'And now, we go to hell' - Avram Grant
You can hear Avram's Journey on BBC Radio 5 Live from 20:00 BST on Tuesday, 29 May.
Avram Grant's story is an incredible one. We know him as the quietly spoken man who took Chelsea to within a John Terry penalty of the Champions League title in 2008.
We know him as the boss at West Ham and the man who gave the passionate speech to Portsmouth fans on the brink of relegation and administration in 2010.
His own story - the son of a Polish Jew who married the daughter of an influential Iraqi lawyer who was forced to flee to Israel - is remarkable, but the history of his family is as rich as it is tragic, as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking and as inspiring as it is dark.
Grant was aware his father had survived the Holocaust, but knew very little of his previous life until an unforgettable night as a teenager in Tel Aviv.
Avram Grant sitting on a bench outside his grandfather's house
"I'd never heard a scream like it," Grant tells me at our Warsaw hotel. He was 15 years old and on the balcony of the family home with friends. His father was asleep inside but weeping and wailing from his bed.
"I rushed to his room to see what was wrong. For once my mother was not there to calm him down. For the first time my father told me what really happened in his childhood, why he screamed each night in his sleep. Since that night I have always needed to know more."
Meir Granat had been born in the town of Mlawa, one of three million Jews living in Poland before the beginning of World War II.
In 1937, Meir's father, Avram, fearing something bad was going to happen, decided that the family had to leave Mlawa. He took his wife and nine of his 10 children on a three-year trek that would take them across Poland, via the Warsaw ghetto, and eventually to the remote region of Komi in Russia.
"I always wanted to ask my grandfather why he left here," Grant explains as we sit in the major's office in Mlawa waiting for the arrival of some family documents. "What did he see that others missed? What did he see that [then Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain didn't? He went to great lengths to protect his family".
One child, Hertsel, was hidden in a monastery. Rachel and Estera were placed in an orphanage. The rest were hassled and harried around Eastern Europe. On one occasion the train they were on was stopped and two more of Grant's father's siblings - Koppel & Hannah - were taken away and never seen again.
"They both died in Auschwitz," Grant says with a heavy heart. "The Germans took the rest of my father's family, and many other Jews, to Russia. The train stopped again, but this time, when everybody got off, it just left them behind in temperatures as low as -40. They were all meant to die." Many did.
The former Chelsea boss continues: "They were forced to live in the forest. Each day my father would see new bodies on the floor - he was there for almost four years."
Grant's aunt Sarah, 15 at the time, was the first to die from eating poisonous mushrooms in a desperate search for food in October 1940.
"My father buried his sister with his own hands," he says. One by one the family passed away - crippled by the cold and hunger. "In total, my father dug a grave for his father, his mother and five other members of his family - all with his own hands. Imagine that? What was going through his head? I've been to this place, I had to go.
"People can get lost in the numbers. Six million killed seems incredible - too many to contemplate - but what fascinates me is how they survived day to day.
"What did they think about in the morning when they got up? How did they get by on a quarter of a potato every other day? How did they not just give up when they had no idea when it would end?"
That is what strikes you about Avram Grant - the need to know. There are huge sections of his family history that remain blank, but with each document he finds the past is being pieced together.
On his first trip back to Mlawa in 2000 he found the house where his father grew up. This time, as we were handed the papers by the town hall media officer, there was another discovery.
"My grandfather had a twin brother? This is incredible. I can't believe it," Grant bows his head and covers his eyes with his hands for a moment. "Last time I came here I cried like a baby but I'm stronger now. I need to ring my sister."
This has been the pattern for many years. With each discovery of a birth certificate, an address, a new relative, Grant rings his sister, then his last surviving uncle, then Avi - the son of his father's sister Estera, who is one 150,000 people buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.
"We now know where your grandfather lived. I can take you if you like," says Magda from the town hall.
On the way, she explains that the house remains unchanged from the 1930s. In fact, of all the houses we saw in Mlawa, only three are as they were 75 years ago - Grant's grandfather's house, his dad's house and the one next door. "It's almost like they were waiting for me," Grant says, as he fills a carrier bag of soil from his father's old backyard. "I will sprinkle this on his grave - it's Jewish tradition."
