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Holocaust Survivor Retraces Trek Home after Auschwitz

The last time Marcel Zielinski traveled the 55 miles between Auschwitz and Krakow, Poland, it was January 1945. He traversed the distance on foot as a newly liberated 10-year-old death camp survivor going home in hopes of finding his parents alive. Today, the 80-year-old Holocaust survivor is making the same journey on bike: Zielinski will be participating in the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Krakow‘s second annual Ride for the Living, a fundraiser for Krakow’s community, and in particular its 100 Holocaust survivors. For Zielinski, however, the bike ride, [which begins today], will be far more than a charity event. For him, it will be a journey into his past, to a place that holds for him both fond and fearful memories. “It’s going to be very emotional for me, to say the least,” Zielinski told The Times of Israel from his home in Montreal as he prepared for his trip to Poland.Before WWII, Zielinski lived with his parents in Krakow. In 1942, they were forced into the nearby Plaszow labor camp, which later became a concentration camp. In the summer of 1944, Zielinski and his parents were deported to death camps. Zielinski managed to survive the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and later Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a small group of children. His mother, who was liberated from the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, survived the war. His father, who was put on a death march by the Nazis, never returned. According to his son, there is no record of his death, and there were also no witnesses to it. ...Zielinski’s mother returned to Krakow in August 1945, and together they went to live with a cousin in a town in southwestern Poland. It was there that Zielinski started bicycle riding and racing—a pastime that turned into a lifelong passion.“It’s my sport,” said Zielinski. The Holocaust survivor lived in Israel from 1958 to 1967 before moving to Montreal, where he worked as an engineer for aerospace companies until he retired in 1997.With Zielinski’s son Betzalel, 56, and granddaughters Tamar, 31, and Chen, 27, coming from Israel to ride along with him on the Ride for the Living, it’s evident that the love of cycling has been passed on to the next generations. ...According to [JCC executive director Jonathan Ornstein], funds raised this year by the 80 riders from Poland, the US, Canada, the UK and Israel will go to cover JCC membership and activities costs for Krakow’s Holocaust survivors. Holocaust survivors constitute approximately 20 percent of the JCC’s 550 members.

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