At the halfway point of most European training camps, our battered bodies are given a day off. This usually involves a morning ran, sauna, and the afternoon spent shopping in the nearest town.
In Poland this week, we decided to spend our day a little differently and loaded up onto the bus at 8:30am to travel to the most (in)famous German concentration camp, Auschwitz.
After several hours on the bus we arrived at the site and joined an English walking tour. Our Polish guide toured us through two of the three major camps at Auschwitz and into various exhibitions and historically preserved sites.
Only 20-25% of the people brought to Auschwitz were given what our guide called, "a small chance at living".These were the people who passed initial screening and were deemed "fit to work"... The others were sent straight to the gas chambers.
The day was heavy with emotions and reflection. While wandering through the camp I couldn't help but imagine what day to day life was like for these imprisoned people. How did they cope with the physical and emotional pain they endured day after day while living in the most disturbing of conditions.
Some of my questions were answered during our tour and the others in a book one of my teammates purchased on the way out. The book was Viktor Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning". Written by a psychiatrist by profession and concentration camp survivor details how he strived to maintain a sense of meaning in his life despite the dark circumstances. Frankl deftly explains his perspective while living within Auschwitz as saying yes to life, in spite of everything and because of this message, the book becomes an account of hope rather than despair.
I read this book on the long drive home and reflected on my experiences of the day and how this one man could maintain such tragic optimism.
He told accounts of how he had to find small day to day humours to survive the ultimate bleakness of his own reality. He wrote “It does not matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us.”
It is in our response to the day to day opportunities and challenges that ultimately dictate our life's profession.
These messages are no less meaningful today where we live in a society with so many blessings.
At the concentration camp, we also learned that the best position to be assigned was in the warehouses where all the confiscated possessions people had brought with them were taken to be sorted and re-distributed. This job meant working inside away from the bitter weather and provided the possibility to steal away pieces of food or warmer shoes, or maybe a better jacket. These warehouses were called Canada 1 & Canada 2. Because at the time Canada represented a place of opportunity & freedom. A far off land with the possibility of a better life.
Still today, Canada is recognized as as these things if not more so. And I am so honoured to represent these values everywhere I go.
I am so lucky to be able to live the life I have and am continually grateful for these opportunities.
This trip to Auschwitz was an important experience for me to continue moving forward from the past and to carry on the message of the survivors. That message of courage, inner strength, and hope. That idea of saying yes to life, in spite of everything.
It is something I will carry with me forever.
Erica Wiebe is a Canadian freestyle wrestler and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Calgary. Her passion for wrestling and writing combine in the words of this blog, sprinkled with a strong opinion on certain matters and a hint of feminist thrown in for good measure.