Video Coverage of the First March from Auschwitz to Zilina

The reflection of one of the participants in the March Auschwitz-Žilina from August 2014.

Recently I have been present at the occassion when Fero Guldan revealed  a memorial  for Vrba and Wetzler at the border of Poland and Slovakia. Fero is a free man – he creates memorials in those places where they should be, and not where the governments or financial support allows them to be. A few hours later a citizen in Cadca joined me and started a conversation: "What do you think about it that we confronted the Russians already three times?" I remarked that our freedom is worth it. He retorted: "What do I need freedom for when my stomach is empty?" Couldn’t argue.

On the same day we had a discussion in Zilina in the bookshop Artforum about the first march following  the footsteps of Vrba and Wetzler after their escape from Auschwitz in April 1944. A young man who took part in our march was asked by the moderator of the discussion: "For what reason would you be prepared to sacrifice your life?" He was taken aback by this question. Sacrifice life? Nevertheless I felt sure that had he witnessed violence against a child, woman or old helpless person he would not have hesitated.

I do not believe in "great" causes, rightousness or pathos. Planned heroism is often the priviledge of psychopaths. Everyday life gives us plenty of oportunity to to show our colours. Most men and women act correctly in difficult situations. Yet marginal and exceptional situations appear unexpectedly. The ramps in Auschwitz, the overcrowded baracks that housed often 1000 people with 3 people in a single bunk bed, shared toilet facilities where people had limited time to perform their needs. These were the final steps at the end of ordinary life as it was known.

Contemplating whether ekonomic or political freedom is more important  is fruitless. Freedom is a given livestyle, a personal character, the acceptance of certain values and above all taking responsibility for ones actions. One can not trade it in, but can lose it. This can happen because of fear, compromise, to foster one’s carreer, gain priviledges, achieve power, personal security, forgetfulness and even full belly.

Revealing the memorial of Fero Guldan and the discussion in the Artforum in Zilina were the final points of our the march on foot from Auschwitz to Zilina. There was enough time during our walk to chat and above all think. Peter Leponi from the Foundation of Milan Simecka said very little during the 6 day walk, but what he did say was worth being reminded off. He talked about those people who ensured the success of the escape of Vrba and Wetzler, sometimes by giving them a piece of bread more valuable and gold and by not giving away their secrets even under torture. Or those villagers who risked their lives by allowing them during their walk to sleep in their houses, gave them clothes and food. These people are not well known, there ar no books written about them and no obvious praise or acknowledgemetn given to them. Peter told me that during the march he often said to himself: "Excuse me, excuse me." I think I guess what he meant. Perhaps he apologized for our irresponsible attitude to our freedom, the emptyness that is left in our memories. It is indeed the case that if we do not have to strive for freedom and human rights these values become commonplace and lose value.

I owe my life to the advance of the allied armies that destroyed the gas chambers in Auschwitz, and therefore our transport which included my pregnant mother had to be diverted to Terezin. There the doctor didn’t insist for my mother to have an abortion as was the routine in Terezin. It is therefore my duty to value my freedom and life.


Fedor Gal, Prague 2014.