Auschwitz Today: Respect or Selfies?

I sat last night with one of the other guests at my bed and breakfast in Toronto.  He’s a Polish fellow living in Ireland.  On a visit home recently, he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Nazi soldiers killed over a million Jews, gypsies and members of other groups whom they deemed “sub-human”.  My new friend was “devastated” by the experience, overwhelmed with the pure evil, and with the suffering endured by men, women and children.

I asked myself how I’d ever cope with seeing the horrors of Auschwitz.  I shut my eyes and went to bed.  I knew I wanted to write about this, but my fingers, mind and heart had nothing left to give.

This morning, I went to Google, looking for more details about Auschwitz.  I didn’t know what I wanted to say but I knew something would come.  What showed up was a YouTube video spoken by Patrick Ney.  I don’t have to say anything more.  Patrick knows the way.

I first went to Auschwitz concentration camp in 2012.  And as somebody who had read a lot about the history of that place, and had watched a lot of documentaries, it was something that I was dreading.  But I was also in a kind of way looking forward to it.  To go to a place where the absolute worst things that humans have ever done to other humans, was an honour.  But unfortunately my abiding memory of visiting that place isn’t actually about what happened.  It was the behaviour of the people who were there with me.

As we walked into the crematoria at Auschwitz 1, a couple that were in the group that I was in, decided that it would be a good moment to start kissing each other.  When we walked into one of the barracks where shoes of the Jewish victims at Auschwitz concentration camp were displayed, our guide asked us not to take any photos, and not to take any photos of the shoes or the human hair or the suitcases, because these are the possessions of people who have been murdered.  And the first thing that every single tourist that was in my group did was whip out their phone and take a photo.

And unfortunately, to my undying shame, I said nothing.  I did nothing.  I stood there disgusted and angry, more angry even at their behaviour than at what I was actually witnessing.  Because it was so horrible to see the way that people coming to this place, this terrible place, treated it, almost as if it was an amusement park.

So in recent months where news reports have shown how people have been “ticking off their bucket list” by visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, taking happy, jolly selfies – people from all sorts of different countries – regardless of where they’re from, you just feel absolutely sick to the stomach.

I went to Auschwitz recently to record a film about a Polish priest who sacrificed his life for that of a stranger.  And unfortunately, on that visit as well, spending two days at that camp, I saw exactly the same behaviour as I’d seen on my first visit.

And you know what?  If you can’t behave in the right way when you go to Auschwitz concentration camp, or any other place where the mass extermination by the Nazi Germans during the Second World War took place, don’t go.  If you can’t treat that place with respect, if you can’t focus all of your energy and your effort on the victims, the people who were tortured and murdered in the most bestial way, then don’t go.

If you don’t have the empathy to understand what happened at these places, you don’t deserve to go there.  It’s not a holiday.  It’s not a special treat.  And it certainly isn’t ticking something off your bucket list.  It’s your obligation as a human to the human race.

Amen.

***

Here’s a sampling of the comments people posted about Patrick’s video and Auschwitz:

1.  It just astounds and shocks me that a human being could do such evil to another human being.  It’s so very heartbreaking.  We can never let this happen again.

2.  Where is the proof that 6 million people vanished from the face of the earth or is it something we were told to believe?

3.  Great video, respectful and informative and difficult to watch at times.  Thank you.

4.  Even as a tourist, tourists piss me off.

5.  Nothing is like seeing it in person although this comes close.  There is something about it.  Like there is a powerful energy that’s extremely depressing.  You can get very emotional if you feel things deeply.  But it was a moving experience.

6.  And how did they get about 24 million tons of coke or coal into the camp?  Where did they store it?  How was it moved around the camp?  Never see any pictures of any coal trains, mechanical shovels, fuel bunkers, do you?  Where is all the ash?  And if the transport trains were in the camp, how would they get the coke in to burn 8000 bodies a day?  Maybe a bit of critical thinking instead of bullshit might go a long way here.

7A.  Everyone’s got it all wrong about Hitler.  He was made to look like a villain because he went directly against Zionism and freemasonry, so they decide to make an example of him.  More that half the shit we’ve learned in school is a completely fabricated lie.

7B.  You are a complete moron and a wannabe goosestepper.  Garbage like you keeps hate alive.

