Chelsea manager Emma Hayes prepared her players for their crunch Champions League semi-final clash with Lyon by inviting a Holocaust survivor to hold a training ground talk.
The Blues host Lyon Feminin in the second leg of their semi-final at Kingsmeadow on Sunday, having lost 2-1 in France last weekend.
Lyon, who have won the last three Champions League titles and just claimed a 13th successive domestic league crown, are favourites to advance to the final – but Hayes and her side will be looking to upset the odds.
Yesterday we welcomed Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack to Cobham.— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) April 26, 2019
Hayes invited Susan Pollack – who was imprisoned for 10 weeks at Auschwitz, the former German Nazi concentration camp, during the Second World War – to talk to her players about resilience and humility.
“We had a 45-minute talk from a beautiful woman called Susan Pollack, who is a Holocaust survivor,” explained Hayes.
“She came in to discuss her experiences post-primary school age of being taken from her home to a concentration camp, watching her mother being taken away to be murdered in a gas chamber, her father taken away to be beaten to a pulp while her brother disappeared.
“Listening to her experience of being dehumanised and persecuted as part of a people where 6million people lost their lives, not only was it incredibly traumatic to listen to, and emotional, but I asked her one question: ‘how did you keep going, what got you through that?’
“She said; ‘I was young and I wanted to give something back to life, I felt hopeful enough to do that and I’m grateful that life is worth living.’
“She didn’t display any anger, any remorse, merely thankful she had come through the worst experience ever and still had the kindest of hearts.”
Regarding what her team could take from Pollack’s talk, Hayes said: “It was a reminder to our entire environment that your resilience is important, you are going to need it in really, really, really difficult times and she had it in abundance.
“But, ultimately, we don’t have to be a**eholes to get where we want to go, we can be good people, humble in that process and I demand that. If I feel anyone gets too big-headed or takes advantage then I make it clear because I want everyone to value what we have.
“Everybody involved in it has worked so bloody hard, including the football club, to get us to this point and Sunday, for me, is merely a celebration of all of that collective work from everyone.
“I want it to be a joyous occasion and one we celebrate with an unbelievable performance from the team.”
After a number of charges and accusations over anti-Semitism and racism in recent times, Chelsea launched a campaign last January to tackle the issue.
Working with several organisations, including the Holocaust Educational Trust with whom Pollack is involved, Chelsea have also taken a handful of supporters to Auschwitz to educate them on the historical importance – with Hayes pleased by the club’s work.
Asked what her thinking was behind inviting Pollack to address her players, she replied: “Because I’m so proud of the football club’s work that we do to promote everything from (tackling) anti-Semitic behaviour to rooting out discrimination in all forms.
“I was particularly inspired by a three-minute video that the club had collaborated on with the Holocaust Trust and Kick It Out and I thought it was important that the players received some education about the values of life and what people have gone through to be here; have an appreciation for it.
“For me, what we do, we are extremely privileged and I certainly felt the players benefited immensely from her story and we just recognised how lucky we all are.”
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