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London, Anne Frank’s House, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living

London, Anne Frank’s House, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living

Life is made up of experiences, and I have certainly lived over the past week.

A friend of mine was joining a charity bike ride from London to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Without hesitation I signed up to retrace the Kindertransport route through Harwich, then taking the ferry to Hook of Holland where more than 10,000 Jewish children passed as they were saved from the Nazis.

A group of 18 of us had a tremendous tailwind along the seafront cycle lanes to Amsterdam. On arrival we had a tour of the Anne Frank House which describes one young lady’s story in hiding throughout the war. Our group of 20 cyclists contained a man who’s grandmother was in exactly the same situation as Anne Frank, but she somehow was never discovered. In fact, she was being hidden on the same street, just a few houses down – somehow she managed to survive.

Anne Frank Bookcase

The story told us how this young girl couldn’t leave her house, she could only carefully look out of the window. This would be torture for me, unable to exercise or explore the world, what a terrible state to be forced into for an indefinite amount of time.

Four of our cyclist group took a few extra days off work to push onwards from Amsterdam to Bergen-Belsen. We were without support as we attached heavy pannier bags to the back of our now cumbersome bikes. We arrived in Westerbork just a couple of days later, where 107,000 Dutch Jews were sent through, and only 5,000 of which survived. The place itself was not a place of death, but merely an imprisoned camp until the transport that would take you into the unknown. With hindsight, this was a waiting room for death.

Westerbork Memorial

Our group, now close knit after several days together with an emotional journey, continued on to the most beautiful cycling through the Dutch forests, we crossed into Germany on a dirt road with just a small sign to signify this milestone.

We had many discussions and conversations about what we should do today to combat racism; noting that the Nazi regime achieved their goals by slow and incremental change through propaganda. We all decided that education had to play a big part of it. Suggesting that the difficulty comes from those who are brought up in closed off families, unable to experience life outside of their narrow perception of the world.

After 6 days of cycling, we finally made it to Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp where tens of thousands were killed. The British freed this camp in 1945, just a few months after Anne Frank had passed away from Typhus.

Bergen Belsen Gates

Several survivors I have met over the years were in the Bergen-Belsen camp on that day, and so it was powerful to stand in the same spot as my friends had. The museum here was all about first hand accounts; there were many survivor interviews, raw BBC videos and many written testimonies. Particularly poignant to me was a clip of a soldier, just one year younger than myself, who was standing there, in front of piles of dead bodies from the camp in 1945 commenting on how disgraceful the whole experience was. He exclaimed that when he first saw this place, he realised what he was fighting for, he recognised what him and his fellow soldiers signed up for and what they would be willing to die for.

There are many perspectives for different topics in life, but this is the most sure things I have ever experienced: fighting against Nazi’s is one of the most clear cut things in my mind that is good in this world.

This footage also contained some disturbing images of Jewish corpses being buried by the German SS guards after their surrender. The lack of care to the dead was horrifying as bodies were dragged across the dirt into mass grave pits.

It was in this pile of people that we expect Anne Frank to have been having died of typhus just months before this footage was recorded. The faces are anonymous, and the mound too large to contemplate. Yet this was just one of many mounds in this camp, and this camp just one of far too many camps.

Anne Frank Stone Bergen

The story of Anne Frank is just one of the 6 million Jews who were killed, her powerful story has made her become the face of the faceless millions who were persecuted – not just those who were killed.

Our group contemplated the whole unbelievable situation for the remaining 50km to Hannover. Within a few kilometres we were cycling among the most beautiful forest I have ever seen, quite a contrast to the horrors that went on just around the corner.

The following day, we flew to Krakow where we joined a group of 85 others for Ride for the Living. First we would tour around Auschwitz to educate ourselves more about history, but the following day would involve a bike ride from the gates of Auschwitz to the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow. A cycle that would act not just as a memorial ride, but a ride of defiance against the Nazi’s.

