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The Victory Ride: Holocaust Remembered, 80 Years On

By Christopher Ashley

Us cyclists seldom need a good reason for a ride. Either it’s sunny or it’s raining – both are good reasons to take the bike out. But sometimes, there are more compelling reasons. Take a look at the story of Gino Bartali, the Italian Catholic cycling champion who helped Jews escape the fascists by hiding counterfeit documents in his bike frame.

The escape of the children

In 2018, cycling was once again linked to the fight against fascism, thanks to a 600-mile ride organised by the charity World Jewish Relief. The ride followed in the footsteps of the predominantly Jewish Kindertransport which began just 80 years earlier after the Kristallnacht pogrom.

The British government felt morally obliged to grant entry to the unaccompanied child refugees including Paul Alexander. Alexander was just 19 months old at the time he arrived in Britain when his mother handed him to a stranger to take him away from Leipzig in Germany.

Turning pain into gain

Now in his 80s, it’s unsurprising that Alexander saw the 600-mile journey as a cathartic experience. He told journalists that cycling the journey was, “a sort of victory ride… I came out of the Nazi terror to freedom and safety, and to me, this is a victory.”

Paul Alexander © World Jewish Relief

The anguish Alexander’s mother must have felt giving up her child to an uncertain future is difficult to comprehend, so it’s all the more poignant that the 80-year-old roadie completed the journey with his son and 14-year-old grandson.

Honouring your ancestors

Phil Harris spent the night before the ride sleeping in his grandmother’s former home in Berlin. His grandmother, Ilse, was just 16 when she was sent to Britain – one of the oldest children to be on the Kindertransport. Harris wanted to start his ride, “from the point where Granny started her journey”.

Paul, his son and grandson rode the Berlin to London Kindertransport Commemorative Cycle together.

Rafi Cooper from World Jewish Relief said that the bicycle ride is, “a tribute to the amazing life-saving work of our predecessors. Tens of thousands of people would not be alive today were it not for their heroism.”

The money raised by this, and other cycle rides, will help countless people in need around the world. Have a think about that the next time you get on your bike. What would compel you to ride 600 miles?