Are we "worthy of our suffering"? What Viktor Frankl meant 70 years ago and even today: The relevant lessons of the 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz and the Holocaust

On February 12, 2015, Dina and Jonathan Leader created and sponsored a 70th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony of the Liberation of Auschwitz Event at the Center for Jewish History.   Many Holocaust survivors, WWII veterans, and people of the general public came out to this event, despite the fact that this ceremony had been postponed from the actual anniversary due to New York City snow storms in the last week of January. Attendees and organizers felt this Anniversary was just too important to let pass without proper recognition and remembrance. The purpose of the event was simply to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.  However, the benefits of the event were twofold:

Firstly, it validated and honored the post- traumatic memories that these Holocaust Survivors have been living with for the past 70 years in a respectful and real way.  Secondly, this commemoration, as well as the other commemorations held for this worthy anniversary, brought the "concept of Auschwitz", an internationally recognized symbol of the entire Holocaust, into the forefront of facing our realities of today, namely racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. 

In their later years, these Holocaust survivors have a deep yearning to tell their stories, but not just for history-sake.  They yearn to teach the world to choose love and peace over hatred and discrimination, and they feel it is their mission and duty to give their “first-hand account" of what happens when humans make the wrong choice. 

As survivor Mr. Roman Kent eloquently said at the main ceremony in Auschwitz on January 27th, 2015 where 40 government representatives from different countries gathered,” We do not want our past to be our children's future. If we were to forget then the conscious of mankind would be buried alongside the victims." 

I have been fortunate to work with a large group of these heroic human beings, namely the Holocaust survivors in my role as director of the Connect2 program at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island. I have been privy to the messages and lessons they have at their fingertips to pass on, their "lessons of survival" if you will. The biggest thing I learned was that I finally understood Viktor Frankl's catch phrase in his famous work, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote after surviving the Holocaust. ”Are you worthy of your suffering?" It just sounded like a fancy philosophical phrase to me in the past. However, after working with these folks for a few years, I realized all the survivors I knew were worthy; meaning they had an intrinsic sense of self-worth, dignity, and pride which is rare in our times. Building on this concept, I then learned their secret to survival is that their self-worth and respect for themselves extends to everyone else in the world around them. Everyone includes showing respect, kindness, and gratitude to anyone and everyone around them regardless of race, religion, or culture.  These lessons of how to survive, and more importantly of how to live be what I learned from working with these Holocaust survivors. I believe these are the very lessons they want to leave the world with at this 70th anniversary, which many have noted may be the last significant commemoration. 

Let us strive to honor these Holocaust survivors’ last wishes and NEVER FORGET.

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