Auschwitz Ride for the Living

We were lucky to be joined by Marcel Zielinski who is now over 80. He was freed from Auschwitz-Birkenau when he was just 10 years old, and ended up walking the same route to Krakow to try and find his remaining family. This year, he joined us, cycling as a free man, together with his son and two grand-daughters. It was the most incredible feeling to cycle together through the gates of the JCC. After the long journey, Marcel and I embraced with tears in all of our eyes, sad tears from remembering the past, but happy tears from making the most of today.

My closing comments to the group included quoting my Mum: “everything happens for a reason” – but perhaps this can be derived if you have a positive outlook on life. I believe that anything from the past can be overcome if you have the right attitude today. The past cannot be changed; we must learn, we must never forget, but we must also live for today and for our future. That is exactly what this whole journey was about.

March of the Living 2015

March of the Living 2015

Walking into the Bełżec Memorial, one of the six death camps established by the Nazis, I was nervous as I led 45 young professionals, from March of the Living UK, down the path into the museum.  Suddenly, my new friend Harry Olmer, a survivor from the Holocaust, grabbed my arm and led me to the museum desk.  He proceeded to open up a book and pointed directly to a picture of his mother and sister, who were slaughtered right there, on the site where the Memorial now stands.

There are very few moments in my life, if any, that have been more powerful than that. This really drives home the fact that this history is not so far in the past. Here is Harry, a dentist from Hendon, who retired at 86 just last year, just a few hours flight from London (the same distance as Spain) where his family was taken brutally from him.

Harry and the group at Belzec
Harry and the group at Belzec

“To hear a witness, it to become a witness” – Elie Wiesel.

March of the Living UK focuses on education. This year it consisted of 250 people from the UK, and over 10,000 from around the world. The UK delegation has an incredibly mature approach – to present facts, to give an experience and not push a particular agenda. We are aware that individuals have different perspectives, and that each person is entitled to their thoughts, but to not experience the detail of the story is not how the world should operate.

Education, education, education.

The content throughout was vast and full of emotion. We explored life before the War, visiting the Museum of Jewish Life in Warsaw, which described hundreds of years where Jews were mostly OK in this part of Europe, and occasionally thriving. We then saw the Memorials to those holding out until the bitter end in the Warsaw Ghetto, where brave young men tried their best to fight back.

We were audience to moving speeches from Survivors themselves, and visited just a few of the far too many sites of murder, of death, of torment, all stemming from segregation by way of the ghettos.

We visited Majdanek, a death camp that is almost exactly as it stood when it was in operation in the 40s. We were told of the clinical detail and processes the Nazis undertook to perfect the gassing of people, the harvesting of belongings and the cremating of bodies. We saw just a few thousand pairs of shoes that were left behind when the camp was liberated, the rest having been sent back to Germany. Selecting one of the shoes, we tried to imagine who it belonged to and the tragedy that they faced.

Shoes found at the camps after liberation
Shoes found at the camps after liberation

We came with an abundance of questions, and no doubt left with many more.

How can something like this happen? How can there be so few held accountable for so many deaths? What should I do now? What can I do now?

And of course, the unanswerable and torturous question of “What would I have done?“.

We asked Harry his opinion of Germans now, and with a shrug, he responded “people are people, and we have to accept them for who they are”. This comes from a man who was ripped from his family, transferred from work camp to work camp under terrible conditions with death all around, and somehow he survived the whole War.

Walking on the actual March
Walking on the actual March

March of the Living is not there to inflict depression, nor leave your eyes streaming with tears. There were of course emotional moments, however through education and experience comes the opportunity to open your eyes to some of the most incomprehensible things.

Auschwitz, a site I have visited more than 10 times now, always has something new that gets you. This time, I walked with a member from our group to the actual barrack that ‘housed’ his grandmother. It was located on a side of Auschwitz-Birkenau that I had never even walked to because it was so far away. There was a bunker, still standing, with rows and rows of bunks, essentially where this man’s grandmother would have slept. I started to process that this was where people actually were; not just a picture from a book, not just something from history, but something people we know experienced.

