Today Canadians (and all Commonwealth nations) observe Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who served and/or died in the line of duty.

As Canadians, we spend much time learning about the World Wars in our academics. We have much gratitude and respect for those who serve/have served. We are proud of our freedom and are continually seeking more of it.

These past 2 months in Europe, I have visited many war museums, city history walking tours, Anne Frank’s secret annex, memorials and concentration camps. I have stopped at many Stolpersteins around Europe (google it), paying my respects. I have heard stories and asked opinions from British, German, Austrian, Polish, American, Czech, Hungarian and Dutch people.

I can tell you, my friends, that visiting these places and learning about the atrocities that took place there has been hard. I have invested this time and energy into learning more about Europe’s history for many reasons:

  • It makes it more personal. The stories we learn about in school became a lot more real, especially when I visited the concentration camps and saw the items left behind (including hair, piles and piles of hair that Germans collected from the Jews).
  • It promotes gratitude. I felt so much gratitude for my own circumstances. For my own problems and trials. For my family and my friends. For my freedom. I am not grateful for the tragedies that occurred, but am grateful that my trials in comparison are minor.
  • It educates. Learning about the propaganda, manipulation, weakening of the masses and ignorance opened my eyes to how the nazis (and communism for that matter) was able to go so far. It has made me commit to being more vigilant in educating myself and widening my views, love, and perspective.
  • It It gives me hope. Amid the rubble and the destruction of cities through bombing, in the piles of shoes, hair brushes and luggage at the concentration camps; there is proof of human dignity, honour, devotion to family, love and hope of survival. Even in the most extreme situations I heard stories of compassion, love, friendship.
  • It helps us remember.

I also want to say: I admire German’s new generation. They are pushing to candidly educate and remember their country’s history. They don’t sugar coat it. They don’t ignore it. They remember. Honour. Share. Their country’s past is not easy for them.

The Polish man who showed me around Auschwitz told me that while most people he tours only spends ~2 hours visiting the concentration camps, most Germans he meets spends around 2 days: involving themselves deeper into education, spending more time paying their respects to those who were murdered and becoming a part of projects such as restoration and education.

The above photo is a picture of me at a memorial for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It is smack in the middle of Berlin with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field (costing €25 million). The city is filled with memories & memorials, looking to heal from their past. Where else in the world do you see a city using their most prime real estate for a memorial?

I encourage you:
to educate yourself and spend time at these places.
to always, always, always fight injustice and hate
to be brave enough to challenge injustice and hate – without hesitation.

I’m sending love to all my friends around the world: Canadians, Germans, British, Polish (etc!) alike.
We are all the same and all so beautifully different. Let us celebrate that. I will remember. May we all remember. Lest we forget.