DEDICATING his life to teaching others about one of the darkest periods in history has earned a Harewood man an MBE.
Arek Hersh, who turns 80 later this year, has spent many years giving talks to schools, universities and other groups about the impact of the Holocaust.
As a Jewish boy growing up in Poland, he was taken to the Otoschno concentration camp at the age of 11 after the German invasion during the Second World War. In total, Mr Hersh had survived two ghettos and four concentration camps, including Auschwitz, by the age of 16. He was one of just a handful of survivors to be liberated in 1945 and was later brought to England to recover.
Mr Hersh settled in Harewood with his wife, Jean, and started his own family, having lost almost all of his relatives in the Holocaust.
He has since made it his mission to speak to as many people as he can about the atrocities he experienced, in an attempt to help avoid anything similar happening again.
Mr Hersh said: “I think it is necessary to talk about it because anything can happen, even these days. That’s why I continue as long as I can.”
In 1980, Mr Hersh made his first visit to Auschwitz since he was liberated.
“I wanted to go on my own,” he said. “It took me three times to get through that gate. Eventually I got through. It’s not easy because it reminds you of it all.”
Since then, he has made regular trips back to the camp with groups of school students to show them first hand where the many thousands of people were killed.
To ensure his account is spread as far as possible, Mr Hersh wrote a book on his experience, A Detail of History. In 2005 he also made a film which has been sent to every high school in the country so the students can hear his story even if he is unable to visit them in person because of the huge number of invitations he receives.
His work earned him an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list this year, which he said came as a complete surprise.
“I found out in December,” he said. “I got a letter from the Prime Minister’s office telling me not to say a word to anybody. I never expected anything like that. I do the job and that’s it. I didn’t expect any awards for it, but it came and I was very pleased.”