Holocaust survivor visits Richmond School

Richmond School hosted a visit by Holocoast survivor Arek Hersh MBE and his wife, Jean.

Arek is 95 years old and one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors who are still able to tell their stories.

Arek Hersh spent time in the ghettos of  Łódz and Theresienstadt as well as the concentration camps of Otoschno and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

He was born in Poland in 1928 and was imprisoned in Łódz ghetto after the German invasion of Poland.

At the age of 11 he was taken to his first concentration camp, Otoschno.

Arek was eventually moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the age of 15.

He survived a death march before finally being liberated from the Theresienstadt ghetto, Czechoslovakia, in 1945.

Arek lost more than 80 members of his family with only one sister surviving, Mania.

Arek and Jean took to the stage in the school’s main hall in front of over 200 Year 10 students and staff.

Staff say they had no script or audio-visual aids – they just talked, telling Arek’s story. Arek took the lead, with Jean prompting and adding details.

Miss Ridley, history teacher at Richmond School and organiser of Arek and Jean’s visit, said: “After teaching Arek’s story in history lessons and presenting it in our National Holocaust Day assemblies, I was determined to invite Arek to school as I knew the value and importance of students hearing these accounts firsthand.

“It’s very easy to say that six million Jewish people lost their lives in World War II, but it is incredibly difficult to even begin to comprehend until you start to humanise that number – until you are made aware of the individual stories and suffering.

“It was an absolute pleasure to have Arek and Jean in school with us, speaking to our Year 10 students. Arek is a wonderful man who speaks so freely about his experiences in the Holocaust with the aim of teaching young people about the atrocities of World War II and to encourage them never to forget. Jean is a passionate storyteller who reiterated the importance of respect and kindness to our students.

“I would like to thank all of Year 10 for the huge amount of respect shown in the talk – you could hear a pin drop! They were absolutely fantastic and have been speaking to me about it ever since. The impact it has had has been tremendous.

“I’m really pleased that we could provide this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to both students and staff – it was fantastic to see such support for this prestigious and important event.”

It was noted during the visit that the studentsare the last generation who will hear directly from people like Arek and Jean.