On Tuesday, 21st January, three year 10 students visited the home of Mady Gerrard in Chepstow, Wales. Sara, Sana and Uzair, students participating in Echo Eternal’s Holocaust remembrance week, had already met Holocaust survivor Mady Gerrard when she came to visit Rockwood Academy last year, but this time – “a magical moment,” as described by Sana – they were invited to visit her home.
Uzair was particularly excited about the visit, because it offered a different way of learning about the Holocaust. He said: “normally we only learn about the Holocaust in general, but learning about a specific person gives us a deeper connection to these events. We get to see the emotional side – it’s not just learning the facts one day and not really thinking about them.”
The three students were mesmerised by Mady’s storytelling ability; their desires to discover just what happened to the inspirational figure – who went onto a successful career in international fashion design – after she was liberated from the Belsen camp in 1945 were met and even exceeded by Mady’s sensational wit. As they sat around her armchair listening to her tales, the students found themselves surprised by Mady’s ability to utilise her humour to make light of the direst of situations: Sana remembers fondly how, when Mady explained how she was starving in a hospital, she traded a packet of cigarettes for some food: “she was joking, saying it was her first business deal. At the time it was a big thing for her but she makes it sound silly now.”
Mady’s humour and resourcefulness didn’t go amiss amongst the students, as they began to make connections between her life story and Echo Eternal’s theme of “hope.” Eyes alight, Sara tells us that “even though she’s been through so many tragedies in life, she’s been able to make something of herself. Whatever opportunity she could take, she grabbed it when she could, and I think that’s a lesson for all of us because sometimes you think “there’s something better out there,” but there is always going to be something better. You have to try with the things you have first.” Mady’s example – developing her own successful international business despite the horrors she was subjected to – is a reminder to all of us that hope and determination go a long way.
Having had such an invaluable experience, the three students agreed that everyone could apply Mady’s hopeful optimism to their own lives. One such example given was that of their education, taking the best of the opportunities offered at Rockwood Academy “to become the best of you.” And, Sara adds, becoming the best person you can be involves doing the right thing: “if we see someone being discriminated against, we can show them that they’re not alone.” Perhaps the most important message passed on to others through Echo Eternal is speaking up for those whose voice is silenced, so terrible events like the Holocaust never happen again. As Sara learns of Mady, “when she was separated from her family and was humiliated in the camp, she didn’t have anyone to help her out.” Sana, smiling, chimes in that “now, she’s made more than one friend at Rockwood Academy, and we’re all there for her.”