March - Breen Wilkinson '16

Many times, as a group, we were just silent.

We were not tongue-tied, or reticent, these moments were choices. It was a strange thing, this quiet, in a trip defined by relationships. At times, seemingly, the conversation never ended. The longest bus rides of my life always had new person to get to know. Every meal had a new topic to tackle. Every walk in between so many sites possessed a new companion for a period of reflection. The conversation scarcely ever died. And so, the times when it did - I seem to remember best.

You could predict when these moments would arise after awhile, as if there was a pattern, as if each day were progressing to silence.

The moment in my life I felt closest to someone was a moment with no words. I only know this now. I thought intimacy was on hold. But in rest, in giving up words, I was closer then I had ever been. Real silence is that when you are permitted to speak but chose not to, the other kind is oppression. In our group’s silences, I thought perhaps we had been subdued by our emotions, the weight of a dark history with which we were attempting to grapple. But in Treblinka, in the middle of a forest, where we had been silent throughout most of the day, I saw the choice.

Like all the camps, it was an eerie place. Still, there was something about it’s proximity to nature that made silence seem as if it was everywhere, mobile, like the world outside too was largely quiet. And in that void there were no barriers to prevent us from saying anything, yet we spoke very little. Here, silence was a bond, more still, it was an indication of something we all knew: that words can only do so much.

Because of this, it took me a long time to write this piece. I considered its central function as trying to convince you to take this march. And I still want that to be the case. But I fear what these words can and cannot do.

Faced with the prospect of explaining the trip to my expectant brother, I chose to cry in the washroom instead. It was not a cry of sorrow or some form of complaint, just tears that follow change. In this initial attempt to give him some impression of the two weeks I considered how best to synthesize my experience. But what could possibly be left to summary? What could possibly be left to gloss over? By these decisions, I was overwhelmed that day, and still am. But despite the shortcoming of these words, I rest to say you should take this journey. Because, after a time, the shock from this trip wears off, and I’m left wondering why. How could the memory of such a thing suddenly lose its hold? But it does. The emotions are gone, they fade like most things do, and you are just left with questions: Why do people do wrong to one another? Why evil? Why good? I had never asked such questions on a such an elemental level before. I was as if I were a child, struck by their equal consequence and simplicity. The best questions now seem those that I never knew existed before, ones you cannot keep asking yourself, that you cannot live without. Like this one: From Majdanek, I took a pebble. People do this sort of thing. I did too. Why?

Breen is a MRH 2016 alum, and is a graduate student studying English at McGill.

 

 

Oppression - The Human Phenomenon Humanity Can Combat - Katie Byers '14

 

I experienced the March of Remembrance and Hope in person two years ago now, but I continue to feel the experience very tangibly in my life after that unforgettable summer. There will be words spoken that resonate with a truth that was spoken by one of my facilitators on this trip, or a visual prompt that will elicit an emotion before I cognitively understand my reaction.

One afternoon when I had returned from MRH, I was playing softball; as my bat connected with the ball I looked up to track it through the air and all of a sudden I felt as though someone had punched me in the gut. My teammates yelled for me to run to first base, and I did… all the while wondering why I had this reaction. Later, as I sat on the bench, I looked up again and I realized. The school behind the baseball pitch was an old, red brick building. It had a chimney sticking straight out the top. A red brick chimney. I was suddenly back at Majdanek camp staring from the steps of the memorial at the gas chamber several yards away… with its red brick chimney.

I tell this story because this is what made me truly, fully realize the impact of the March of Remembrance and Hope. The experience is stamped in my hippocampus. I returned a physically changed person. I not only returned with memories, and a network of people who inspire me, but I returned from this journey with lasting emotion. This emotion makes me accountable to speaking out against prejudice and oppression. This emotion empowers me to feel confidence, and solidarity, in doing so. As Pinchas said to end our journey together, “I am blessed that such wonderful people come and I am able to impart my knowledge and philosophies; you each have a part of me now, and for that I am very grateful.” I left this experience indescribably grateful to have his story as a part of me. And the stories of so many others. Oppression is a human phenomenon, and only humanity can combat it.

