OPINION: We walked in the footsteps of those going to their deaths at Auschwitz

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OPINION: We walked in the footsteps of those going to their deaths at Auschwitz

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, whose family was hit by a still birth, was moved by mementoes of the Jewish people at Auschwitz such as a baby's sandal - during Ramadan

Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq

At the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa, there are nine plaques on the wall.

They mark the lives of Josef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children.

The ninth plaque is for an unborn child – Wiktoria was pregnant when the family was shot by the Nazis for hiding Jews during the Second World War.

I visited Markowa when travelling from Warsaw to Krakow for last month’s March of the Living, the annual educational programme exploring the Holocaust.

The organisers invited me to join a multifaith group visit, because I am trying to improve my own education after antisemitic comments I made in my relative youth emerged last year.

The centrepiece of the programme is a 3.5km march in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but what happened to the Ulma family hit me hard before we even arrived.

In obviously very different circumstances, my wife and I lost our unborn son in 2018.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s hurtful reaction to that tragedy ultimately led to me revealing racism in the sport. Auschwitz was no easier a visit.

A baby’s blue sandal sticking out in a mountain of victims’ shoes, reams of women’s hair, a video of dead bodies being piled on top of each.

What struck me was the enormity of the camp and how it had been built so quickly. There are houses next to where Jews were brought in on a train track, a jarring contrast of family life and absolute horror.

During the march, we were on a hill and below were a sea of people – around 3,000 – taking part. In the 1940s, there would have been Jews taking those same steps, only they would have been struggling with their belongings as they walked to their deaths.

What is important is that we unite when faced by such awful history.

I will never forget, for example, my multifaith group waiting to eat dinner until after I had completed my daily fast for Ramadan.

AzI will treasure that memory, even as I struggle to comprehend the evil of what happened to the Ulma family and millions of Jews eight decades ago.


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