Pedal to the Past
SRAM employee Jason Star, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, is riding his bike from Berlin to London, the same route traveled 80 years ago by 10,000 Jewish children escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany. The ride, June 17-22, is 600 miles over six days—a sizeable physical and emotional journey. Star and friend Leonard Rau, whose family assisted the Kindertransport (Children Transport) rescue effort in the months before World War II, are raising money and awareness through their ride. They also hope to inspire others to action and to kindle conversations to narrow the often wide racial, economic, and cultural divides in society today.
Csillag in Hungarian translates to Star in English. Jason Star, a 39-year-old design manager at SRAM’s Chicago headquarters, remembered as a boy going to school one Friday as Jason Csillag and returning on Monday as Jason Star. His family, as with so many immigrants, changed or shortened their surname after arriving in the United States. In 1957, a Life Magazine cover story told of the family’s arrival in America as Jewish refugees from Csorna, Hungary. “With nothing in the world but their lives, their clothes and each other, the Csillags came to the U.S. in the first planeload of Hungarian refugees….” The story told of the family’s harrowing days of soup kitchens, refugee camps, and paperwork. One photo showed Jason’s father, Joe, as a 4 year-old boy gazing out the train window at Indiana farmland as the family made its way to a new life in Indianapolis.
“Judaism is part of who I am and it’s part of my past,” Star said.
Leonard Rau—drawn into friendship with Star by their shared loved of bikes and involvement in the Chicago Jewish community—has personal connections to the Kindertransport effort to save Jewish children. Rau, 48, grew up in London. His grandfather had come to London from Berlin in the 1930s and still had ties to the German Jewish community as World War II approached. As a child, Rau was around people rescued through Kindertransport as well as Holocaust survivors.
“Growing up I saw a lot of people with numbers on their arms when you’d go to synagogue, especially at this time of year in the summer,” Rau said running his hand over his bare forearm, a reference to the tattoos used by the Nazis to identify prisoners. “Being English, you don’t talk about it. It’s sort of known… it’s just something that was very much part of being Jewish in England.”
Now, Star and Rau want to use their bicycles to talk about it. They hope to educate people about this historic, but for many unknown, effort. They want to inspire—just as they’re pushing themselves on the bike, they hope others take on a new challenge, be it for personal growth or for a worthy cause. They also are looking to build community by meeting people along the route with their fellow riders and when they return home to Chicago.
The Berlin to London Kindertransport Bike Ride honors a remarkable campaign. In the nine months before the outbreak of World War II, the Central British Fund for German Jewry (as the non-profit World Jewish Relief was previously known) helped organize and fund the evacuation of 10,000 predominantly Jewish children to safety. The children covered roughly 600 miles between Berlin, through the Netherlands to the Hook of Holland by train and onto the ferry for Harwich, England. The children then traveled by train to London’s Liverpool Street station.
After the notorious wave of Nazi terror, known as the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), in 1938 against Jews, the British government allowed an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter from Germany and German-annexed territories, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Private citizens or organizations were required to guarantee payment for each child’s care, education and eventual emigration. From 1938 to 1940, children left by trains from cities including Berlin, Vienna, and Prague. Those from small towns faced the arduous task of traveling to these collection points. Once in Britain, about half of the children lived with foster families. Others stayed in hostels, schools and farms, according to the museum. Most of these children would never again see their parents, many of whom were murdered in concentration camps.
Star and Rau are prepared for a life changing journey. They join 44 others on the ride, although they are the only two from North America. Rau’s father, 81, plans to ride about half of each day’s mileage. Along the way, Star and Rau hope to engage the people they meet in conversation about what they’re doing. The pair also have a fundraising goal of 10,000£ one for each child rescued (DONATE HERE www.worldjewishrelief.org/lrjs).
“It’s a physical and a mental challenge as well as emotional. There’s lots of layers to this. Not being a race, being more of a ride, those layers will definitely come together,” Star said. “We realize the power of the bicycle. It’s a great tool to be able to inspire and educate and build community, our three goals here, and to be able to do something that is bigger than just ourselves…. When a child sees a really fancy bike, they ask more questions rather than just when they see a photograph. We can try to leverage that as a vehicle to be able to educate about things that are still timely now.”
Beyond the ride, Star and Rau are in contact with Chicago Public Schools about classroom visits to educate children on the Kindertransport. They also are looking to work with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill., and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
For Star, working at SRAM—which founded World Bicycle Relief and is active in advocacy issues—changed how he views the bicycle “Up until then, the bicycle was a way to get around,” Star said. “Growing up, it was a way to get to my friend’s house.”
Now the bicycle means so much more. It’s taking Star and Rau back through history, and giving them time in the saddle to think about what it all means for today.
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WHAT JASON IS RIDING
Components: SRAM 1x, 46T chainring, XG-1195 X-DOME 10-42T 11-speed Cassette, Quarq DZero Carbon Power Meter Chassis Crank, SRAM Force 1 Rear Derailleur, SRAM Force HRD Shift-Brake Control and Lever, SRAM CenterLine X Rotor.
Wheels: Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake
Handlebar: Zipp SL-70 Ergo
Stem: Zipp SL Speed
Frameset: 3T Exploro
SRAM, Zipp, Quarq (components)
Skratch Labs (nutrition)
Vision Quest (training)
Live Grit (bike fit)
Specialized (water bottles)
Victory Circle (bike frame stickers)
Alé (cycling caps)