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  • In Auschwitz today, my good friend, Ben, and I walked around in silence, trying to understand how such inhumanity could ever exist. Neither of us could.

    Every brick and cobblestone and barb and barrack was witness to unimaginable atrocities, and we could feel it. I wondered how close this environment was to the camp my grandfather experienced, and survival brought on a whole new meaning, now seeing in some ridiculously small museum-coated way, what he had to endure each day just to live to see tomorrow.

    We saw pictures of what happened to the prisoners who lost all hope. "Going to the wires," they called it. I could only look once.

    Somehow, my grandfather escaped his camp, and I don't know where he found the strength. I stood in Auschwitz today seeing a history I could not fathom, knowing nothing of what he went through, but seeing in photographs the fate runaway prisoners met when they were caught. Given those odds, I shouldn't have been standing there. I'm only alive because he survived. I wondered what he'd think of me there today, a tourist, in the country where he was born, and willingly walking into the camp where millions were forced and dehumanized.

    I can't comprehend most of what I saw. And I think that's a good thing, but I don't know if going honored or dishonored my grandfather. He refused to talk of what he went through, and I never got to meet him.

    But there was one quote we came across today that solidified the importance of visiting places like this:

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
    -George Santayana

    Ironically, Ben and I were supposed to be in Mombasa this week visiting orphanages and HIV clinics, but isolated terrorist attacks forced us to abandon our plans. The closest, fastest, and safest place we could go was Poland.

    So here we are in Poland--half of my motherland--on a new adventure. Safe and rested, wishing we could have accomplished what we set out to do in Africa, but eager to make the most of our new found plans for the next few days.

    But I can't shake the fact that our plans changed because Mombasa is facing isolated forms of terrorism, not unlike the forms that eventually led to the Holocaust.

    History DOES repeat itself, and I can only hope and pray that I can work to change that in some way. One Auschwitz in this world is more than enough for humanity to grapple with.

    Please pray for all the families being persecuted around the world. And remember that we all have a role in taking a stand against it. Tolerance and compassion. Kindness and understanding. For everyone and everything.

    Auschwitz is the most chilling place I've ever been, probably because you can feel the death there. Auschwitz was built to de-value and extinguish life, but the cold, harsh camp stands in stark contrast to the immense waves and tiny whispers of all the lives that first LIVED there. The sacredness and intangible value of life is everywhere in that camp. You can see it on the walls in the long, white nail marks that clung to the darkness of the gas chambers--etched in fear and desperation. You can count it by the mountains of eye glasses and suitcases and shoes and hair stripped from the prisoners at death and now on display in a dimly lit corridor of Block 4. You can hear it standing in front of the wall where the firing squad made daily trips with prisoners that never returned to their bunks. The silence is deafening.

    But most of all, you can feel it. The value of life. You can breath it in, from the thick, cold air. The value of life the prisoners clung to. Each to their own. Trying to survive against impossible odds. Confined by barbed wire and cement and cold and hunger. But still fighting. Still hoping. Still, somehow, living.

    Life is so precious. Don't waste it, don't take it for granted, and don't devalue another's.

    That's what I learned today. Along with this chilling history, and how it's not that different from the present. From right now.

    It's scary.

    But I take heart knowing the value of life always wins out. That's written in history, too.
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