At the end of the day, we always have to come back to our current day reality.

Three members from our group stayed on and joined me in experiencing the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow. A community that is enjoying life and continuing to grow, a prime example that no matter the past, we must keep going.

We witnessed survivors still in the community. Pani Zosia, a member who had little/no Jewish identity throughout communism, delivered the D’var Torah to the Friday night contingent of 100 people. Mundek also sang Yiddish songs that, with the exception of the last few years at the JCC, have not been heard in this area for over 70 years. Now, the whole community is familiar enough with them to join in.

Auschwitz with the Chief Rabbi, Harry Olmer and Rabbi Gideon Sylvester
Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Chief Rabbi, Harry Olmer and Rabbi Gideon Sylvester

At the end of our six days, I asked Harry what had kept him going throughout his ordeal, but the question had never entered his mind. Harry had to keep going, he had to do whatever it took to get through, just because.

This week with March of the Living was the most valuable week of education and reflection; much more meaningful than a holiday anywhere else. Next year you should join.

Ride for the Living 2014

Ride for the Living 2014

In October 2013, I spent 25 days alone with my bike, cycling a WWII liberation path from London, across Europe, to Auschwitz. (See articles here)

It was a deeply meaningful trip, I did not want to dwell solely on the painful memories of this time in history, instead I wanted to look at the positive side of liberating Europe, the good that came with stopping the Nazi regime and celebrating the freedom we have today. Inevitably there were parts of the trip which were overwhelmingly emotional, wandering alone through the Flossenbürg concentration camp was certainly one of them, but the message of the trip was to enjoy the freedom that we now have.

On completing the trip, I spent the Shabbat in Krakow at the JCC. This centre was created thanks to Prince Charles’ ideas and WJR’s support. A place where everyone is welcomed to learn about the thriving Jewish life, in modern Poland.

Speaking to the director, Jonathan Ornstein, I realised that the bike ride should not end at the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau; instead, I should finish the journey on a high note with the welcoming, friendly and growing Jewish Community in Krakow.

On Friday 6th June 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I set out, with 14 other people from the UK, USA, Israel and Poland, to complete the journey from Auschwitz to the JCC. We began the day with some very memorable tours of the camps,then got ready to set off on the bike ride, ready to see the current strong Jewish community of Krakow.

The riders at the gates of Auschwitz Birkenau
The riders at the gates of Auschwitz Birkenau

A moving ceremony in front of the camp gates involved a member of the Krakow community, Pani Zosia, speaking about how she had lost family here; she is grateful that there is a place for her in Poland to experience her Jewish identity now.

We set off on the relatively flat 90km ride along the river Wisla. We meandered down small country roads with little traffic and surprisingly beautiful scenery as the sun shone down on us. We contemplated the freedom we have and reflected on the horrors of the camp we had just cycled away from.

A great sense of camaraderie was amongst the group as we made our way across the southern part of Poland.

Eventually we came into Krakow and began to see the Wawel Castle overlooking the river. We knew we were nearly there. A wave of relief came over us after several hours of cycling. We all rode into the JCC as one cohort, welcomed by local members of the Polish community.

90km later at the JCC!
90km later at the JCC!

After celebratory hugs and pictures we quickly showered and changed before we were kindly welcomed to join the community for Friday night Shabbat dinner. Not only did we hear some older members of the community singing Yiddish songs that used to fill the area before the War, but we met young members who were discovering their Jewish identity and what it means to them.

We spent part of Shabbat walking around the beautifully modern town of Krakow, everyone exclaiming that they didn’t expect Poland to be this beautiful; suggesting that we could be anywhere in Europe.

The evening saw thousands of people (mostly Polish) coming together to experience all of Krakow’s seven synagogues open to the public in an event called 7@nite. A great bonding had occurred between our group, and we ended the unforgettable weekend experiencing the synagogues of the town that once were overflowing with Jewish traditions and life. Unfortunately only the small community still remains today, but they are still here singing the songs and reciting the prayers.