Walking through the house, Grant remembers everything from his father's description. "This is where my grandfather worked on making leather," he says, pointing at a shed. "And this is where I like to think my father played football, but I don't know for sure," he chuckled. "I'm the only one in my family who likes football."
Before we left Mlawa, there was one final poignant reminder of the family's grim past. In the town hall, we'd learnt that Grant's grandfather had another brother called Bunem, who had decided to stay in the town rather than leave in the late 1930s.
In the car he receives a phone call. "That's why my grandfather left," he exclaims as he finished the call. Bunem had been rounded up by the Germans. He, his wife, and their five children had all been taken to Auschwitz and been gassed. "My grandfather's plan was a crazy one, but at least some survived. My father had to bury more than half his family, but if they hadn't left Mlawa I would not be here today."
The following day we travelled to Auschwitz ourselves. Grant could have flown but chose to go by train. He continues: "It's a journey I feel I had to make. The last time members of my family were on a train to Auschwitz it was very different - crammed into a carriage and certainly no cup of coffee." As we step off the train he breathes deeply and whispers to me: "And now, we go to hell."
What strikes you about Auschwitz is the size of the place and the silence, almost as though it's designed to make you stop and think. There are no birds in the sky - almost no noise at all. Nearby Birkenau was simply a killing machine - home to four giant gas chambers, each of which was brutally efficient and could asphyxiate 2,000 people at a time. Their business was death.
The Nazis destroyed much of the camp as they fled, but the train line that delivered over one million people from all over Europe to their death is still in place. As you stare at the barbed wire and watchtowers that stretch as far as you can see, you can't help but be stunned by the scale of the crime.
As we stand by gas chamber two, Grant ruminates: "I wonder how they did it? How do you murder others and then go home to your family? How do you burn someone alive or clean up the bodies of children and then go back to your own children and tell them what you did that day?"
Many Holocaust survivors ask the same question. He continues: "My father grew up an orthodox Jew, but lost his faith during the war because of what he went through. I think it's easy to understand why. It's impossible to bury half your family and remain unchanged.
"I spoke to Roy [Hodgson] recently and I told him that when England come to Auschwitz during Euro 2012 I would love to be part of it and take them around. The players need to know what happened. We all need to remember, otherwise we'll soon forget the scale of the horror. No-one leaves here the same person. You can't.
"I first came here in 1988 when I was manager of Hapoel Petah Tikva. The next day one of my team, the left-back, was unable to play. After standing in the gas chamber, he said 'boss, I can't do it'. I will never forget that. Thankfully the others were inspired and we won 3-0."
Each year he returns to Auschwitz with Holocaust survivors for the 'March of the Living', but his father has never gone back to Poland. "He couldn't face it," says Grant. "Too many bad memories."
Despite everything, Meir Granat remained a calm and gracious man until his death in October 2009. "He never hated anyone," Grant explains, almost in disbelief: "He always told me there were good people as well as the bad. He never held a grudge, never wanted revenge.
"To see him during the day you'd never know what he went through. I know because of the screaming in the night. I know because I knew my father. I can still hear him screaming sometimes. There are no words to describe the sound."
Grant puffs out his cheeks and a broad grin crosses his face. "You know these last few days have changed things - I know so much more than I did. I will never stop searching but I feel more peaceful about it all," he adds.
As we walk under the infamous Auschwitz gates that read 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Brings Freedom), he again becomes emotional: "My own son, Daniel, came here last year. He called me from this point and asked what his grandfather would want him to do."
With tears in his eyes, Grant recalls: "I told him to look at the sky in this horrible place and smile. That's what he did. My father was always smiling, always seeing the best in people, always positive, always optimistic. I could never understand how."
That's what I will take from my trip to Poland with Avram Grant. I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw the birth certificates in Mlawa or the smile when he walked around the garden his grandfather played in as a child.
The images and silence of Auschwitz will stay with me forever but my enduring memory will be Grant's father, a man I never met but now feel I know so much about. If Meir Granat could be optimistic with all that he saw, surely we all can.
Avram Grant asked that any fees for the programme would be donated to a charity for Holocaust survivors.