No One Can Take Away from You What You’ve Put in Your Own Mind
Lessons from the worst time in human history — to bring out the best in you.
The Holocaust taught us one thing: the enormous power of psychology.
It’s not the lesson you expected to hear. I didn’t expect to think that thought either. I’ve spent an awful lot of time researching The Holocaust. The best resources are these:
- A book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”
- The story of Dr Edith Eger
- Borat 2
Yep, The Holocaust taught us less about evil and war, and more about psychology. Have you ever wonder what many of the Holocaust Survivors did right after surviving? Spoiler: they became psychologists and psychiatrists.
A Borat Act of Racism Became a Thing of Beauty
I committed a huge sin. I watched Borat 2. The movie was terrible, mostly.
The best part about terrible movies is when you witness a scene you weren’t expecting. That’s what happened to me. Borat, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, walks into a synagogue. The plan is to make fun of Jewish people.
Borat is provocatively dressed in a costume aimed to make fun of them and their culture. He is wearing a long nose over his real nose, which makes him look like Pinocchio with an evil demon smile.
Whether it is luck or not, at that exact moment, there are two elderly women in the synagogue who are Holocaust survivors. I was expecting them to be outraged. I was expecting a fight, followed by police. Nope.
One of the women was breathtakingly warm with her smile. She welcomed Borat into the sacred place she loves so much. Writer, Jon Devore, said it best:
“She is preemptively kind and gentle with a potentially dangerous person, which is clearly a learned survival strategy.”
All those years later, when evil steps into her life, she deploys what she learned in the Holocaust.
The war is over. Humans are gone, including her family. But she has held on to the positive psychology she was forced to learn during a human massacre.
Perhaps the Biggest Concentration Camp Is Right in Your Own Mind. And the Key Is in Your Pocket.
Edith Eger is a quiet hero without a cape. It took her years to process what happened to her in the concentration camp.
At 16 years of age she was on her way to a strange place on a train with her mother and sister. The last thing her mother ever said was this:
“We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember no one can take away from you what you put into your own mind.”
Edith arrived at the concentration camp and stood in line with her family. In front of her was The Angel of Death: Dr Mengele. The doctor’s job was to select who would die and who would live from the two lines entering the Auschwitz concentration camp. Edith was in the line to enter, in front of him, to the right.
He opened his mouth and said “Is this your mother or is this your sister?”
Edit said “She’s my mother.”
Dr Mengele pointed to his left which meant change lines. Edith didn’t follow his orders and attempted to follow her mother. The doctor grabbed Edith and said these chilling words that will haunt her forever:
“You gonna see your mother very soon, she’s just gonna take a shower.”
The doctor promptly threw Edith in the other line away from her mother and sister. The line Edith was in meant “life.” The line her mother and sister were in, later, she would discover, meant “death.”
The burden Edith carried around with her was those last words she spoke to the doctor, “she’s my mother.” Those words haunted her for decades. Had she said “she’s my sister,” she would have died with her family.
The doctor later asked around for female volunteers to entertain him. Edith was put forward. She was commanded to dance in front of him. All it would take was one wrong step in her dance and she could be next for the gas chamber.
She closed her eyes and thought about her mother’s words. “Just remember no one can take away from you what you put into your own mind.” The last thing her mother ever said to her became a survival strategy.
In that moment, she had to alter her psychology, although she didn’t know that’s what she was doing. Suddenly, she heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Edith says “the barracks floor became a stage at the Budapest Oprah House.” She thought about how she was dancing for her fans in the audience.
She pictured the glow and the heat coming from the stage lights above her. Now, Romeo is lifting her high above the stage. “I danced for love, I danced for life” says Edith. At the end of her performance the audience in her head clapped loudly for her.
This was all in her imagination. She wasn’t at an Opera House at all with Romeo. She was in a death camp with an unknown expiry date on her life.
The doctor was impressed with her dance. Her reward: a loaf of bread. She could have kept the bread all to herself. But Edith was changing as a person. She shared the loaf of bread with her bunkmates.
The analogy Edith leaves us with is that the concentration camp is in our minds. You can feel like you’re living in a prison each day if you don’t choose how you want to think. You unlock your potential and find the key to the concentration camp in your head when you consciously think differently.
Suffering gives you strength.
It’s not what happens. It’s what you do with it.
Your imagination is one of the most powerful tools you have against adversity. The greatest tragedy or toughest circumstances you will ever face can ruin you, or bring out the best in you.
You decide the outcome with your imagination. Tap into your childhood imagination to set yourself free.
The Life-Changing, Reoccurring Idea from the Holocaust
Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning” is so popular, still, because it shines a different light on the Holocaust.
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
This thought is how Viktor endured his own battle in the concentration camps and came out the other side better for it. His way of thinking made him a Neurologist and Psychiatrist later in life.
He took his suffering and used it to pay the bills and provide for his family.
Viktor was obsessed with meaning. Whether he was in a concentration camp or living his life after the war, he says “life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” This is the secret he learned from the Holocaust. His enemy could commit acts of pure evil, but he could make whatever time he had left his own.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
No matter how many times I read about the Holocaust, the one recurring thought that keeps coming up from those who survived is that the meaning and purpose you have in your life drives everything you do, and the actions you will take.
I lived my life with no meaning for 30+ years until everything changed in a single day. The meaning for my life, I realized, was to serve people by writing about experiences and topics that had made a difference to me.
Spend your time finding a worthy purpose — not a grandiose hyperbole purpose either — and help others so you can add meaning to your life that will far outlive your own existence.
Your attitude is what chooses which way you will go in your life. You can always choose your attitude. Therefore, you are the ultimate decision-maker, not luck.
It’s hard to look back on the Holocaust. There were so many unthinkable acts, and crazy people who took part in the mass killing of many people. My study of the event has unearthed something I didn’t expect.
The Holocaust was a lesson in human psychology.
You inject thoughts into your mind. You give meaning to your life. You and your mind are in control of the show despite the circumstances, environment, or people who seek to harm you.
Change how you think, and all of your setbacks, problems, and misfortunes will become of use to you.