Despite expectations that it might be difficult to ride such a long distance after seeing the horrors of Auschwitz, every rider came away with an extremely positive experience and will no doubt encourage their friends to participate next year.

Please support the cause: http://www.mywjr.org.uk/dezzymei/

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 5

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 5

Today we visited Auschwitz. This was my fourth visit to this camp but for many in my group it was their first. The expectations were set for this place to be the most intense on our trip and for many it was, including myself.

A lot of visitors exclaim how unbelievable it is, you can’t truly think that anyone would take part in such hideous crimes. A holocaust survivor on our tour mentioned that “this was the gas chamber I entered and managed to walk out of alive because of pure luck”.

Entrance to Auschwitz with the phrase: Arbeit Macht Frei - work will make you free (with the sadistic meaning of death)
Entrance to Auschwitz with the phrase: Arbeit Macht Frei – work will make you free (with the sadistic meaning of death)

Many people have asked why I keep coming back to a place like this. For me, I am still searching for some meaning in this horrible period of history. I find that each time I go, despite everything still being unbelievable, it becomes more believably unbelievable – if that makes any sense at all.

I genuinely can’t understand how the German Nazis could complete these disgusting actions, but I become less surprised by new revelations. The period of visiting gives me a time to reflect on my own life and inspires me to make sure I make the most of the opportunities I have.

One story that stands out from history, a survivor who documented his account fully after the liberation in many books for which he won many awards. However he succumb to his emotional wounds and killed himself in 1951. This idea than not only were people murdered in the camps mercilessly, but, should someone be lucky enough to survive, the damage lasted a lifetime.

This gave me an even deeper respect for the survivors, especially the ones I have met on this trip. I can only imagine giving up in their situation, and yet here they are today, walking beside us, teaching a new generation. This is an inspiration.

Gas chamber 2 at Auschwitz
Gas chamber 2 at Auschwitz

I noticed whilst walking through the gas chamber another group that seemed to be speed touring through the whole camp without much explanation of what they were witnessing and why they were there. Without a decent explanation of the site and no time for “processing” the overwhelming information, there is little meaning. The visit needs to be taken seriously.

There is much controversy over school children visiting from Poland, Germany and Israel for example. Suggesting that they could be too young at 15/16 to properly understand; in practise many kids will be messing around/not paying attention to the details and they may miss quite a lot. However, this age is the latest age that you have a state education to enforce everyone to visit. It is much better to get them to visit than to simply hope they will when they are older.

<< Day 4 – Shabbat in Kraków with survivors stories and the JCC     Day 6 – The March >>

Jewish Life in Kraków Poland

Jewish Life in Kraków Poland

After my 2222km, 25 day cycle from London to Auschwitz, which I completed alone and unsupported, I stayed for Shabbat in Kraków, a major city close by in Poland. I visited here a few years ago with my father, cousin and friend in what was a very moving trip. We visited the Auschwitz camp and traced my family roots back to the Ukraine, close to Kiev.

The Kraków Jewish community was extremely welcoming again. Both my girlfriend and I were given a delicious Friday night meal in the Jewish Community Centre (JCC). Here we met many people from Kraków and others who were visiting from all around the world.

I remember my first few weeks at the Cambridge University Jewish Society where some 50-100 people regularly attended Friday night dinners. Each week new people would come up to me: “I don’t think we’ve met, I’m X, what’s your name?”. It didn’t take long before I knew everyone, and the same friendly atmosphere was here in Kraków.

I was asked to talk about my bike ride during their weekly announcements and with the help of a volunteer, it was translated into Polish for everyone. Knowing that Jews like their food, I only gave a brief account of the trip and invited any interested people to talk to me afterwards.

