“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl
Last year I had the incredible chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Words cannot describe this place, nor the pervasive sense of sadness that emanates from every corner. It wasn’t a place where you could laugh or smile, it was hard enough to find the words to simply talk to another person while there. I vividly remember walking into the “Auschwitz 2” portion of the camp (the purpose built death camp) and there was a group of high school or college age students walking out talking and laughing and I wanted to yell at them to be quiet to have some respect and appreciation for this place and the evil that had happened there less than 75 years before. It was just not a place for laughter.
A view through the wire to the gatehouse at Auschwitz-Birkenau
I first read Viktor Frank’s book Man’s Search For Meaning over 25 years ago and have long considered it to be one of the top ten, or perhaps top five, books that I have read in my lifetime. Until I visited Auschwitz I don’t think I truly understood the depth of meaning that was captured in these pages. The difference that happens to a person when they have a purpose, a meaning, a reason for living is simply astounding. If you haven’t read this book I highly encourage you to do so. I recently picked it back up and find the words even more powerful now than in my previous readings. If you ever have the chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau it is an experience that you will never forget. No one should ever forget what happened there…
We have the power to choose our attitude. We have the choice of being a victim or an owner of our own situation and how we react to it. This is incredibly powerful. It is what separates those with purpose from those who are simply existing through life. It might be the “last human freedom” as Viktor states it but I believe it is the most powerful and impactful freedom we have as mankind. God gave us this gift of choice, the freedom to choose how we react, what we choose to focus on, how we choose to respond. It is an incredible gift and blessing, one not to be overlooked or swept away.
I hope and pray that no one that I love will ever have to endure anything remotely close to what Viktor, and millions of others, experienced during the Holocaust. It is important to realize that the powerful lesson in this message doesn’t apply only in the most extreme circumstances, it applies every single day. How we frame our lives and the intentional purpose that we are seeking to fulfill, is what I pray for myself, and those that I love to find on a daily basis. It is a choice. One that we all have…