“Do you know my story?”
Dressed in vibrant red and a warm smile, Lilly Wolf clasps both my hands between hers and searches my eyes as I reply: “Only what’s in your bio.”
“Oh, that’s nothing!” 86-year-old Lilly declares – and begins: “So in 1944, I was a 17-year-old girl…”
For more than 13 years, school children have heard Lilly re-live her personal story – how the kindness of strangers, including Raoul Wallenberg, helped her to survive the Holocaust in Budapest.
Recently named Australia’s first honorary citizen, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg issued special passports to Hungarian Jews and housed many – including Lilly – in diplomatic buildings during World War II.
Lilly’s story of self-determination and tribute to the kindness of strangers is one of five I have had the privilege to hear in detail from living Holocaust survivors in the past week.
Tom Fleming’s mother was able to gain them better conditions at Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ showcase to the Red Cross, by using psychology against the Germans. Although 16,000 children were to pass through this camp, Tom and his brother were two of only 100 to survive.
Gabriel (Gaby) Deleon, thankful for the aid of a Muslim family, and Halina Robinson who estimated more than 100 people helped her to hide in 13 locations over a two year period, each said their survival was a matter of luck.
Why did others choose to help – when to help could mean death?
They explore this question with school children, by using their personal stories to explain the roles of bully, victim and bystander.
For Lilly, it is a commitment: “I do it purposefully for the future. I want anyone who hears it to stop bullying, to stop putting people through pain.”
At the launch, New South Wales chairman Andrew Havas said: “The aim of Courage to Care is to empower the group that’s often overlooked in situations involving prejudice and discrimination – the bystanders.”
Their positive action to confront incidents of discrimination, bullying and harm should be encouraged, he said as he paid tribute to the 17 Australians honoured as ‘Righteous among Nations’ by Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and to Adele Rice, local hero and founding principal of Milpera State High School.
Principal Education Officer (Religious Education), Mark Elliott said Brisbane Catholic Education’s choice of Courage to Care is to move the children beyond tolerance to respecting diversity, to see that different-ness is a good thing.
Mr Elliott saw Courage to Care in action in Sydney before committing to the program: “The one thing that you notice is that when kids in small groups are able to engage with a Holocaust survivor, hear their story, hear the challenges that they’ve dealt with, and see any bitterness that they’ve had to deal with has been overcome, that they have a much more generous spirit – that’s a much stronger message than anything we can do in a classroom.”