8.  We visited Auschwitz on my school trip at the beginning of 2017.  My classmates normally behave quite childishly and make jokes throughout the classes all the time.  It truly was a shock to me how respectful they all were.  No one looked on their phones, nobody talked loud, etc.  Just looking around, thinking and talking with each other about the events that had taken place in a very mature way.

Enough

My family of professionals were always struggling to learn more and to be more. It seemed there was always more. It was never enough. If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father would ask “And what happened to the other two points?” I pursued those two points relentlessly throughout my childhood. But my grandfather did not care about such things. For him, I was already enough. And somehow when I was with him, I knew with absolute certainty that this was so.”

Rachel Remen

Rachel is pointing to the common stance that who I am, and who you are, is deficient. Sadly, many of us buy the idea. And so we launch a quest to find that elusive “enough”. But I don’t think we’ll ever get there within that mindset. Goal #1 achieved leads immediately to Goal #2 pursued, or Goal #1 enhanced.

I like what grandpa brings to the world. “Sure, strive to improve, but who you are is just fine.” We all need to hear this. Completely separate from our abilities and disabilities, we are golden, shining like the sun.

May you have someone in your life who looks deeply into your eyes and sees beauty there. Someone who nods and smiles when another mentions your name.

My dad was my biggest cheerleader. When I got zero in a university course because I didn’t hand in the one assignment, he sat with me and helped me plan for the future. When I told him that I wanted to hitchhike from Toronto to Alberta (a distance of 3500 kilometres), he said “Go explore” and drove me to the on-ramp of Highway 400. Did I make mistakes? Many. Did he know about them? Yes. Did he keep loving me unconditionally? You bet.

Now I’m a grandpa figure in a class of 11-year-olds. I get to look into their eyes and have them see that all is well. They deserve to know that they are truly worthy of respect, appreciation and love. If I can do this, maybe they’ll pass it on twenty years from now.

And the world will be a better place.

Commercials

I watched a lot of tennis on TV today and so I watched a lot of commercials.  I bet I’ve seen a few of them twenty times.  What do you figure is the impact on kids of seeing this one over and over again?

Imagine a ticket counter at the airport.  Person after person asks the female employee “Is there any chance of an upgrade?”  One handsome man asks her “Have you thought about being a model?” The thing is, that according to Hollywood standards, this woman isn’t particularly attractive.  I can see an young onlooking mind ask himself or herself “How could she ever be a model?”  How easily sexual stereotypes and the relative valuing of people can be passed down to the new generation.

Here’s the next one:

A chef is working with his two assistants to create a delicious meal, while a technician is installing cable TV in the room.  The boss puts his spoon into the pot and samples the contents.  Then his wrath is turned onto his female sous chef: “You need to taste it first and then season it!  Yuh!  I wouldn’t serve that to my dogs.”  It’s hugely demeaning.  Again, the woman is not what the culture says is beautiful … and seconds later she is gone.  Okay, kids, what did you get from this one?  That it’s okay to insult your employees?  That public shaming is just fine?  So very sad.

And finally:

A young woman’s car breaks down on the freeway at night and she pulls onto the shoulder.  She’s scared.  And she’s alone, except that her dad is on the phone.  “It’s okay, Amy.  Did you put your flashers on?  >  Yeah  >  Don’t get out of the car.  Hey, don’t worry … help is on the way  >  Thanks, dad.”  Due to the phone company, emergency road service will be there soon.  Dad gives his daughter love, calm and safety.  Are you listening, kids?  This is what human beings need.

I suppose you might say that at least there was one humane commercial.  Well, that’s not good enough.  No more nasty chefs and syrupy passengers, please.  Just give me kind human beings.

 

 

 

 

A or B?

