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Holocaust survivor urges students to stand up against racism

Holocaust survivor Peter Gaspar talks to the students at Auckland Grammar School.

A Holocaust survivor has urged Auckland students to stand up against intolerance, racism and discrimination.

Peter Gaspar told students from Auckland Grammar School the story of how he survived the Holocaust.

Gaspar, who lives with his wife and family in Melbourne, visited Auckland as part of the Jewish Federation of New Zealand's Hope programme.

The only child of his Jewish parents, Gaspar was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in 1937.

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In June 1942, 40 members of his family were arrested and Gaspar never heard from them again.

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Over the next few years, the family of three was hidden in a hole in a field behind a farmhouse.

"It was the size and shape of a grave," he said.

Gaspar attributed his survival to those who hid him and his family wherever they could in the 1940s.

​Of all the worries that surrounded him during WWII, he said it was the "500 million bystanders in Europe" that could have changed his past.

"Bystanders were part of the problem," he said. 

"Bystanders are like the three monkeys - they don't want to know, don't want to be involved.

"In every situation you have options, your strongest weapon is your mouth - only one person needs to speak to get others involved," he said. 

While hiding Gaspar and his family had to take turns to lie down and ate one meal a day - supplied by the people hiding them. 

It became unbearable and they gave themselves up to the authorities. 

Separated from his father, Gaspar and his mother were taken to a concentration camp in Terezin.

Gaspar and his mother were liberated in May 1945 and made their way to Bratislava to see who else would return.

"At the end of June, my dad came back. He was wearing striped pyjamas and he had been in a slave labour camp," Gaspar said.

"A few weeks later my mother's brother came back. He had survived things we will not talk about."

In 1949, Gaspar and his parents arrived in Melbourne, Australia where he excelled in sports and played for his school.

He now spends his time trying to use events from his past to make a change for the future.

"I speak to students because I hope it will do some good, to avoid tragedies like genocide," he said.

"People said after the war and the Holocaust 'never again', but it has happened time and time again. I hope what I do can reverse some of that."

Gaspar has returned twice to Bratislava to meet the many people who hid him.

Year 13 Auckland Grammar School student Travis Fraser said he was shocked to learn the majority of the public stood by and watched the atrocities happen.

"I learnt that sometimes you need to endanger yourself, to save someone else - and this still applies today," Fraser said. 

Year 10 Auckland Grammar School student Ben Alexander said he did not notice much bullying at Auckland Grammar School.

"But, if it happened, I would definitely stop it," Alexander said.

Stuff

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