Remembering My Journey to Auschwitz on this 70th Anniversary of Liberation

With Eva at her liberation photo which is now part of an exhibit at Auschwitz I

With Eva at her liberation photo which is now part of an exhibit at Auschwitz I

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  As many of you know, I had the profound privilege to tour Auschwitz in June 2013 with Eva Kor, a survivor who was a victim of the medical experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele, “the angel of death.”  You may read about my journey HERE.  Eva and her twin sister were liberated on this day 70 years ago.  Eva is currently in Poland with a group to honor this special day and to partake in ceremonies and remembrances.  A part of me wishes I could be back there with her!  But today I do find myself remembering my journey to Auschwitz and back, and reflecting upon the impact that the trip has had upon my life.  I feel as if no one is ever really the same after seeing firsthand the horrors of Auschwitz.  I have since looked at humanity, at my life, and my vocation in different ways.  I feel like I have a better sense of what really matters and I understand even more now than before the importance of what it means to value human life and to honor each and every person’s journey.  We all have a story to tell, and it is up to  us to listen to one another and learn from one another.

Anyone who spends any amount of time with Eva or hears her story will walk away transformed in some way.  If you don’t know Eva’s story, I hope you take some time to learn and listen.  The link below is a short interview as part of a documentary that will air on CNN on Wednesday night at 9:00 pm, “Voices of Auschwitz.”  I got chills as I remembered standing with Eva and the group in this very spot.

Link to CANDLES museum:

I also want to simply use this space to reflect upon the fact that while the liberation of Auschwitz is celebrated, honored, and remembered today, we still have places of death, terror, torture, and genocide in this world.  I ask myself, “will humanity ever be able to fix itself?”  When?  How?  How long?  How many more Auschwitzes will there be before we say “ENOUGH!” and really mean it?  Really put an end to it?  Eva emphasizes the Hebrew phrase, “tikkun olam,” which means “to heal or repair the world.”  It is up to each and every one of us to do this in our own way.

I hope that if you are reading this, you will take some time today or this week to reflect, remember, and honor those who perished in the Holocaust and to be thankful for those who worked and risked their lives to end it.  Take time to be thankful for those who are courageous enough to share their stories with the world so that we may say together, “Never forget.”  May we learn from the survivors, listen to them, hear their stories, and walk away changed people, stirred to stand up to injustices in this world, big or small.  May we take away lessons of courage, strength, persistence, and the mentality that we are to never give up, no matter how hard life gets, no matter what is thrown our way, no matter where we may find ourselves.  And above all, may we learn from them to love one another and to see the value in the other, no matter how hard it may be.

One day as we walked through Auschwitz II/Birkenau, Eva lovingly quoted Desmund Tutu when she said, “There is no future without forgiveness.”  I didn’t know at the time that I would be meeting Desmund Tutu just a little over a year later in South Africa.  When I met him and saw his funny, sparkling, dancing eyes as he presided over the Eucharist, it all came full circle to me.  We meet one another at the table.  We come from all directions, from all over the world, from different opinions, worldview, religions, politics, genders, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, etc.  Yet we meet at the table to learn, to talk, to challenge one another, and to love.  For my Christian faith, we meet at the table to experience the joy of the Risen Lord who reveals himself to us and makes himself known in the breaking of the bread…if only we have eyes to see.

So may we open our eyes to see…whatever that means for you…that we may go about this business of “tikkun olam.”  May we see the beauty in this world….even if it is found in the depths of Auschwitz where survivors now walk and find the strength to share their story with each of us.

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