Chelsea Women took time out from their Champions League semi-final preparations on Thursday to welcome Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack MBE to Cobham to share the story of her experience.
The visit follows similar talks for our men’s and Academy teams and forms part of the club’s ‘Say No to Antisemitism’ campaign, which is supported by owner Roman Abramovich, and aims to raise awareness of and educate our players, staff, fans and the wider community with its message.
There can be no better way to help this cause than hear the first-hand account from Susan, of her, her family’s and many others’ plight at the hands of the Nazis, so in a talk organised by the Chelsea Foundation, in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust, she spoke to the squad and coaches in a Cobham meeting room more usually used for meticulous planning ahead of training and matches.
All present were enthralled by the 88-year-old’s story which was both horrific and inspiring. Manager Emma Hayes said: ‘The visit was a reminder of the indomitable spirit of humanity and that while it is incredibly difficult to comprehend how that part of history took place, it is crucial that the story is shared and lessons are learnt and it never happens again.
‘Chelsea are the leading club in this country at making sure we do everything possible to root out behaviour amongst ourselves that is neither tolerated or accepted, and we have a role to play to ensure a safe space for our communities to come together and enjoy the game without discrimination and hatred.’
Goalkeeper Carly Telford added: ‘The talk was unbelievable, mind-blowing; to hear a story like that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To hear her story and see how positive she is is very moving and inspirational. Anyone who gets the chance to hear that should take it.
‘I think the players will benefit massively, we will all tell others about it and the more people who can hear about it the better. As players and as a club it is important we spread the message.’
Born in Hungary in 1930, Susan – an avid goalkeeper as a young child – became aware of antisemitism from a young age. She lost her father following the German invasion. In 1944 Susan, together with her mother and brother, was sent to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
On April 15 1945 she was liberated by the British army. In total, the Holocaust took the lives of more than 50 of Susan’s relatives; she and her brother Laci were the only ones to survive to tell their incredible story to the future generations.
After the war, Susan moved to Canada where she met and married a fellow survivor. She now lives in London and regularly shares her testimony up and down the country.
Susan said: ‘It was a good and different experience to speak to the Chelsea players. For me it helps to talk about it and I want to continue to share the story.
‘If I can make a small dent in opinions and show that people are all equal and how important it is to be inclusive then it is an honour to do that.
‘Any form of racism is unacceptable and if I can make a little change in that kind of malicious belief in people then I will be satisfied. We have come a long way but we must continue and I hope the players will pass on my message.’
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added: ‘The Holocaust shook the very foundations of humanity and the testimony of survivors is precious.
‘For Chelsea to host Susan, as they have with other survivors, sends a really strong message about where antisemitism, racism and hate can lead but also what we can do to make a positive difference to society.
‘The impact was clearly felt among the players and I think it will be a day they never forget.’
The visit represents yet another step in the club’s commitment to raise awareness about antisemitism. In 2018, Holocaust survivor Harry Spiro BEM visited the men’s team, Holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis MBE shared her testimony with Chelsea’s Academy and Holocaust survivor Mala Tribich MBE spoke to Chelsea fans, which were organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The club has also paid several educational visits to Auschwitz and are due to join the March of the Living in Auschwitz next week for the second consecutive year, this time being joined by United States MLS club New England Revolution.