Cycle tour in Poland adds missing pieces to a survivor’s story.
As she was growing up, Cheryl Berlin’s father Saul Raimi would tell her fragmented stories of his life growing up in Mlawa, a small Polish town a bit north of Warsaw. Her late father would talk of the grandfather she never knew who died in Treblinka and of his own survival in Auschwitz.
The vague images of this past came to life as Berlin and husband, Arnie, avid cyclists from Farmington Hills, rode with 200 others in the fifth annual Ride for the Living (RFTL) June 26- July 1. RFTL attracts participants from all over the world, many second- or third-generation survivors traveling the 55-mile bike route to symbolize the re-emergence of Jewish life in Poland.
As they peddled the miles between Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow, the couple raised just short of their $3,600 goal to benefit the Krakow Jewish Community Center. To supplement their efforts, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit is organizing a 34-mile satellite ride Sunday, Aug. 26, that starts at the Huntington Woods Recreational Center, 26325 Scotia Road, and finishes at Shed No. 5 in Detroit’s Eastern Market, where the Jewish Food Festival will be under way (ride details below).
Opened in 2008, the Krakow JCC supports a small but growing Jewish population of 700 with a preschool, Judaism classes, a synagogue, a kosher café — and the need is growing as more Poles are only now beginning to discover their Jewish heritage that had been hidden for generations.
In addition to the ride, the Berlins took some extra days to tour Warsaw and visited Cheryl’s father’s hometown of Mlawa and the small town of Naselsk, where her grandfather lived and ran a scrap metal shop. Accompanied by her sister and brother-in-law from Nashville who also rode, she located the address that once housed this business as well as the apartment complex where her grandfather lived. Sadly, no evidence of Jewish life remained in Mlawa.
During the Holocaust, her father, as a teen, had fake Christian identification papers. On precarious train trips back and forth from Mlawa, he would remove his yellow star to smuggle food back to his family before they were arrested and transported to Auschwitz.
Another memorable stop on the trip was visiting the New Jewish Cemetery in Krakow. Some tombstones remained intact, while others, long displaced and removed from their original gravesites by the Nazis, were used to create the peripheral wall around the cemetery. One participant on the trip was a rabbi whose great-grandfather was a tombstone carver in Poland before the war; he helped translate the names.
“All those familiar Jewish (surnames) were on these tombstones, and it made this big world seem smaller,” Cheryl said.
“All my life, I was told little pieces of my father’s life in Poland,” said Cheryl, who is a member of B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield and is the loan program manager at Hebrew Free Loan. “After this trip, I was able to add more pieces to fit this puzzle into place. It will be useful to me, a second-generation survivor, as I pick up the baton to retell my father’s story of life and survival in Poland to the next generations.”
Cost for the 9 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, local ride is $36; funds will be contributed to the Krakow JCC. To register, call Dona Stillman at (248) 833-2527 or go to jewishdetroit.org/event/ng-satellite-ride-for-the-living.