Published: 24 Apr 2020

Antonio Cossa: Resilience, in the time of adversity

As a photojournalist working internationally in the middle of turbulent world events, Antonio has had many personal encounters with people who have thrived, despite experiencing immensely stressful and often dangerous situations. Here Antonio shares with us two powerful assignment experiences from 2019, and words that we can all draw strength on.

Resilience, in the time of adversity

I would like to share with you some stories of people who have overcome and survived several crises, and today are my source of inspiration.

In January 2020, I had my first work assignment in Poland, where I was invited to cover the 75th anniversary of the holocaust survivors. I had the privilege of talking to them, exchanging experiences and learning.

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I heard very shocking stories, but always with a background of hope, they had a painful time and terrible experiences during their detention in Aushwitz concentration camp.

A survivor named Lidia Turovskaya locked eyes with me and approached me and said: 'My son, are you a Journalist?' I said yes... and asked why, and she said... 'I would like to tell you my story, because I have never told any Journalist and I feel empathy with you.

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I enthusiastically accepted it with great pleasure and said yes, because I was there for her and for all the other survivors. She, placed her hand in mine, her hand was warm during this cold winter day. I will never forget. 

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She said when she arrived at the camp, as a child, she saw her mother and other members of her family, along with the elderly and the frail, being separated and immediately executed. The others were sent to bathe, the shower rooms were being pumped with deadly poisonous gas from Zyklon- B, turning the rooms into gas chambers. In the following days Lidia saw daily mass executions, hunger, disease and torture. She was so terrified that she couldn't tell the stories in detail without shaking.

Then, in March of 2020, I went to the border of Turkey and Greece to cover the refugee crisis. I visited the worst camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos.

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The refugee camps were set up to cater for 3,000 people, today it houses over 12,000 people. It is really oversaturated, the sanitation conditions are dire, they do not have access to clean water or medicine. Many children I saw suffered from contagious infections and malnutrition.

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With all that I have experienced, I would like to share with you the little that I learned from these special people, we cannot let the barriers of life overcome our reason for living. 

Today we are experiencing the Coronavirus, it is an unknown epidemic and it is destroying lives and leaving hundreds of people in a panic and without immediate or concrete answers. We are living in a place where the enemy is unknown and invisible and only shows us bodies and no solutions.

It is indeed a situation of fear but we must not forget that we have doctors, teachers, scientists and other academics fighting day and night to save lives and to find an immediate cure to this epidemic. The world has gone through hundreds of similar viruses this is just one more. What is worse about this virus is that we still don't know its origin and we still have no cure.

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Most of Holocaust survivors and some war refugees survived because they obeyed and it does not cost us to do the same this time.

The turmoil of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has affected everyone’s lives and being out side without caution is the last thing I can recommend at this moment in time. But saying that, I don’t want you to get bored and have dull-drab time while you can’t move out from your cozy little home.

We can stay at home and be creative, read more books, seek knowledge using different platforms, enjoy time with the family and without panic or fear. Don't let the influence of the media affect you psychologically. Instead use it as an opportunity for reflection.

In 2019, Antonio appeared as a guest lecture as part of Prague College's Facing Change theme. Hear more from Antonio in this interview conducted by our student Adriana Mendez.