I feel as though what ever I write in this blog post will not accurately convey how I felt about meeting a true hero, so please excuse me if I get emotional.
He came to Benton Park to talk about his experiences as an 11 year old boy during the Holocaust. His story of how his childhood was stolen from him is humbling. I make offhand comments about 'being starving', 'loosing the will to live' and 'being governed by Nazis' but here is a man who has genuinely lived through all of this. A real, physical, visceral reminder of a period in history when Jews were stripped of their rights, dignity and finally their lives at the hands of their fellow human beings.
I had the pleasure of sharing a Kosher lunch with him and he is such a lovely man. He commands an air of silent reverence and everyone that met him was deeply touched. It struck me that I was sat next Arek Hersh, an 86 year old man eating a houmous sandwich , whereas he had once been prisoner B-7608, a small boy, eating the burnt leather from the soles of his shoes in order to survive.
When asked what message he would give to the young people of today, he told us that we should value our right to vote in democratic elections when we come of age and ignore dangerous extremist parties like the BNP. In his words; We are the future.
I will always remember Arek, and also his Mother Bluma, Father Szmuel, Sister Itka, Brother Tovia and Genia, his First Love who weren't so lucky and lost their lives to hundreds of years of anti-semitism.
I urge you to read Arek's book 'A Detail of History' and also watch the harrowing documentary about his life called 'Arek' by Unison Films.