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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.

A Mysterious Underground City and a Jewish Polish Wedding

A Mysterious Underground City and a Jewish Polish Wedding

I got back late last night from a Jewish wedding in Wrocław in Poland. This was the first (or maybe second?) wedding between two Polish Jews at the White Stork Synagogue there for 50 years. Unfortunately, after the Holocaust and during the communist period, there wasn’t much room for Jewish life in this town. Today, Jewish life in Poland is not what it was before the war, but there is a strong community that is continuing to grow. This wedding is a fantastic show of the religious freedom and modern day society that we now live in here in Poland.

Jewish Wedding in Wroclaw
Jewish Wedding in Wroclaw

It was a really fun and enjoyable day which was a contrast to the day before.

My girlfriend and I drove down a day early, in search of an “Underground City” that the Germans supposedly built during the war. Wanting to learn everything at the location, I simply looked up where to go and drove there. We arrived at the Ksiaz Castle where this city was meant to be underneath. Immediately I got a horrible feeling from just standing there. I have only felt like this before in the Nuremberg trial rooms. It is hard to describe, but I just didn’t want to be there, it just wasn’t right.

Ksiaz Castle
Ksiaz Castle

Only now, after the visit, do I realise that this castle was meant to be one of the major Nazi headquarters for Hitler where a lot of the decisions would be made throughout the reign. A really evil place. This was the centre of the Nazi project Riese, the main purpose was to create a main site of control in the Owl mountains of Lower Silesia.

We eventually discovered that this “Underground City” was in fact 30km away. This was just one of at least 9 underground structures built. After a short drive we arrived at a hillside forest named Osówka. Underneath there was a vast, multi-layered system of tunnels and halls. The Nazi’s got Jews (mostly Hungarian who were sent to Auschwitz) to build this place over the course of two years. They estimate that if the war had not have ended, they would have completed the structure in another year.

Original weapons and helmets
Original weapons and helmets

Nobody really knows what these underground constructs were for. Potentially nuclear shelters, weapons storage, a treasure location, a secret laboratory…but there is no sufficient evidence for any one in particular. What is known, is that the workers were treated just as inhumanely as elsewhere in the Nazi regime. One bowl of soup a day, barely 200 calories, and long working days. If they were lucky, they would survive a few weeks. Many would die. Only a few would survive until the end of the war when the Red Army would free them. At this time, so malnourished that the Russians told them not to eat too much at once, but of course given food and not having eaten in weeks, people ate as much as they could – unfortunately their bodies couldn’t take it and 50 were recorded to have died from “overeating” after liberation.

The multi-layered incomplete underground structure
The multi-layered incomplete underground structure

This learning experience was contrasted with the happy environment of a wedding the following day. A joyous celebration of the union of two Jewish people. Finally, we wandered back to the car via the picturesque main square. A sunny day with lots of tourists, families and children having ice-cream and sweets. Inevitably however, we were reminded of the history just before we reached the car, there was a memorial plaque for the Jews killed in the ghetto of Wrocław during World War II.

The history is incredibly important and necessary to remember, but current life in Poland is as modern as anywhere else in Europe. The Jewish community is unbreakable and we will continue to enjoy such pleasures as weddings. A big Mazaltov to Katka and Sławek!

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 2

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 2

Today was a very long and difficult day. We visited the Majdanek death camp which was the most moving place I have been to.

To many of the group, it was their first visit to any sort of physical camp of this nature. Initial reactions from the main memorial overlooking the whole camp was that it was a lot smaller than they thought it would be. Several hours of walking later, they realised how big it actually was.

The camp sits in the middle of a field overlooked by a large monument. The camp always sat in an open area and on the top edge of a hill that can be seen for miles in all directions. The victims at the time walked the short distance from the drop off point to the front gates. The purpose of the camp was solely as a solution to the Jewish Problem by means of death. The majority of those arriving would not leave the first building. The initial gas chambers were just inside the gate because the Nazis wanted to get rid of them immediately. All women, children and the elderly were, without mercy, sent to their deaths here – after being shaved and undressed, humiliated for the SS soldiers to see as they poured cyclone-b into the chamber.

The Large Monument Overlooking Majdanek
The Large Monument Overlooking Majdanek

The crematorium is almost a thirty minute walk away at the other end of the camp, up the hill if you go directly. Inmates were forced to push their deceased comrades in carts up this hill for burning.

Currently the camp resides with many buildings surrounding it close by. Supposedly a lot of these buildings were not there at the time, but several accounts recall many being able to see the camp from houses.

Majdanek has a sad and horrible end. It feels as if the Nazis really won in this place. Many hundreds of thousands were killed here and when there were just 18,000 Jews left in the camp with no plans to bring anymore, they took them out to a hill and shot them all. This act was very common in many places in this part of the world, but it means to me that the Nazis were done here. They had killed the Jews they wanted to and this was the final Jewish torment.

The Crematorium
The Crematorium

Following this event in November 43, the camp was used as a POW camp by the Nazis.