Katie is an MRH 2014 alum, and currently works as a resource teacher for the Calgary Board of Education where she helps students adopt healthy strategies to emotionally regulate and learn.

Marching For Hope, For Then, and For Now - Pawel Zygmunt '09

How does one encompass the magnitude of the tragedies of the Holocaust? Of the horrors that took place within Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau or Majdanek? It’s almost near impossible. There are simply no words, no testament or explanation, one can offer because the entire matter itself is incomprehensible. All the Holocaust solidified for me is the deeply incomprehensible hatred Hitler had, as it led to the extermination of over 6 million Jews, a thought that still to this day, leaves me feeling unsettled, and at times even disturbed.

Though I may never completely understand the motives and actions behind this hatred, there is also still something more powerful that the emerges through this human tragedy that is often overlooked. It is the message of human perseverance in the face of adversity and death. This perseverance, propels a sense of hope because of the those who had displayed incredible levels of personal conviction, strength, grace and will. It is the qualities that were visible through the stories that had been shared with us on the 2009 March of Remembrance and Hope leadership program.

Alongside 59 other students, I got to experience something that very few get to ever do within their lifetime; being able to walk on the same pathway as the concentration camp prisoners did years ago in Majdanek to the gas chambers, or visiting the very rooms that the Final Solution was being implemented. Though such stories on the March brought about mixed feelings and emotions and warranted more unanswered questions, it was primarily our time spent with the three Holocaust survivors, that spoke volumes of the strength of the human spirit, as they had chosen to return the very nightmare they had prayed to escape several years earlier.

One moment in particular that evoked emotions of anger, sadness, helplessness, and immeasurable forgiveness within me, came from Pinchas Gutter personal recollection of experiencing the concentrations camps as a child almost alone. His personal story taught me the fragility and intrinsic value of all human life. It was enough to move anyone to tears. So we cried together, and walked together and comforted one another as best we could and in the end, it felt as if I had seen evil, hatred, pain, unconditional love, mercy and empathy all within the span of 2 weeks. It was overwhelming and utterly complexing. But it had also prompted me to advocate for those within my own community who were being oppressed.

I had begun supporting individuals with developmental disabilities, as historically, they had been segregated, institutionalized and marginalized (and continue to be) by society. I had to learn to persevere against oppressors of individuals with developmental disabilities. This is because MRH taught me the value of all human life, something that will forever be a part of me. Therefore, I encourage anyone interested in attending the March of Remembrance and Hope program to apply, because this is an experience that will change your life.

Pawel Zygmunt MRH Year 2009 Alumni. Working as a Manager of Community Supports - Assisting Persons with Developmental Disabilities at Skills Society of Edmonton. Polish Canadian.

The Impact of Building a Community - Amanda Luongo '16

I remember when I first heard about the MRH experience, although very interested and intrigued I was worried, nervous and apprehensive about applying, but I am so glad that I did! I feel so honoured to have had such an empowering opportunity surrounded by a group of incredible people. Being part of this community is something I will truly always be thankful for.

While in Europe I found myself wondering how I would connect and what I would resonate with. I found as the days went on I was pushed to think differently and to reflect on the ‘duality’ as David our tour guide explained that you experience in Poland. In a place you can easily fall in love with, I found myself trying to balance emotions of anger, frustration, sadness and times where as strange as it may sound, I was overjoyed. Through all these feelings it was when I was having authentic and difficult conversations with my peers, leaders and Elly I found the most learning and growth happening; a type of experience that could not be replicated elsewhere. I came to understand that it is ok to feel a sense of peace because of the people I was with, the work we were doing and our efforts to be ok with the uncomfortable.

Traveling with Elly, is a rare and very special experience that I will cherish forever. He is at the centre of my happiest moments. Hearing the strength, courage and resiliency that came from him pushed me to ask bigger questions and to want to return home and continue working on creating inclusive communities on our campuses. Hearing first count stories and feeling the emotion coming from him has impacted me in ways I had never imagined.

