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.