History is a strange thing. It is marked with the deeds of men, good and bad. But if you think about it, every choice and every decision made to this point in history has gotten us to where we were at. One change in the timeline and you or I may not even be here. Everything had to happen exactly as it has for us to be at this point in life. If you stop and let that sink in a second...it's pretty freakin' incredible. And we are pretty darn lucky. It is truly humbling. What is even more humbling is that if you study history, you will find some of the most amazing stories of courage, leadership, and heroism that you have ever heard. These amazing stories not only help you to understand true courage, but also help you understand the depths of which we as humans beings are willing to go for our fellow man.
Below are three stories of incredible courage and heroism to inspire you in your life to become who you were truly born to be and reach your full potential.
Witold Pilecki, The Polish Man Who VOLUNTEERED For Auschwitz
There was no greater hell than the Nazi death-camps, especially Auschwitz. The camp was located in southern Poland and was the largest of the concentration and extermination camps.
During World War II, millions of Jewish people and perceived enemies of the Nazis were sent to their deaths in concentration camps. One of them was a volunteer.
Witold Pilecki, at almost 40 years old and a veteran of the Polish-Soviet War, hearing about the atrocities of Auschwitz, volunteered to be imprisoned at Auschwitz to secretly collect intelligence and then escape.
While in Auschwitz, Pilecki was responsible for informing the Allies of the atrocities happening and organizing a resistance movement.
In 1943, after three years in Auschwitz, Pilecki escaped. He took part in the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 and served the London-based Polish government in exile, but was executed in 1948 by Stalin's police for “foreign imperialism.”
Pilecki's exploits were suppressed by the Communists for years and it wasn't until 1989 that the world heard of this heroic man and his bravery.
What does it take to volunteer to go into the gates of hell with an almost certainty in your fate (death)? Can you imagine what went through Witold's mind? I imagine things things like, "I am giving up my life. I am willing to sacrifice everything because it is the right thing to do for mankind. Maybe, just maybe, I can make it out alive and help others..."
Winston Churchill famously said, "If you're going through hell, keep going." On it's surface, to most it is a platitude, but when he said it, he was really dealing with hell on earth. Whatever your problem, whatever your challenge, it pales in comparison to what others through history have gone through and for what others have volunteered to do in the bleakest of times. If you are going through you own personal hell, don't stop, don't give up. Keep going.
Juliane Koepcke, The Girl Who Lived
As her plane came apart in mid-air over Peru, I cannot imagine what was going through Juliane's mind. She was 17 and had her whole life ahead of her. She was traveling with her mother, a Zoologist, to meet her father, a Zoologist as well, in the Amazon jungle. Her plane was struck by lightening and lost a wing. She stayed strapped to her seat as she plummeted 10,000 feet to the jungle below.
Somehow, she lived. She was the only survivor, with a broken collarbone and maggot infested wounds. She remembered one thing from her father and mother, "follow rivers downstream as they lead to civilization." She walked and swam through the Amazon for 10 days with no food, somehow avoiding piranhas, crocodiles, and everything in between. Finally, she found a shack where she held up and was found.
Juliane was no different than anyone of us, except for a few things. First, she was extremely lucky to be able to at least walk away, despite injuries, from the plane crash. Second, and this is the reason I picked her for this article, she refused to give up or give in at all cost. She had little survival training, except for an insatiable yearning to live. The human mind and spirit is so much more powerful than we give it credit for. It can propel us to levels and places that we never dreamed of. When the mind and spirit take over and the WILL to do something grabs us, there is nothing we cannot accomplish, no matter how much pain or obstacles stand in our way.
Use your mind to your advantage. Use your power to propel you. Never, ever give up on your dream(s). Never give in. It has to be won in your mind before it is won in your body.
Louis Zamperini, Olympic hero, WWII bombardier, plane crash survivor, POW, and survivor of post-war turmoil
In recent years, the story of Louis Zamperini has been told in book and movie form. But it took decades before it came out. I first learned about Louis story over a decade ago after hearing him speak. He was the most humble and straightforward man I had seen speak. There was no sugar-coating what he went through. 99.9% of people would not survive even the beginning of his ordeal, let alone all that he went through.
Louis was an Olympic hero at the Berlin games shortly before WWII. In fact, he was touted as the first human fast enough to break the 4 minute mile. As WWII came, he enlisted and his bomber crashed over the Pacific. He spent 47 days at sea, losing one of the 3 men with him. With almost not supplies he was able to catch fish and figure out ways to survive the 2000 mile "drift" he went through before he hit land and was captured by the Japanese. His time in a life-raft is still the longest ever recorded. But, where did he come ashore? Basically on the worst Japanese torture island in the Pacific. He survived there and was transferred to Japan where they figured out who he was (US Olympian), tried to use him for propaganda, tortured him worse than you can imagine.
He was rescued as the war came to an end inland in Japan where he was working a coal mine as a prisoner. He would never be able to run again and upon returning suffered from severe PTSD (they didn't know what that was back then). He became an alcoholic and almost died. He was eventually saved by the woman who became his wife and Billy Graham, nonetheless. Keep in mind, he still had most of his life to go at this point! Reading what Louis endured is enough for multiple lifetimes.
There is so much to learn from this story and I urge to read the book about Louis' life, Unbroken. And that is really the point of tell you his story...you can bend, you can come under tremendous stress, pressure, even torture, but you don't have to, no, you must not break. No matter what you believe, God, the universe, whatever you call gives you what you are capable of handling...whether you know it or not. Louis story comes down to one simple thing, BELIEF. The power of unshakable belief has propelled humans to just about everywhere they thought was not possible. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Don't just say it, cement it in your soul. Believe in the possibility of greatness for yourself and it will find you.