O what stillness is this? My March of Remembrance and Hope 5 Years Ago

survivor wall

One of the themes of my previous blog posts has been how important it really is that each of us take time out of our busy schedules to de-compress, re-charge and re-connect with ourselves.

As I’ve said previously, my morning now consists of a 30 minute mindful meditation practice before I put my suit on and drive to work in the morning.

This morning during my meditation exercise, I reflected on an event in my life which I had not turned my mind to in any meaningful fashion in several years. It occurred to me that it has been nearly 5 years since I embarked upon a life-changing journey to Germany and Poland. I’d like to tell you why.

sharon

In early 2010, I was privileged to have been selected amongst 60 student leaders from across Canada to participate in a  Holocaust student leadership and education tour in Germany and Poland known as the March of Remembrance and Hope. Our group consisted of a diversity of races, faiths, as well as atheists and agnostics. We also were accompanied by inspiring group facilitators and a teaching faculty comprised of university professors with particular expertise in the history of the Holocaust. The MRH program is sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Diversity.

After landing in Pearson International airport in Toronto, I met the remarkable group of students with whom I would soon develop life-long friendships with at the opening orientation session. We were all so eager to begin our journey. After getting to know my fellow colleagues, it was time to board our flight from Toronto to Frankfurt. After what seemed like an arduous cross-Atlantic flight to Germany, we finally arrived in Berlin on a crisp morning where our journey officially began.

germany2

The image that you see above was taken on our first day in Berlin at the main square known as the Bebelplatz. In 1933, it was in this square that the infamous Nazi book burning occurred.

For the next 10 days, we embarked upon a powerful, emotional and haunting tour of several infamous concentration camps in Germany and Poland including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka. Rather than explain to you now how I recall feeling then while visiting each of these places, I will share with you some of my experiences as I recorded them in my journal in the form of poetry.

On These Tracks
traintrackstrain1

On these tracks
The wind blows
Carries the weight
Of a heavy heart

Two trajectories
One approaching
The other has left

On these tracks
We cannot see
The destination
Of the ones
Who have come before us
In courage
In faith

On these tracks
A rose lies
At the feet of those
To whom we call
To honour
In silence
In contemplation

On these tracks
The sound of silence
Is hollow
It summons the violence
Of a time
We cannot know

On these tracks
Two trajectories
Converge
A new journey has begun
To remember
To record
The promise of hope

On these tracks
The destination
Is in our hands
In our hearts

On these tracks
The wind blows
A cold breeze
Envelopes us

On these tracks
We remember

Location: Outside Berlin, Germany

O What Stillness is This?

auschwitz1barracks3

crematoriabarracks

O what stillness is this?
A delicate rose
Rests atop the tracks
Of a journey
Yet to begin
Yet to set sail

O what stillness is this?
The east wind blows
The whisper of a name
I do not know
I cannot see

O what stillness is this?
The sun shines
Radiant
Upon a kingdom
Of the Brave

O what stillness is this?
Footprints left
One by one
In perpetuity
At the place of those
Who came before us

O what stillness is this?
At the gates of Hell we stand
At the precipice
Of Life and Death
We converge

O what stilness is this?
The sound of silence
Is defeaning
Stirs the splendour
Of the grass
The walls
Cry out their pain

O what stillness is this?
The healing power
Of witness
Of testimony
Shatters the arbitrariness of evil

O what stillness is this?
The becoming of our memory
Heals the wounds of our hearts
Dries the tears of our loss

On this day
We march as one
Arms linked
In silence
In remembrance
In hope
In the stillness of our hearts

alex1

Location: Auschwitz-Birkenau,Poland


Warsaw, Poland
warsaw ghetto

pinchas

These are photos of Pinchas, one of two Holocaust survivors who travelled with us to Germany and shared his personal story of survival at the Majdanek concentration camp, the first to be liberated by the Americans at the conclusion of World War Two.

Below are a few haunting photographs of Majdanek as I walked through the site.

majdanekentrancemajdanek1

majdanek2road to crematorium

Below is a photograph of the crematorium at Majdanek. It was here that Pinchas sang an ancient Hebrew song to honour the dead. He told us he lost several members of his family in this place. He was only a boy when he was sent to Majdanek, but to this day he still feels summoned to come back to this place of death and despair. His example demonstrates that good can and does prevail over evil. His is a living example of courage and faith, one that is etched into my memory for as long as I shall live.

crematorium

Location: Majdanek in Lublin, Poland


blackwhite1blackwhite3lastdaylastday2the gang

I am grateful for the support, fellowship and love of my fellow MRH colleagues pictured in these photographs. You can see we are all smiling in these photos as they were taken on our last day together as a group before we made the long trip home to Canada, back to our every day lives having been changed forever. We are smiling because of how privileged we all felt to be invited to participate in this journey together, and for the deep bond that we all will share with each other forever – in remembrance, in hope, and in love for all our fellow man.

When I returned to Canada, like many of my colleagues, it was incredibly difficult to share our experiences with our family and friends. Most of us had full-time jobs that we needed to resume right away. For me, it was back to the law office servicing clients the next day. This has been my routine these past 5 years. Sadly, I’ve simply lost touch with many of my colleagues over the last several years.

I have promised myself to re-connect with my colleagues in the coming months to see how everyone has been doing since we all went back to our lives nearly 5 years ago. I truly do believe that what we experienced together will never be lost; but instead, it is meant to be shared with the world.

If you are interested in learning more about the MRH program, or are interested in applying, I encourage you to check out the MRH website here: http://www.remembranceandhope.com/

I would love any comments/thoughts/feedback/questions that you may have about the MRH program or this post.

I wish you all love, health and happiness.

Namaste everyone,

Alex

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