Standing before a group of Bendigo students in St Killian’s Hall, Holocaust survivor George Deutsch shared his story with an audience other than family and friends for the first time.
“It was very emotional, but it was very rewarding because I feel I am honouring the people in France who looked after my family and who are the reason I am still alive today,” he said.
George’s parents were Austrian Jews living in the country’s capital, Vienna, when Nazi troops invaded in March 1938.
They fled to France, and George’s father went on to volunteer for the French Army.
It was a friend he met while serving in the French Foreign Legion, Georges Barbier, who went on to save his family.
George said his namesake gave his father a bed and a job in his furniture factory, in Lyon.
Barbier also arranged two rooms for George’s mother above a baker’s shop next door to the factory.
“Barbier was a very brave and compassionate man, as were the Michelin family who owned the bakery,” George said.
“Many people were killed for offering much less help than this.”
George was born in January 1942, when things were getting tougher for Jews in France.
“My parents must have been in the hands of very good people because they defied all odds and survived, baby and all,” he said.
He believes he owes his life to the people who helped his parents.
“They risked their lives, they risked the lives of their neighbours, their children, and the rest of their village for me and for my parents and for many other Jewish people and they need to be recognised,” George said.
His story is one of many that has shaped the Courage to Care travelling exhibition, aimed at empowering senior school students to stand up to prejudice, discrimination and bullying.
“It usually just takes one person to speak out and others will dare to voice their opinions as well,” Courage to Care Victoria chair Tony Weldon said.
All I think we can do is plant a seed.
Bendigo South East College student Portia Whitehead said it took strength to be an upstander, rather than a bystander.
“But I guess if everybody starts doing it, it will become a lot easier,” she said.
Alycia Abdy, of Bendigo Senior Secondary College, said empathy was a strong motivator.
“Knowing what the situation actually feels like, relating yourself to them,” she said.
Bullying was an injustice cited by students from both schools as one relevant to the lessons taught by the Courage to Care exhibition.
“Some people end up being bystanders and don’t really have the courage to stand up,” BSE student Jye Moon said.
They said they were amazed by George’s story.
George, meanwhile, was looking to the future.
“I came here when I was seven and I feel totally and utterly Australian and proud of the country – it has done so much,” he said.
“And yet there’s more that we can do.
“We need to never forget the horrible things that have gone on in this world and are still going on in other countries.
“We need to be forever vigilant to make sure that it never happens again.”
The Courage to Care travelling exhibition is in Bendigo until March 28 and is open to the public.
For details, call 9500 2313.