Unity – the state of being made one; a condition of harmony

Separation – a break; a place where a split happens; an intervening space

Awakening – an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something

Dormancy – something that is not active or growing

Intrinsic – belonging naturally; essential

Extrinsic – not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside

Mutual – feeling the same emotion, or doing the same thing to or for each other

Unilateral – (of an action or decision) performed by or affecting only one person involved in a situation, without the agreement of the other

Emergence – the fact of something becoming known or starting to exist

Stagnation – the state of not flowing or moving

Contact – the act of touching each other

Avoidance – the act of keeping away from

Resonant – something with a deep tone or a powerful, lasting effect

Muted – not expressed strongly or openly; (of a musical instrument) having a muffled sound as a result of being fitted with a mute

Transcendent – describing the rising above something to a superior state

Mundane – very ordinary and therefore not interesting

Include – to make part of a whole

Exclude – to shut or keep out

Love – an intense feeling of deep affection

Apathy – lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern

Athlete

I’ve been worrying about my cross-Canada cycling trip. The same old refrain: “Too old. Not strong enough.” Happily though, in the past few weeks fear and excitement have switched places. I’m far more in touch with the thrill of it all.

Still … I’m scared.

A month ago, my doctor asked me to have an EGG done. The results showed some “irregularities”. So Julie prescribed a treadmill stress test. Sure, why not? Cover the bases.

I talked to a few friends about the test and their basic response was “No sweat. You just walk slowly.” Didn’t sound like much stress to me.

It happened yesterday. Shorts, t-shirt, running shoes, electrodes on my chest, leads running everywhere. I looked like a member of the Borg, a sinister race of machines/humans on the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show.

And then the fun began. This was no walk in the park. Speed increased, as did the tilt of the machine . Sweat made its appearance, in large quantities. This was the MAXIMUM stress test. After 15 minutes or so, the deed was done. I was winded but doing fine. The doctor had engaged me in conversation about my bike ride the whole time and I had no problem keeping up my verbal end.

Now the results: “It took you 12 minutes to get your heart rate up to 90% of maximum. This is very unusual [i.e. good] for a 69-year-old. It’s more like what I’d expect to see with someone in their mid-twenties. You’ll be fine on the ride.”

Well …

I’m fine. I’m strong. I may even be amongst the fittest of the 20 Tour du Canada riders. I’m pleased and shocked.

The mythical “they” say that achieving any great result is 90% mental. And my mental just zoomed through the stratosphere.

What’s true? I am an athlete. Like all my fellow cyclists, there’ll be times this summer when I’m exhausted. But I can do this. I am doing this. See me fly!

Issuelessness

I’ve been listening to some of Patricia Albere’s conversations on the Evolutionary Collective website.  One in particular has stopped me in my tracks … the perception of issuelessness.

Can it be, that although problems will keep arising in my life, I don’t need to feed them energy?  I don’t need to define something as an issue, and allow it to bring me down.

I’m riding my bicycle across Canada this summer.  Last week, at the school where I volunteer, kids challenged me to run the 800 metres with them.  So I did it!  And now my ankles are nicely swollen.

So … issue or no issue?

In another realm, I look back at my life and the experiences that brought me joy.  I used to be an artist, creating batiks, a process of dyes and waxes on fabric.  Also, I’ve collected thousands of quotations, with the intention of sorting them into categories and publishing a book chronicling the world’s wisdom.  Will I return to these prior passions? I don’t know.

Issue or no issue?  Important to return or not?  One voice tells me to resurrect these activities and another says let them go.

I go back and forth in my assessment of realities: swollen ankles, no batik and no volumes of wise words.  In my better moments, there are no issues.  I feel such freedom, such peace.  And then there are the times I spend behind bars.

Such a work in progress, this living.

Finding Your Feet

What a glorious movie!  I saw it tonight at the Hyland Cinema in London.  Take an upper crust 60-something wife (Sandra) who has been dumped by her husband for a younger woman, put her into the ramshackle apartment of her free-spirited sister (Bif), and watch life evolve.

Mrs. Socialite was such a privileged bitch for much of the movie, tearing down the people around her as she was overwhelmed by pain.  Sis got her out to a dance club where she first of all refused to join in but memories of her childhood dancing, aided by a video of her as a kid (supplied by Bif), slowly led Sandra to move her feet again.

We learn of Charlie, a friend of Bif, who is accompanying his wife on the last stages of her Alzheimer’s disease.  It was so heartbreaking to see him reaching out to her while she slapped him away, not recognizing her husband.

Gradually Sandra lets herself have fun again, especially in the dancing, and she and Charlie do a lot of smiling together.  But she’s afraid of being hurt again and stands back from him some.

As Bif is dying from stage four lung cancer (the very disease that took my dear wife Jody), she thinks of her true love who was killed in a car accident.  She chose never to give herself to love again, and pleads with Sandra not to make the same mistake.

