities are allowed to happen? Because they still do - everyday, somewhere in the world; maybe not on the scale of the Holocaust in one place, but collectively, the world over, day after day, we are destroying our fellow men. How can we hold so much hatred? How come we cannot love our neighbours as ourselves?
Perhaps therein lies the crux of the matter. When we don't love and accept ourselves enough, warts and all, then how are we able to extend our love unconditionally to all humanity, and to stop the killing - whether that is the brutal murders we hear about on the news, to the snide comments we make about others to make ourselves feel better, to the damaging words we use in our self-talk?
But Elie Wiesel can still believe in humanity, after all he witnessed, then I guess I can too, and I'll be sharing that belief with Sam.

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