What would you do?

CARE: Ballarat High's Ellena Raven and Keith Scott listen in close to Peter Gaspar's message of tolerance, acceptance and love. Picture: Lachlan Bence

CARE: Ballarat High's Ellena Raven and Keith Scott listen in close to Peter Gaspar's message of tolerance, acceptance and love. Picture: Lachlan Bence

HOLOCAUST survivor Peter Gaspar’s story is powerful – you would have heard a pin drop as he told his story to Ballarat High School year nine students. But it was his clear message that Mr Gaspar hoped would have the lasting impact.

What would you do?

Courage to Care will address all Ballarat High’s year nines across two days this week. The anti-bullying program has been on the road for 20 years, prompting more than 90,000 Victorian students to consider the question.

Using their Holocaust survival stories is the tool to get students thinking about broader issues of bigotry, prejudice, discrimination and bullying.

“We are all responsible for each other. We are all responsible for our neighbours,” Mr Gaspar said. "If you see a person in trouble, you do have an option. But you have to have the will.”

Mr Gaspar was five years old when forced to go on the run in his homeland, which is now Slovakia, during Nazi occupation.

His family evaded arrest for 3½ years before spending six months in prison camp Terezin, 60 kilometres north of Prague until it was liberated by the Russians. Mr Gaspar and his parents were the only survivors in a family of 40.

They moved to Australia in 1949 “and picked up our lives”.

Mr Gaspar has been sharing his story for a long time and said some days were easier to talk than others. He was never sure why.

“I do it because I really believe in this message being of importance,” Mr Gaspar said. “I’ve had some astounding replies, some have told me my story has been life-changing, and that is the response that keeps me going.”

Ballarat High did lead-up sessions to background the Holocaust for students. Courage to Care sessions also include a short film but also draw on experiences of refugees, asylum seekers and a homosexual teenager in Australia to highlight the overall message.

Year nine student Keith Scott said the session had definitely made him stop and think about moments when he could make a stand, rather then be a bystander.

“I learnt a lot about how it was in World War II, how Hitler treated all the Jews,” Mr Scott said. “There were people who didn’t want to go along with it, who helped anyway, because really, everyone is just the same. No-one is different.”