Over 250 people from around the world gathered together to bicycle 60 miles (97k) from Auschwitz-Birkenau to the JCC in Krakow. The Ride for the Living (RFTL) commemorates Poland’s Jewish past, celebrates its present and most importantly looks towards its bright future. The ride is celebrating six years of bicycling from the deplorable horrors of the past to the hope of a thriving and resilient future of Jewish life in Krakow, Poland, and the world.RFTL is a community event that includes participants who range in age from holocaust survivors to young children and riders of all abilities. The ride coincides with a week-long international Jewish cultural festival comprised of more than 70 countries, 30,000 participants and 300 events.
The oldest rider this year, Bernard Offen (90), is a survivor of five work camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bernard shared his memories of the places where he stood for selections, where he met evil and where he had to separate from his father who was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. One of the first RFTL rides followed what was Bernard’s original route (he made as a child on foot) beginning with his escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau to find what was left of his family in Krakow. He is a sensational human being with an unbreakable spirit and joy for life. The opposite end of the spectrum was this year’s youngest rider to complete the 60 miles, a nine year-old. He was at the front of the ride the entire journey.
The route passed through beautiful countryside, forests, small villages along the river and into the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, to the JCC Krakow. There were multiple opportunities to chat with fellow riders and listen to their reason for participating in this event. The lunch break at a charming farm and restaurant was like stepping into a fairytale. At the finish, riders were welcomed with balloons, confetti, applause and a real sense of accomplishment.The Jewish Community Center of Krakow opened in 2008 and serves as a focal point for the resurgence of Jewish life in Krakow. The JCC works to change the world’s perception of Poland and Poland’s perception of Jews. There are many educational and social and activities for all of its members and the community. There are close to 60 survivors in the area that take advantage of the offerings. There is child care and Hillel, too. The Ride for the Living raises funds for these programs at the JCC, simultaneously increasing awareness of the strength and fortitude of the Jewish spirit in Poland.The ride was a journey that went further than the miles on the bike, it was an incredible experience. The encouragement of the community along with great scenery and delicious food was inspiring. Each year, there are fewer firsthand witnesses of the holocaust. It is important to keep their past from repeating. The JCC and the RFTL event will continue to grow, educate and support a strong Jewish community in Krakow.