Holocaust survivor Peter Gaspar doesn’t think he was brave.
But he thinks the people who sheltered him and his Jewish parents in Slovakia during World War II were the epitome of it.
“We were in hiding for three years, hidden by Christian friends of my parents,” Mr Gaspar said.
“We survived until the end of 1944 before we gave ourselves up because we were endangering other people’s lives.”
Mr Gaspar and his mother spent the last six months of the war in the Teresin concentration camp near Prague while his father was sent to a labour camp in Germany.
“It was a holding camp, not an extermination camp, but there was a weekly transport to the extermination camp and you never knew when it would be your turn to be shunted onto the train.”
Mr Gaspar’s story had a special meaning – “don’t be a bystander” – for Ballarat High School year nine students on Tuesday.
“My story is really about the people who helped us, our rescuers and what motivated them. They saw our common humanity, not our differences. Today it is more poignant than ever because there were many Muslims among those who rescued Jews.
“Very often people say to me ‘how brave you were’ but other people were brave, not me. And we can all make a difference by standing up for what is right.
“My story is not a lesson in history but a lesson how we should behave as humans. Don’t discriminate and don’t have a tolerance for bad things. Don’t follow evil leaders for evil ends.”
Mr Gaspar was speaking to the students as part of the Courage to Care exhibition, a travelling exhibition that educates Australians about prejudice and discrimination, using primarily the stories of people who helped Jews survive the Holocaust.
Year nine student Trillian Sharples was so moved by Mr Gaspar’s story she gave him a handwritten note to say thank you.
“I thought it was fantastic. I learnt a lot – I was really moved by everything told to me,” Trillian said.
“Numbers are just numbers but this is a really good story.”