Immediately the Rabbi, Avi Baumol, introduced himself to me. He only recently joined the community but was very interested in my story. A very modern and intelligent man, he understands the people, he quite simply gets it. This Rabbi is a true asset to this community.

I met several full time employees of the JCC, some of whom are not Jewish but started off as volunteers for the experience. There is no prejudice against any form of Judaism or even non-Judaism here. The Rabbi discussed that the key part of this community is not necessarily Judaism, but kindness. This is incredibly forward thinking and leads to an incredible atmosphere.

I also joined the Saturday morning explanatory service with the Rabbi and several members of the Polish community. Speaking in Polish, English, Hebrew (and I think German), we managed to discuss and learn together.

There are many examples of families that have lost a Jewish identity either because of the War or the following communist era. Today, however, there is the opportunity at the JCC to rediscover their heritage, for example some of the students are able to recognise traditions their grandparents or parents had.

There are countless stories that the Rabbi has heard in his short time here so far. Some of the older members of the community casually mention some things that both he and I are astonished by. After the morning service we bumped into Jonathan Ornstein, who runs the whole JCC here. He had just been sitting in a “Children from the Holocaust” lunch where the older lady next to him happened to mention how her mother was hidden in a small hole in a non-Jew’s basement throughout the occupation.

Whilst in Kraków I was advised to take a tour around Schindler’s Factory which has been turned into a museum; I found myself wandering around the exhibition feeling ill from learning about the torture that the Nazis inflicted on the Jewish and Polish people here. Spending almost a month solid learning about these events had taken it’s toll on me. I now understand why many of the older generation don’t like talking about the war.

My bike trip had the purpose of learning about the past and to experience this journey in 2013. What I hadn’t realised is just how important it is to have a thriving community today. The extremely welcoming experience at the JCC in Kraków showed me how it is vital that we look forward. Jewish life here is brilliant, the community is growing and rebuilding. It is important to look back and understand the past, whilst ensuring that we learn from it as we look to the future. This is certainly being achieved here and it was an extremely happy place to end to my journey across Europe.

I would like to thank Jonathan, the Rabbi and everyone else at the community for a tremendous weekend in Kraków. I will no doubt be visiting again soon.

Jonathan and Kasia, myself and Basia
Jonathan and Kasia, myself and Basia

<< DAY 25, KATOWICE TO AUSCHWITZ (OŚWIĘCIM) 42KM TODAY, 2222KM TOTAL

London to Auschwitz: Day 25, Katowice to Auschwitz (Oświęcim) 42km today, 2222km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 25, Katowice to Auschwitz (Oświęcim) 42km today, 2222km total

My final day on this journey was expectedly unforgettable. Again the weather gods were on my side as I was awoken by the sun shining on my face. I had just over 40km to reach the destination that was still so distant in my mind. I held a strange sense of excitement of reaching the end of the trip, yet knew the day would be filled with sombre emotion.

The train tracks which brought so many through the gates to this extermination camp
The train tracks which brought so many through the gates to this extermination camp

I visited Lvov in the Ukraine earlier this year (by plane) and learnt about more of the mass killings that were carried out throughout the country. Jews were rounded up and shot mercilessly, only to be buried over with no memorial. This happened in almost every town in the Ukraine, where the majority of the population was almost always Jewish before the war, and almost non-existent after. That trip was filled with sad thoughts but I found myself returning home angry. Angry that these things could ever happen in the world (past, present and future).

I found the same anger hit me whilst contemplating the last push on my journey. I screamed reaching the top of hills with sweat dripping down my face. I gave every last bit of my legs to this final day on the bike. I am a lot fitter since the beginning of the trip; I was speeding along at speeds I never thought I would be able to sustain to finish the 2,222 kilometre journey. Gritting my teeth, breathing heavily, heart pounding hard, I pushed through the familiar feeling of pain in my legs.

