“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” Elie Wiesel

Holocaust survivor cycles road he walked 70 years ago from Auschwitz to Krakow


hree generations of the Zielinski family cycled the 110 kilometres from Auschwitz to Krakow in a fundraising ride for the Krakow Jewish Community Centre: Marcel Zielinski, far right, is a child survivor of Auschwitz who walked that distance in January 1945, when the concentration camp was liberated: From left: his granddaughters, Chen and Tamar, and his son, Betzalel. Edyta Gaston

In January 1945, after Russian soldiers had liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, Marcel Zielinski joined a group of children who started to walk toward Krakow, about 65 kilometres away. He was cold and hungry and dressed in a coat with a striped patch on the back identifying him as a concentration camp survivor. He was 10 years old.

More than 70 years later, on June 5 of this year, Zielinski, a retired Montreal engineer, retraced his walk to freedom in the 2015 Ride for the Living, a fundraising ride for the Jewish community of Krakow organized by the Krakow Jewish Community Centre. His wife accompanied him to Poland; their son, Betzalel, who lives in Israel, rode with him, as did their two granddaughters. The ride raised more than $100,000.

A total of 85 riders from several countries, including Poland, the United States and Germany in addition to Canada and Israel, completed the ride, which took a circuitous route of about 110 km. The youngest rider was 16 and Zielinski, 80, was the oldest. A lifelong cyclist who cycled competitively as a young man in Poland after the war, Zielinski was the only Holocaust survivor among the riders.

One reason he undertook the ride was “to relive my liberation,” he told the Montreal Gazette in an interview before the ride. Another was to do his part to help encourage the revival of Jewish life in the city of his birth that has made itself felt in recent years. All but 2,000 of the 60,000 Jews who lived in Krakow before World War Two perished during the Holocaust. Today there are from several hundred to a few thousand Jews in the city; the JCC has about 550 members.

“We’re back home after a very satisfying trip to Krakow,” Zielinski wrote to Applause on his return from Poland. “Without a doubt, our family received ‘rock-star’ treatment … It was very intense and emotional for all of us.”

Nearly 200 employees of the National Bank cycled 300 km along the roads of Quebec’s Montérégie region and the Eastern Townships on July 10 to 12 during the fifth edition of the One for Youth Bicycle Tour. The event raised $125,000, more than had been anticipated, to help support organizations working to encourage young Quebecers to reach their potential.

“It’s a challenging activity that not only encourages personal growth, but also supports the well-being of others — specifically young people,” said Éric Bujold, president, National Bank Private Wealth 1859, and chair of the board of the Fondation Québec Jeunes.

In addition to the employees who cycled, the National Bank “applauds the efforts of the volunteers, partners and supporters who once again made this event a success,” he said.

The money will support Quebec-based foundations, including the Fondation Tel-jeunes, and also provide funding to the Fondation du CEGEP de Granby, Saint-Joseph High School in St-Hyacinthe, the Maison des Jeunes-Est de Sherbrooke and the Croquarium, a nutrition education organization in Waterville.

The initiative has involved more than 700 employees and raised nearly $400,000.


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