Educational talk for Academy

Players and staff from the Chelsea Academy were invited to take part in the latest event in the club’s campaign to tackle antisemitism with a talk hosted at Cobham.

The campaign, which is supported by the club’s owner Roman Abramovich, aims to raise awareness of antisemitism and educate our players, staff, fans and the wider community with its ‘Say No to Antisemitism’ message.

Previous events have included the visit to Cobham of Harry Spiro BEM, a survivor of the Holocaust, who shared the story of his experiences with the players and coaching staff of our first team squad. Another event was held at Stamford Bridge in March, once again organised by the Chelsea Foundation in association with the Holocaust Educational Trust, in which Mala Tribich MBE discussed her experiences in front of a gathering of our supporters.

This latest talk was aimed at the players and coaching staff of our Under-18 and development squads, who listened intently to the story of Hannah Lewis MBE. Born in Poland in 1937, Hannah’s pre-war childhood was a happy and uneventful one; she grew up in a small market town called Włodawa, now on the border with Ukraine, where her family were well-respected and her grandparents owned the main shop in the town

Life changed unimaginably for Hannah when war broke out and the Nazis occupied Poland.  Increasingly, Jews sought shelter and safety outside of the large cities, with many going to Włodawa. The town became a destination for refugees, many of whom were offered a place to stay in the home of Hannah’s parents.

In 1942, the Germans began rounding up the Jews of Włodawa to the nearby Sobibor extermination camp. Hannah says she was one of the lucky ones, forcibly marched not to Sobibor but to a labour camp in Adampol. Over time, most of her family disappeared or were killed, including her beloved cousin; 75 years on, the raw emotion of that loss is still etched on her face as she recalls the day he was taken by the Einsatzgruppen, the German killing squads. Her father managed to escape and joined the partisans.

However, it is the execution of Hannah’s mother in front of her eyes that reinforced to the room the sheer brutality and heartlessness of the Holocaust. Warned by her father that the Einsatzgruppen were closing in during the last winter of the occupation, Hannah was too ill to flee and stayed in Adampol with her mother. The next morning, the German police arrived and her mother was taken outside, lined up by the village well and shot. Hannah was seven; she watched as her mother fell to the floor, red blood on white snow still so vivid in her retelling of that morning’s events.

Now 80 and living in London, such harrowing memories make you wonder why Hannah would want to retell her story so often and so honestly. She explains the importance of ensuring the truth of what happened is passed down the generations, which is why she was so eager to speak to our young players in particular.

‘Today, there is so much Holocaust denial and a rising tide of antisemitism that it is essential for survivors to reach out and give their personal experiences, so that young people can pass on to their children the truth of what actually happened,’ Hannah said after her talk at Cobham.

‘I speak to teach vigilance against it ever happening again. I was very impressed with all the facilities at Cobham and with the staff who welcomed me, and their commitment to ensure that everybody there will become aware of these awful experiences. It is excellent that such an important UK sporting icon as Chelsea Football Club is using its influence in this way as an example to everyone.’

Ruben Sammut, captain of the development squad, was one of those players who listened to Hannah’s story and the 20-year-old was grateful for the opportunity given to him and his team-mates to hear such a unique account first-hand.

‘You obviously learn a bit about the Second World War at school but that’s usually quite a general overview and it’s difficult to relate to until you’re sat in front of a survivor hearing about their experiences first-hand,’ said Sammut afterwards.

‘It helps you understand their struggles and how difficult life must have been during that period. I knew a lot of people were killed but the way they were murdered and what day-to-day life was like at the camps was really interesting to learn about.

‘From speaking to the boys afterwards, I know they all felt it was quite a powerful talk and it hit them quite hard. It was one of those talks where it’s just one person speaking for quite a long time but everyone was so engaged and there was complete focus on what Hannah was saying.’

On the wider antisemitism campaign, Sammut said: ‘We’ve all seen the antisemitism campaign around the club this season and seen things posted on social media so it’s good to hear such an honest and vivid story, while also finding out a bit more about what the club are doing behind the scenes and how they’re looking to build on what’s been done this season in the years to come. I think that’s really important.’

Click here to read more about Chelsea’s campaign to tackle antisemitism.