A large mound of human ash is left as the final reminder. We said Kaddish (a memorial prayer) together in the group and reflected on this place. Extremely emotional.

The Pile of Ashes and the Crematorium
The Pile of Ashes and the Crematorium

To end the day we visited a rebuilt synagogue in Zamość. A town that was half Jewish before the war and only 3 now identify themselves as Jewish. Far too familiar a story in this part of the world. The synagogue will not be used for formal services, but will exist as a reminder of what was here before.

We finished with our “processing” discussion which was very interesting. Everyone always takes a different thing from their visit, some feel angry at the Poles, some feel confused by the whole thing. The overwhelming theme that I think we all agree on is the value of visiting here. To stand next to a place where “they” tried to extinguish Jewish life. Standing here is an act, an act to say fuck you to the ideals of the Nazi regime. We are still here.

<< Day 1 – Warsaw Ghetto and Uprising            Day 3 – Bełżec >>

Gliwice and WWII – Something you didn’t know

Gliwice and WWII – Something you didn’t know

Very few people actually know the details of how WWII started. Most generally know that Germany walked soldiers into Poland on September 1st 1939 and the rest of the world reacted by waging war. This is partly true, but it leaves out an incredibly interesting story that I only found by visiting the site itself.

Gliwice Radio Tower
Gliwice Radio Tower

Silesia (now owned by Poland) was an area to the east in Germany that bordered Poland. On the 31st August 1939, a day before the war is known to have started, 4 German soldiers dressed as Polish civilians making sure only to speak in Polish. Under the orders of the Nazi government, they raided the German owned radio tower in Gleiwitz with the intention of publishing a message about how the Polish were attacking Germany. A completely false act that was to be used as propaganda to the rest of the world and justification for attacking – or rather, fighting back.

A poorly coordinated attack meant they went to the wrong building where they couldn’t broadcast. Finally they found the right place and tried to get their message out, but the staff managed to cut the feed so only a few words were heard by the very small local community. A massive failure that the team were unaware of until they got back to their safehouse.

Just a few hours later, pre-prepared, a news bulletin went out in Berlin that the Poles had attacked. Germany wasn’t standing down on this act of war and the following day Germany marched soldiers into Poland.

The rest of the story we know, but this anecdote is rarely told.

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 24, Opava, Czech Republic to Katowice, Poland, 105km today, 2180km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 24, Opava, Czech Republic to Katowice, Poland, 105km today, 2180km total

So many miles from home yet I still have exactly the same possessions as I began with. Definitely moments have changed me yet so many things are still the same. I have re-learnt many life lessons from the experiences I’ve had and created opinions on the world and its people.

Perfect weather conditions
Perfect weather conditions

The weather today was perfect. Pure blue skies, very little headwind and not too many hills. Finally I was about to reach the final country of the trip: Poland. But first another reminder that the Red Army passed through here liberating it from the hold of oppressive Nazi reign.

Welcome to Poland!
Welcome to Poland!

Crossing the border I was excited for this final culture with just one more day before reaching Auschwitz, the final destination. The road on the border was immediately better paved. People were also suddenly friendlier and every smile I gave was returned, every wave saw another back. I felt great. However the road didn’t last long. It got worse and worse until it was the most lumpy broken excuse of a road I have ever ridden.

Stopping in the next town I sat in the sun reflecting how far I had come and how many places I had seen. I walked into the adjacent supermarket and something felt familiar. I felt as though I had not left the comfort of the M25. I was in a Tesco and everything was exactly the same. Except for the signage being in a strange accentuated language. I grabbed a familiar Coke bottle and paid through the self checkout in English. The world is such a big place yet sometimes things can be identical across the globe.

Norbert was the closest I could find
Norbert was the closest I could find

Just before reaching my stop in Katowice, a large monument stood for all to observe. Remembering those sacrificed for the liberation of this country. There is interesting symmetry to these memorials around the demarcation line I saw in the Czech Republic which signified where the British and Russian Armies met whilst liberating the land. The only difference of these memorials is the language.

A war memorial from the liberation by the Red Russian Army
A war memorial from the liberation by the Red Russian Army

I lay awake restless last night thinking about the numbers. I have travelled just over 2000km, thats 2,000,000 metres. Two million metres. 6 million Jews were killed in the holocaust. If there was a Jew standing at every metre that I have travelled hard over 24 days then I would have to turn back now, get home and come back again, with a Jew at every metre each way. This magnificent number is so difficult to comprehend. Having achieved such a great distance I can still but imagine this number.

I haven’t even begun to mention the soldiers from all sides as well as civilians.

The beautiful autumnal forests in Poland
The beautiful autumnal forests in Poland

My final day tomorrow will include a guided tour around Auschwitz. I have brought a British flag along the whole route and picked up meaningful tokens too: sand from the beaches of Normandy, dirt from the hills of Verdun, rocks from outside of the Nuremberg trial rooms, gravel from the Flossenberg concentration camp and conkers from the camp at Terezin. I will lay these down next to the main monument at Auschwitz-Birkenau in a moment that I have imagined for weeks.

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