With so few details surrounding the Holocaust survival stories of both his grandparents, Nick McKenzie is on a journey of discovery in Poland.
The award-winning investigative journalist is one of three high-profile figures currently on the March of the Living (MOTL) program, along with Olympic champion swimmer and LGBTQI+ activist Ian Thorpe, and Pymble Ladies’ College principal Dr Kate Hadwen.
The march itself, a 3km trek from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz-Birkenau, took place overnight on Tuesday AEST.
McKenzie, whose investigation into Australia’s neo-Nazi cells was featured on 60 Minutes and in a Stan documentary, said before the march he is hoping to find some answers about his own family.
“My grandparents and my mother are from Poland,” McKenzie told The AJN from Poland.
“My grandparents were both Holocaust survivors. My grandmother’s brother and parents perished, we presume in the gas chambers, but we don’t know for sure and there’s just so much mystery around what happened to them. In some Jewish families the Holocaust was never spoken about, so I never knew a great deal about it. I really hope that this for me is about learning about my own family.”
McKenzie says the journey will be an emotional one, both for him and for his mother, who is still in Australia.
“She was born in 1947 in Poland and came to Australia when she was about 15,” McKenzie said.
“It’s a huge part of her life; all that trauma and her backstory was really suppressed in her family. By the time I was old enough to ask the questions and become interested, my grandparents had passed away. There’s so much we don’t know and part of this is that journey of discovery.”
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A diverse group of 50 Australians are part of the MOTL delegation and McKenzie says meeting everyone was emotional as they all shared their motivations for coming.
Thorpe described himself as “curious”, and McKenzie says it’s special to have someone so high-profile joining “to learn, to understand, to experience, then to communicate it to the rest of Australia”.
“He’s already struck everybody as a really thoughtful, sensitive and passionate person,” McKenzie said.
“The fact that someone so high-profile and so successful in his life is undergoing what’s going to be a pretty intensive, perhaps even traumatic, educational experience is to his credit.
“He spoke about how a Jewish friend of his had encouraged him to participate and said this is an area he doesn’t know much about, so he’s passionate about finding out more.”
This year’s program marks 80 years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. It’s the 35th iteration of the fortnight-long journey to Poland and Israel, which brings together about 10,000 participants from around the world.