Narrow gauge track to Chelmno | Photo by Global Story Films

Three Journeys to Poland

You could say they were Pilgrimages to the edges of my world.

Each of the three journey ended at the place of death and the desecration of my parents’ bodies.

On May 2, 2010 ten of us entered a box car standing on the tracks at Radegast Railway station, at the edge of the Lodz ghetto, a replica of the cattle car that took my parents from the ghetto to the incinerator in the forest.

Praying in the box car | Photo by Ryan Thurman

On May 3, 2010, the Anniversary of their deaths,

I was with George and 8 friends, we were saying the mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, at the site of an excavated incinerator deep in Rzuchowski Forest, a short drive from Chelmno.

We had reached the forest after a dramatic encounter before a closed metal gate, guarding the site of a destroyed Manor House, the collection point for at least 172, 000 people who were killed between December 1941 and July 1944. (

May 3, was a Polish holiday, and access to the grounds of the former manor house was denied.

I longed to pray at the exact spot where my parents had been herded into a grey van together with 70 or so other Jews before the doors were locked, the engine revved up and they were all asphyxiated on the drive to the forest.

Verena from Austria stood next to me at the gate. She sank to her knees holding the gates’ metal bars and began to weep in deep repentance for her Nazi father’s active role in the Holocaust and there at that locked gate, we  embraced in forgiveness and reconciliation.

Kaddish | Photo Ryan Thurman

Six years later I returned to Lodz, this time at the invitation of The Chemin Neuf Community.

Gerold, a priest in Bonn was reading Meine Krone in der Asche (A Garland of Ashes) while he was preparing for Paradise in the City, an international event connected to World Youth Day to take place mid July 2016 in the city of Lodz!

He opened chapter 16 and when he read that my parents had been enclosed in the Lodz ghetto in 1942, he emailed me with an invitation to tell my story to the youth from many nations gathering in Lodz.

Chemin Neuf was filming Paradise in the City and the film team travelled to Chelmno together with George and I and a small group of participants, mostly Germans. 

This time the metal gates were wide open and the curator of a small start up museum, quietly led us to the excavated grounds where the grey truck had parked with open doors… and as a group we stood close together and prayed…

Praying together | Photo by Ryan Thurman

Now toward the end of April 2024, while George and I stayed back in Phoenix, Global Story Films, David and Kathi Peters with Micah Dailey, flew to Poland to capture the Polish part of my parents’ story, for the documentary, #8814.

In Lodz at Radegast station they stood in the same box car.

Inside the box car, 14 years later | Photo by Global story Films

They drove to Chelmno and were welcomed by Bartek Grzanka, the same curator we met in 2016. He lead them into a full fledged museum and he remembered us from that first visit, 18 years ago!

Bartek | Photo by Global story Films

On to Rzuchowski forest, where they walked the long path, past all the memorials to murdered Jews, shetl by shetl until they came to the excavated incinerators. At last they reached the one where we had lit 2 candles and said Kaddish on our first pilgrimage in 2010.

Excavated incinerator site | Photo by Global story Films

Strong Consolation

that..we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…

Hebrews 6: 18-19

Honoring the Memory of my parents | Photo by Global story Films