The group I traveled with was made up of some the best humans out there, constantly bringing to light that there is good in our world we just need to work a little harder some times to highlight it. Being able to explore with some of the brightest people I have met and seeing how quickly we became a family was inspiring. This journey is built in such a way that as participants you create such a strong community- one that I know will last a lifetime.

Now having returned home, I find that the more I reflect on it, I recognize that the MRH experience has both shaped and changed me. This isn’t a trip, or a vacation in Europe, it is so much more than that. You come back and realize that you want to do something about it. You want to speak up and do your part to help enact the phrase “never again”. While you are on MRH, you take time to think about what brought you there and understand why you are there, but when you are back home and unpack the many emotions you have experienced during those 9 days, you realize you cant just go on MRH and leave it in Europe, it comes with you. For some of us I know it took time to understand what that meant. That is the beauty of this opportunity, everyone is physically experiencing the same journey but we all deal with it differently and unpack in ways that make most sense to us.  The lessons learned during this time are with you in your interactions with others, it is with you in your work and it shapes the way you see the world.

Amanda is an MRH 2016 alum, and is currently the Community Development Coordinator for the Department of Student Housing and Residence Life at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus.

Perspective On Poison & Positivity - Najva Amin '16

When I was entering Day 1 of MRH, I was under the impression that I was going to go on a trip with a delegation to see firsthand the various concentration camps across Germany and Poland. What I didn’t know, however, was how each individual on our trip was carefully selected to not only bring a unique perspective to the trip but also to help create a sense of family and support as we endured some of the toughest days together reliving some of the darkest times in history.

What changed me the most was hearing the personal stories of a Holocaust survivor, Elly Gotz. Hearing how he was able to get through his hardest days allowed me to learn more about my purpose and goals in my life.

The value that is brought forward through this trip is unprecedented. Aside from being the last generation that has the opportunity to speak to Holocaust survivors, the opportunity to have some of the brightest people in Canada as part of your delegation allowed me to learn so much about others but also about myself.

What still sticks with me today is a conversation we had with Elly on how he was able to be so positive and optimistic after all that he had been through, he responded ” to hate is like taking poison and hoping the other would die”. Hearing Elly’s optimism gives me much hope and reminds me how lucky we are to have met such an extraordinary man and to have been able to be part of the MRH family.

Najva is an MRH 2016 alum, and is currently Senior Advisor, Stakeholder Relations & Operations in the Minister's Office at Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

10 Days for the Rest of My Life - Tia Eisner '16

I think one of the best things about MRH is that you get to go to all of these places with a survivor. I didn’t really understand how special of an experience that would be until we got there. You get to see everything through their lens and it is unbelievably heart breaking, but it teaches you so much more. Elly truly is a teacher and has such a capacity for life that you can feel instantly. He is such a gift.

Reading about these locations and visiting them physically are two very different things. To be very honest, I was quite afraid to go. I didn’t know how I would react or feel going to these sacred places of such horror. We were told before leaving that everybody reacts differently and that your reaction will be unique to you. Each reaction is so important because that is how you process what you have just seen. This was very true.

This trip extended past to holocaust and facilitated discussions about other issues from the past and current ones affecting humanity. I wasn’t expecting a trip into the past to be so forward reaching. I came home with a whole new perspective on how countries deal with and manage their horrid histories, including Canada.

Most of what I thought I’d react to or how I’d react to turned out to be very different than what actually was. I know one of the most moving moments for me was a room in Auschwitz that was a collection of pictures, family films, and stories before the Shoah. They were all pleasant memories of a culture that was nearly annihilated. It simply made my heart hurt like it had never hurt before.

MRH was truly among the best 10 days of my life. The family we created on the trip was unbelievably supportive. It was such a wonderful learning experience to share with other individuals who are so caring and smart. It showed me so many different perspectives on the Shoah and other issues that humanity grapples with. I believe these days were so significant because I learned and grew so much more in those 10 days than I thought imaginable.  

Tia is an MRH 2016 alum, and is currently enrolled as a student at Osgoode Hall Law School.