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Last week I visited Dachau, a concentration camp in Munich, Germany. It has always been on my bucket list to visit a concentration camp, and I am so grateful I get to say I did. To walk through the gate that thousands of people did, to read the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work sets you free) that so many prisoners read, was indescribable. Never in my life have I been to a place where there is no hope. Of all the things I saw and learned on my visit to Dachau, this is what scared me the most.
We are always taught to never give up; where there’s a will, there’s a way. I searched Dachau for this, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find it. Despite everything that occurred there, the monstrosities man can commit upon his fellow man, what was most unbelievable to me was that somehow, the prisoners found hope and reason to live—not in the place—but in each other.
At the end of my tour of the camp I watched a twenty-minute documentary summing up everything I had just seen. That was when the tears started flowing, when the enormity of the whole place smacked me on the head. The one line I remember from the film was the one that said, “People found hope in a brotherhood.” As the narrator said this, a picture of two starving men, carrying a third, flashed across the screen. No one should have survived looking like these three men did, and yet they were able to because they had each other.
The word “brotherhood” has been permanently etched in my brain since that experience. When I heard it, I thought of the sisterhood that I am a part of; that my mom is a part of, and that my entire family is a part of. This sisterhood—men and women and families who have gone or are going through breast cancer—is made up of people who live for each other. In a time where hope seems scarce, we find it in those we love, in the sisterhood. We carry each other even when we ourselves can barely move because that’s what sisters do.
I know that the world of the concentration camp and the world of breast cancer are completely incomparable, different in almost every way, but they are similar in one: the brother and sisterhood.
As I walked through the only place in the world where I could not find hope, I cannot say that I wouldn’t have given up. There was nothing to live for at Dachau. Every aspect of life was torturous. When I saw the brotherhood though, and learned of the place where these men found hope, I thought of the sisterhood and all of the people who helped my mom and my family through her cancer, all of the people who gave us hope, and all of the people who, I hope, we can help along the way. It is for this brotherhood and sisterhood that I am so thankful. It is so much more than a group of people who share a similar experience. It’s a way of life, an unbreakable bond between human beings that gives us reason to hope when there is no hope to be found. To be a part of that, even in the smallest of ways, is one of the greatest gifts I think life has to offer.