Outside the main gates to the camp at Birkenau
Outside the main gates to the camp at Birkenau

Finally arriving at Auschwitz I was out of anger, I had used it all up. My legs complained to me in agony, but they quickly quietened down when my mind switched to thinking about the victims of this place. 1,500,000 people were killed in this camp. Women and children innocently slaughtered because they could not work for the Nazis. Only the men fit enough to work could extend their torture by weeks or perhaps months, if they were lucky, before malnutrition, disease or an SS guard would end it for them.

Sadness now filled my mind – despite having visited here before, despite having imagined reaching this well known place, despite learning about so much death, torture and tragedy over the past 25 days on my liberation path cycle. My eyes still drowning with emotion uncontrollably.

People from the whole of Europe were brought here in a logistically challenging exercise. On arrival the women, children and elderly were set aside to go straight to the gas chambers to be killed. They were told they were going to have a shower. The men would be determined fit by one man making a split-second decision based solely on appearance.

The Nazis took all possessions from the victims of the camp, even if they were part of the 25% lucky enough to not be killed immediately. Suitcases were searched carefully for any money or valuable items before being sent back to Germany for re-use.

Approximately 40,000 pairs of shoes are on show in the museum here
Approximately 40,000 pairs of shoes are on show in the museum here

Shoes of the dead were stacked high, 40,000 pairs of them were shown in a display cabinet. They were left when the Nazis evacuated. The laces of shoes were taken out for re-use; nothing was left unused. Body hair was removed before the culling in the gas chamber and used for textiles. Gold teeth were pulled out too after death.

Another display showed empty canisters, once containing Cyclone-B pellets that would turn to gas and cause cyanide poisoning to those inside the dark and small room. Pictures all over the museum show disturbing images, including piles of dead, naked bodies that were moved about in the organised mass killings. These pictures taken by the Nazis as they were so keen on documenting everything properly.

The intact gas chamber at Auschwitz is the most emotional place I have visited. I said Kaddish as I stood alone in the room. The same place my father and I had stood several years ago, now I was reciting the same Jewish remembrance prayer. The same place where many innocent people were deceived into thinking they were taking a shower, but were really going to their death by suffocation. It took up to 40 minutes before the guards were sure everyone was killed.

There are many more lessons and stories I can tell. I strongly believe that there is a value about visiting a place like this, it helps you to grow as a person and to understand the world more. There are some things you can’t learn in books. If you can go with family or a loved one then it helps not only to be there together, but also strengthens your bond.

The outside of the gas chamber still in tact at Auschwitz
The outside of the gas chamber still in tact at Auschwitz

Finally we were shown around Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp built to increase the capacity for killing. If you take the Nazi story step by step, you can see how they moved from isolating Jews in ghettos, to moving them to other work camps, to mass killing in this fashion. It did not happen overnight and took years to get to the stage it did.

The split second selection process to determine whether you will be sent directly to death by gas chamber
The split second selection process to determine whether you will be sent directly to death by gas chamber

There were many attempts at uprisings but anyone associated was killed. The local people in the town smelt something wrong, they heard rumours about what was going on. They knew. But they were powerless as any of their attempts at resistance were immediately punished with death.

Laying the flag and tokens at the main memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Laying the flag and tokens at the main memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau

I lay my tokens next to the main monument: first a British flag which has travelled with me the whole way; sand from the Normandy beaches stormed by British, American and Canadians; dirt from the forests of Verdun where the devastating parts of WWI took place and another fight occurred in WWII; stones from outside the Nuremberg trial rooms where some of the Nazis were sentenced to death; pebbles from the Flossenberg concentration camp where many died due to torturous conditions; and conkers from the Terezin concentration camp where we were warned to walk around the tree – a health and safety rule that we take for granted today but never came into consideration during the war. Finally, I placed a piece of rubble from one of the ruins of the gas chambers here at Auschwitz where many innocent people passed. I will never forget this end to my journey as long as I live.

Final quote

I have finally finished my journey. Being both British and Jewish I have related to the places the British soldiers trod to free the enslaved and tortured Jewish people. I definitely take great pride in being both, especially now.

