In Spite of Darkness
A Spiritual Encounter with Auschwitz
Auschwitz has become a historical symbol of what happens when the world chooses to remain silent if only for an instant. The sheer horror of its roots has turned this death camp into a sought-after destination for daily streams of tourists from all over the world. How can an encounter with this horrendous place become more meaningful to its visitors instead of being seen as just another attraction?
New York Zen Master Roshi Bernhard Glassman asked himself this question and his answer led to the birth of the “Auschwitz Retreat” as a way of bearing witness to what happened at that location. In November of 2006 Glassman invited about 50 people from all around the world with different backgrounds, faith traditions, and belief systems to this retreat. He wanted them to look Auschwitz in the eye and face the horror that it stands for.
The participants were invited to spend five days in meditation, prayer, and sharing on the very grounds of this well-known termination camp. The objective was to find peace and healing in a place that was meant for death and destruction. This encounter included Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. And in a powerful moment, the descendants of victims came face to face with the descendants of criminals.
The film follows five of the participants and zooms in to what happens within them as they walk on the grounds of the place where evil reigned. As they are changed, some old beliefs are challenged, old wounds are torn open, and then reconciliation and healing begins.
The journey begins at the old Jewish ghetto at Krakov where the participants visit the one remaining active synagogue. The other synagogues that are still standing remain empty or have been turned into museums.
Before the gas chambers were built, all the prisoners that had been randomly selected to die would be lined up at one particular wall and shot. That wall is now known as ‘The Killing Wall’ and just to walk by it stirs up many deep emotions. Visitors leave notes, candles, flowers, or other tokens to honor the innocent lives that were ripped away at that wall. In that spot, two survivors joined the participants to talk about an old experience that’s still quite visible.
As they tour the grounds in silent meditation, participate in spiritual rituals, and enter the very rooms where the distress of the victims can still be felt, the question inevitably arises: has the world learned anything from Auschwitz? Watch this film now.