TORONTO — Marie Lardino, founder and principal of Voice Intermediate School expected that bringing Sally Eisner, a survivor of the Holocaust, as a guest to her school would have an impact on her students.
She wasn’t prepared, however, for the impact her initiative would have on her personally.
Lardino thought it would be a “fantastic” idea to bring Eisner to the school – a small private school in Toronto’s Distillery District – as a follow-up to last year’s Grade 7 and 8 trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
In November, Lardino met Eisner through a friend, and immediately felt a strong connection. The two women now speak virtually every day, and Lardino brought Eisner back to the school last month.
In a tribute to Eisner on her blog (http://marielardino.blogspot.ca) Lardino, nee Benitez, wrote of the resemblance in looks and loving manner between Eisner and her own aunt in Uruguay.
Eisner even ended conversations the same way as Lardino’s aunt – “I love you, I love you, I love you,” stressing the word “love.”
Lardino, who attended Catholic school as a child in Uruguay and moved here when she was 12, only learned as an adult that she has Jewish ancestry.
She believes her Uruguayan-born grandmother, whose maiden name was Reiter, was Polish, although Lardino’s great-grandparents were from Spain. Her grandmother used to use Yiddish words and light candles on Friday night, she recalls.
“For me, it always felt like something was missing,” Lardino said.
For the 45 Grade 7 and 8 students at her school, meeting Eisner also had an impact.
The 90-year-old survivor, who grew up in the Polish town of Zaleszchyki, lost her parents in a labour camp when they were shot by Nazis and thrown into a mass grave, along with her future husband’s parents. She was just a teenager at the time.
“I am not a bitter person,” Eisner told The CJN. “I love people, and I’m not prejudiced.”
Pam MacIsaac, the school’s vice-principal, said the students were inspired by Eisner, and asked if they could do a followup project.
In early March, Lardino brought Eisner back to the school to see the artwork that the students had created as a gift for her.
Their work featured birds to represent Eisner’s freedom after the Holocaust, hearts for love, words like “courage” and “hope,” and quotes that the kids remembered.
One girl told Eisner, “You inspire me because you always look on the brighter side.”
Eisner told her, “I hope you’ll look on the brighter side of things, and [that] you’ll be surrounded with flowers.”
A male classmate told Eisner that the blue swirls in the picture he helped create represent “the good in your life, and how we love you, and we always like to see you here. The red represents the not-so-good part of your life, and how it got better.”
Eisner was moved by the presentations. “Everything is so close to my heart.”