Many, many slices of life flowed across the screen.  It was all very real.  I often saw my life.  I bet others in the audience did too.

Sandra eventually chose to make a leap of faith.  As the credits rolled, the song “I’m Running To The Future” blasted our souls and we the audience applauded in recognition.

And now I look at me.  It does feel that I’m running to whatever’s next.  What will the bike ride across Canada bring to me?  Where will my Mutual Awakening practice with folks from around the world have me land?  And who will I be in the years to come?

I welcome the unfolding

A Tale of Two Teams

I spent the afternoon at a high school in St. Thomas, watching a basketball tournament full of Grade 5’s and 6’s.  I knew I’d love cheering on the girls and boys from the school where I volunteer.

There was a stark difference in results.  The girls lost their four games and didn’t make the playoffs.  The boys won everything … champions!  Both teams had struggled in the regular season so the boys’ explosion of offence and smothering defence were unexpected.

You might think that the contrasting results would produce different behaviour during the games.  Think again.

They’re all great kids and it shows up on the court.  Male or female, they cheer their teammates’ sweet plays and give them a pat when things go bad.  And they’re so intense! Blasting down the court with the ball, going wide around a defender.  Coming back furiously to cut off an opponent dreaming of an easy layup.  Rolling on the floor clutching at a loose ball.  Finding an open teammate with a cool bounce pass.  All marvelous.

The best for me was that I couldn’t see any drooping heads when the score was climbing against them.  Just keep pressing and enjoy the conversation when you’re on the bench.

When I was growing up I wasn’t on sports teams (except for Grade 9 football, when I never got into a game).  These kids have an opportunity that I didn’t give myself.  Good for them.  They’re learning about jump shots, hand-in-your-face defence … and life.

Give ‘er!

Not Necessarily So

Tonight I went to hear Archie Fisher, a British singer-songwriter, at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London.  Here’s what I know:

1. It’s important to get there early.
1a. I got there at the last minute.

2. It’s important to sit near the front.
2a. I sat in the back row, virtually the only seat left.

3. It’s important to see the performer.
3a. I could see the back of Archie’s head.

4. It’s important to hear every word.
4a. I couldn’t understand a lot of the lyrics.

5. It’s important to remember the words and Archie’s comments that I loved.
5a. I’m sitting here not remembering any of them.

***

I loved the concert.  Archie’s spirit filled the room.  We laughed, again and again.  Occasionally I was close to tears.

I watched the people in front of me.  A man’s hand over his wife’s shoulder.  A young fellow singing along.

I bugged a woman in the next row and to the right.  “Would you please move?  You’re blocking the wall.”  She chuckled.

***

A standing ovation
Smiles all around
All is well

A Beating Heart

I’m thrilled that the lot where my new home will stand backs onto a farmer’s field.  It’ll be corn this year and beans the next.  Beyond the field, the land slopes up so my horizon is dotted with farm homes and silos.    Oh my.  I love long views and come September I’ll have one.

As an expression of obsession, I showed up yesterday after sunset.  The sky was still pink to the west and the spread of clouds above me covered the world.  I was in big sky country.  Dots of farmstead lights comforted me … my neighbours were home, enjoying their cozy living rooms and kitchens.

But what’s that?  A flashing dot of red way to the north.  I contracted.  It was the same reaction as I have seeing flashing Christmas lights on a house – no!  It brought up pictures of industry, stores and a frantic pace.  That’s not what I want.  But it’s what I will have.

I watched my body and my feelings fall on the negative side.  “Just be with it, Bruce.”  And I did.  The beat was slow, maybe 40 a minute.  As I gazed northward for awhile, there came a shift in energy, just a bit at first but then a stream and then a flood.  The light was love.  It was a heart.  It was Jody.  It was all the folks that I hold dear.  I kept looking.  The speed of the city intruded a bit but then gradually faded into the rhythm of life.

As I explored the perimeter of my lot in the darkness, I discovered that at certain points trees hid the telecommunication tower.  No red.  Disappointment … glee … disappointment.  So in the fall I’ll be able to embrace the heart or let it step aside.  To see a symbol of civilization or to feel the farms.  Life will rush towards me either way.