Richard Lucas 4th June 2016
Until yesterday I haven’t been to a concentration camp site since I went to the Dachau site in Bavaria in 1984. That terrible and profound experience cemented my commitment to tolerance and freedom that has stayed with me to this day.
Yesterday 3rd June 2016 I was honoured and humbled to have been part of the JCC’s Ride for the Living. See the route here
and media coverage here . I went because Jonathan Ornstein asked me a few weeks ago “Why don’t you come on the ride?” (I knew about it from last year’s TEDxKazimierz, and had not thought it was my type of thing) but found myself saying. “yes – why not” and now I’ve done it. It’s been an very profound and moving experience.
Before the gates of the Auschwitz museum at the Opening Ceremony – Jonathan Ornstein stated – calmly and clearly
“My grandparents were murdered here …”
His message reached seldom touched parts of my soul. Jonathan and the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow are spearheading a movement to focus on rebuilding Jewish life in Poland. The realisation that many of the 150 people making the 84 kilometre (55 mile) ride yesterday – were not only making a commitment to life and the future – but also honouring the memory of murdered relatives hit me at different moments in the day.
An old man, Haim (Chaim?) participating in the ride – born in during the war – told me how his baby brother had died in the forests during his parent’s escape from a Ghetto in Nazi occupied Poland – for lack of food and medicine. His name “Haim” means “life”. His life a testimony that the Nazis failed and lost.
Another participant read out a long list of his relatives who had been murdered. Totally heart-breaking to listen to.
Robert Desmond – whose ride started the whole project off (if you don’t know what the Ride for the Living is watch his TEDxKazimierz talk) told me how he had not lost a single relative to his knowledge in the Holocaust. For him (and all of us, I think) – the Ride shows that we are defiant and public in our opposition to intolerance, racism and oppression. He called for those on the Ride to do something positive during the day. I thought “at least I’ll write blog post”. I will also interview him for the ProjectKazimierz.com podcast – not just to spread the word about this project – but also his tech startup.
During the incredibly well organised day, a heroic team of volunteers and leaders from the JCC: Sebastian Rudol, Agnieszka Giś and dozens of others supported us. (apologies for anyone omitted). The well equipped, organised, and professional police kept us safe (Polish style) on the public roads. Many of those spectating as we cycled by smiled or waved (inevitably once in a while an angry driver sped by, dangerously close and fast. Bad driving is a disgrace every day of the year .
Any time I thought of my sore backside, aching knees or sunburned skin, I just reminded myself of the torture, murder and misery of the war, the broken hearts and minds, left behind afterwards. Even though my pain was real it was also nothing.
I’m neither Jewish nor Polish, though I’ve lived in Kraków, Poland for more than half my life. The Ride for the Living feels important because it is so aligned with my core values, namely:
1. No matter what has gone before – we are alive now – What we do now is under our control and is our responsibility. We are going to be remembered for the things that we say and do.
2. We should know the past. I don’t recommend clicking the following links if you want a happy day, yet it is important to remember the countless lesser know places of terror like Ivano-Frankivsk here in Ukraine, That people like SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Krueger really existed and that their crimes against Poles, Jews and others were almost beyond comprehension. Individual people were responsible for what they did, The millions of deaths were made up of disgusting crimes like these. The Dachau I saw in 1984 was just one hell hole of so many.
3. That it is possible to change the world for the better . That those in favour of tolerance and freedom, and living a better life now can take action. In the words of 91 year old Professor Wojciech Narębski – here on the TEDxKazimierz stage in 2015 – “if you are lucky enough to be alive and free, and to have a family – you should appreciate your family, your life and your freedom, and do something worth doing with your life.” The Ride for the Living raises money for good causes and awareness – both “never forget” and “celebrate life”.
4. There were smiles and laughter and talk about plans for the future. It is hard to make sense of the atmosphere. At a deeper level, whatever we do – can be done in a more or less positive way. The Ride for the Living is a terrific example of how to do things right and at scale.
Thank you and respect.
I don’t feel I have done full justice to my feelings about yesterday – This is a start, in the words of my father J R Lucas “the best is often the enemy of the good”. I hope this is good enough for today.
If you want to know about Jewish life in Poland watch this TEDxWarsaw talk by Rabbi Michael Schudrich (note the subtitles… which I am proud to have contributed as part of the TED Open Translation Project -meaning the talk is available in Hebrew and Korean as well as English). Watch this video to understand why I was inspired to work on Rabbi Michael Schudrich’s talk. If you want to know about the JCC watch Jonathan Ornstein‘s TEDxWarsaw talk here