JEWISH LIFE IN KRAKÓW POLAND

London to Auschwitz: Day 14, Frankfurt to Aschaffenburg 45km today 1295km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 14, Frankfurt to Aschaffenburg 45km today 1295km total

I have now completed two weeks on the road with my bike. With me I have two (unnecessarily heavy) bags containing some warm and dry clothes, toiletries, laptop and bunch of cables to charge my iPod and camera. I have met lots of people along the way, but, like a cab driver or delivery man, I have actually been with only myself the whole time.

The journey is from London along a WWII liberation path starting at Westminster, to Poole in England, over to Normandy in France, down to Paris, along to Luxembourg, across Germany and finally ending at the most famous concentration camp from World War II: Auschwitz in Poland. I am just over half way through in terms of physical distance and nowhere near completing my emotional journey as there are still three camps to visit, including ending at Auschwitz.

In total I have spent every day but one cycling; that rest day involved a lot of walking around Paris and seeing museums and art exhibitions.

I am exhausted. Physically exhausted. I have had some great ups and some tough emotional reflection. But now I am just tired.

Throughout the trip I have tried to imagine climbing the cliff faces of Normandy to destroy the large Nazi stronghold at Pointe du Hoc. I looked down the Champs-Elysées as Hitler did when he invaded Paris, and as Charles de Gaulle did when he finally made it back for the liberation. I have been through the forests of Verdun which was a region of death and destruction during World War I. I pushed on through to Luxembourg, which has always been technically neutral, but was an early invasion point for Germany. I am now half-way through crossing Germany feeling a strange sense of accomplishment having come so far; but 14 days living out of a small bike bag is wearing on me. And I have another 14 days on the road. Really I am only half way.

I know that I am very sheltered; part of this trip is to take me out of that comfort zone. In order to continue working on my software projects I have not been camping but instead staying at small hotels/bed and breakfasts/friend’s flats; all with hot showers and freshly cooked food. This gives me a structured base before heading off on a daily cycling adventure, never to return to the same location.

My mind is now turning to the concentration camps; I think about the detailed torture the Nazi regime enforced on many groups, especially on my Jewish people. The atrocities are unthinkable, and even the little things stick with me.

Little things that are of such irrelevance to the big picture I shouldn’t even mention them. In my sheltered existence these little things would be life shattering for me, especially on this exhausting journey. I read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl who was a survivor of Auschwitz. One thing that I keep thinking about is not having coffee. I don’t drink a lot of coffee but on this trip it has been essential. To keep my energy levels up and ensure my mind is sharp on the roads for two weeks solid I have had to have at least one cup each day. I cannot currently imagine getting by without it. It is such a small issue but yet so significant to my everyday life.

Viktor paints a picture that you would be amazed at what stresses humans can go through and still be ok. Humans are adaptable and strong creatures. Yet I still feel dependent on coffee, I still desire a warm shower after cycling all day, the internet is essential to my life, and it is frustrating without a comfortable bed. It’s not even winter here yet I am so thankful for the shelter from the cold. Even GPS to make the travel part easier, not to mention video calls and emails to make me feel just around the corner from my loved ones.

Trying to understand what the soldiers went through is extremely difficult. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very serious issue and I cannot try and comprehend it. Exposed to so much crap through stories is hard enough for me; but living it I can’t begin to imagine. Especially whilst I sit in my warm hotel room, eating fresh Vietnamese beef and noodles, on my laptop talking to friends from home.

Moving from soldiers to concentration camp prisoners is a completely new chapter. Coffee is just one small thing that I can’t think of living without. There are so many other small things that would upset me tomorrow if I didn’t have them. Clean clothes being one of them and I am sure everyone reading this is the same.

It’s important to value the small things in life and remember that things could always be worse…

DAY 15, ASCHAFFENBURG TO WÜRZBURG 75KM TODAY 1370KM TOTAL >>