This is the speech that I gave at the opening ceremony from Ride for the Living 2016 in front of the 150 participants:
Firstly, let me start off by expressing how important it is to me that through this Ride for the Living initiative, hundreds of people have come here to learn about the horrors of the past. My first visit here made me want to tell the world. I felt an innate desire, that I haven’t felt anywhere else, that everyone needs to learn about what humans are capable of. I am a well educated, self-identifying Jew in modern society, but it wasn’t until I actually came here to give some time to process it that I began to comprehend what happened here.
We all must remember the past, we must say our prayers for those who were murdered here. The crimes here are inexcusable; it makes us angry, it makes us upset. The most important first step for today’s generation is to visit, to dedicate at least a small amount of our lives to those that were lost.
Even more meaningful to me has been meeting survivors and hearing their testimonies first hand. Marcel Zielinski, who is with us today, didn’t speak about his experiences for many many years. He was liberated from here, from these gates. Right where we are standing, and had to walk, in the middle of winter, with snow everywhere and minus 20 degrees Celsius, in just his prisoner uniform, all the way back to Krakow hoping to find his family. It is a journey that we are recreating today and I genuinely thank you Marcel, and your loving family, for telling us what happened to you so that we can understand that this is no blip in history. I know it is not easy and so thank you.
After everything we have learnt, we still have to come back to today and live our lives today. This bike ride, is an act of celebrating life, of cycling away from these gates, away from this death camp, we have a purpose to continue living and this is the best revenge I can think of.
Our destination is the JCC Krakow. It is testament to the Jewish people, to the human spirit that it can thrive in today’s world literally just down the road from Auschwitz. Of course within this community we keep the holocaust in our minds every single day, but we also live. We live our lives as much as we can, taking advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. This is the best stand against those who wanted to wipe us off the earth.
If there is one thing to take from visiting Auschwitz, it is that racism, step by step, little by little, enforced by governments and society, can lead to this extreme form of genocide.
It is still so incomprehensible in our lives, yet it still happens in the world. We have seen it in Cambodia, Rwanda, Dafur. These acts of genocide are since the Holocaust. We humans have not learnt.
It is still going on – we can see it TODAY with the well reported Islamic State, and we hear about many rumours, well more than rumours in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, in Burma and Yemen, the list goes on. We humans have not learnt.
It is hard to know what to do. We can feel powerless.
However I believe we can all, together, make at least a little difference. I would like everyone to pledge something small. A first achievable step. Something that is easily attainable for when you get back home.
Perhaps it could be talking to a relative you haven’t spoken to for a long time; you could share your education from here by writing about your experience. You could volunteer at a local charity for just one hour – perhaps there is something else you have wanted to do but haven’t had the time to do it. Go and learn about a new culture that is living in your area that you haven’t yet explored.
Do something, whatever it is, but do something beyond this trip.
For everyone riding today, please do talk to a neighbouring cyclist about what you might do. Talk to a stranger and ask them what they are going to do.
After this trip we must also stand up for the oppressed. When you see intolerance in the world, whether it be about different races or religions, about a different gender, you call it out, you must stand up against injustice.
Finally as we cycle away from here, we keep what we have learnt in our minds and we keep the memory of those 6 million Jews who were murdered in our hearts. We keep the memory of the several million non-Jewish poles with us as well as the tens of millions of other innocent people who lost their lives because of World War 2. We will keep them with us forever. We vow that we will never be passive bystanders against any injustice in the world. In particular, anti-semitism isn’t going away and we must squash any step to repeat history:
From George Santayana, the quote that you see as you enter the first building in the Auschwitz museum:
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”