Jemima Montag in an interview with Athletics Australia. Photo: YouTube screenshot.
Australian racewalker Jemima Montag wore a gold bracelet made from a necklace that belonged to her late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, when she won her second Commonwealth Games gold medal on Saturday in the 10,000-meter walk.
The medical student, 24, who wears the bracelet in every competition, finished the race in 42 minutes and 34 seconds at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England. The reigning Commonwealth Games champion is the first woman to win a gold medal in racewalking since fellow Australian Jane Saville in 2006. She told the Australian Broadcasting Channel (ABC) about wearing the keepsake during her races, “It’s certainly a lucky charm. I can feel it there wobbling around and she’s with me.”
Montag’s paternal grandmother Judith, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, died last year before Montag competed in the Tokyo Olympics. Judith did not speak about her experience in the Holocaust because of the trauma associated with it, but after her death, Montag and her aunt looked through Judith’s personal items to try and learn more.
“In some of her love letters and journal entries, she wrote about just trying to make it through the next hour the next day, just hoping to meet her dad at the gate with a piece of bread,” Montag shared with ABC. “And I think what I take from that is in a race, it’s one kilometer at a time; it’s one step at a time, not thinking about the finish line.”
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She added: “They marched through snow and cold for days on end in little sandals, and hardly any clothing. And she and her sister took their waistband and tied their wrists together. And they said, ‘we’re getting through this together or not at all.’ And so, [I’m] just visualizing her walking on ice, not knowing when the next meal would be or if she would survive.
“[Racing] is fun,” Montag continued, “and this is something I choose to do, and yes, it’s hard. But someone just two generations ago had that level of strength. And I know it’s with me now.”
She told ABC that the gold bracelet made from Judith’s necklace is a reminder of her grandmother’s “strength and resilience” during the Holocaust, adding, “To uncover the amount of grit, perseverance, and mindfulness and presence that they had to have. It’s just a really tangible reminder of what she sacrificed for dad and then me to even be alive.”
Montag said she is planning to write a book about her grandmother’s experiences.