Woodhouse College
Alica Derome Rebecca Saul

Lela Cordess - Jack Petchey Award winner

Dated: 18 May 2018

We’ve had a host of very deserving Jack Petchey Award winners here at Woodhouse in recent months.
Lela Cordess is one of our latest, and was nominated by (among others) our principal for a number of reasons and achievements. For the setting up and running of a medicine society at our college, and most notably for the incredible dedication she has put into educating others about the Holocaust following a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.
Lela visited Auschwitz as part of a group organized by the Holocaust Educational Trust, along with Tracy, another Woodhouse student.
“I can’t say I was surprised by the emotional reaction I had to the visit, but there’s something so different about actually being there rather than reading about what happened. You are standing on the very spot where so many thousands of people have been brutalised and families murdered. There’s a real atmosphere of oppression, a darkness that kind of sticks with you. When I returned home I couldn’t discuss my experiences with anyone for days, because I just had to try and process the whole thing.
After the trip I gave a presentation to my tutor group about my experience and we had a discussion and I pointed them towards more research resources to find out more for themselves.
After that I organised a webinar, where I booked our conference room and we connected to another school where a holocaust survivor was giving a speech to students.
Following that, I gave a talk at Barnet Council’s annual commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, held at Middlesex University.”
The Memorial Day was attended by many local dignitaries and following the event, Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, said…
“I have been attending Barnet’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration for many years. It is a solemn and moving occasion. I always value this opportunity to reflect on the appalling events of the Holocaust and remember its many victims.
We heard very powerful speeches today from the Mayor, the leader of the council, and others. The contribution made by Woodhouse College sixth former, Lela Cordess, really stood out. She spoke about a visit she had made to the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp and the deep impression it had made on her.
Lela and all other speakers emphasised the crucial importance of speaking out against hatred and anti-Semitism wherever it occurs.”
One of the organisers of the event had this to say…
“Thank you for putting me in touch with Lela Cordess; she is a really exceptional student. She met with the Reverend Bernd Koschland and myself before Christmas to discuss her contribution. She then wrote a very thoughtful and profoundly moving reflection on her visit to Auschwitz which we included in the Holocaust Pack circulated to all schools in Barnet and Enfield. She read it out at the Holocaust Event last Sunday. She read with great clarity and expression, and a number of the audience remarked on how greatly touched they had been by her reflections. She represented your college with dignity and pride and was a great credit to the college.”
You can read the full text of Lela’s speech at the bottom of this article.
Lela was also nominated as a founding member of the Medicine Society at Woodhouse.
“Medicine is my chosen career path but I’m taking a gap year because I didn’t make it into my university of choice. I’m hoping to get into Oxford and had an interview this year but did not get an offer because my BMAT score was a little low, but I’ll retake it and apply again.
I helped found the Medicine Society, originally for mostly upper sixth students, where we would get together in small groups to discuss recent medical articles as well as preparing for the UKCAT and BMAT (UK Clinical Aptitude TestandBio-Medical Admissions Test) and just sharing good books to read, websites and general questions about medicine. I think the society helped people out quite a lot and we’ve established a strong community of medics now.”
Recipients of the Jack Petchey Award are given £250 to spend at college.
“I plan to use some of the Jack Petchey money to make a small holocaust memorial of a Birch tree and plaque. The Birch tree symbolises rebirth and renewal.
I also want to buy some additional interesting kit for the Biology department and give some money to the Medicine Society for books and stuff. And finally, a peace lily plant for our library manager, who is wonderful.
I love the library at Woodhouse the most… a library that is actually silent!”
And finally, Lela has a 100% attendance and punctuality record and has helped out at many other college events too.
Woodhouse are very proud to have her as a student.
My Trip to Auschwitz – Reflection
By Lela Cordess
When people think of The Holocaust they may think of a figure: 6 million dead. People might say it with a kind of clinical detachment, but a visit to Auschwitz changes all that. Instead of thinking of numbers, you learn about people. Hearing of the suffering and cruelty that Jews faced from a survivor as well as visiting the camps has really humanised The Holocaust for me.
Before our group actually went to Auschwitz, we visited the nearby town. There was an odd dichotomy with the visit to Oswiecim; on the face of it, it looked like a typical Polish town, yet there was an absence in the area - something lost. A once thriving Jewish community gone.
Auschwitz was the largest Nazi German concentration and death camp, where from the years 1940-1945 at least 1,300,000 Jews were deported by the Nazis. But nothing quite prepares you for a visit to Auschwitz. Even after over 70 years since the liberation of the camp, there is a certain oppressive atmosphere at the camps, which silently presses down on you. It’s as if the air itself is stained with their suffering.
When walking through the camp you’re hit with the startling realisation that you’re walking on ground that people bled and died on, the ground that families were separated on, the ground that people lost hope on, and it breaks your heart.
One of the hardest facts that confronts you is the fact that the perpetrators that carried out these atrocious acts were not monsters - though they might have carried out monstrous acts -instead, they were normal people, and by labelling them as something‘other’we delude ourselves into thinking it could not occur now. We must not distort the events of the Holocaust by thinking‘it was different then’.
On a visit to Auschwitz, you often come away with more questions than you do answers. You discover the different roles that people had in the war. You learn about the train drivers who drove prisoners to the camps, and you wonder how much less guilty are bystanders compared to perpetrators? Is it action, rather than inaction that condemns? Is it the intention that matters? You ask yourself what you would have done had you been there, and question whether or not you would have had the bravery to help when so many others stood by.
The Holocaust is a lesson in how small acts of discrimination escalated to the killing of millions of people, and how the state-sanctioned ideology of hate can poison the masses. It drives home that each one of us must choose love, choose kindness, and choose hope above all else. We must not put barriers and restrictions on others. When we look at other people, we must strive above all else to see a person, never a label. We must revolt against any discriminatory speech or action. Above all, we must not forget the past, because as George Santayana so rightly says: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  Let this be our ‘never again’.

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