'I survived the horrors of the Holocaust - we must all work together to end racism'

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Austria, Paul Millet and his family came under threat from the Nazis. Here, the 89-year-old, who went on to flee to Australia, recounts his escape.

Paul Millet

Holocaust survivor Paul Millet with an photograph of his family. Source: SBS News

This story is part of a special series featuring older Australians looking back on their lives.

Paul Millet was born in Vienna but didn’t have the chance to spend much of his life in Austria.

When the Jews came under attack from Nazi forces in the 1930s, he was forced to flee the danger with his family.

His experience of World War Two, he tells SBS News, was "very confronting". 

Kristallnacht: the Night of Broken Glass

In November 1938, Nazi para-military forces launched their attack.

The event was a turning point in its history which saw anti-Semitic rhetoric shifted to violence against Jews.

Some historians have viewed the event as the beginning of the Holocaust.

An estimated 30,000 Jews were arrested or sent to concentration camps.


Paul and his family when they lived in Austria.
Source: Supplied

“I went to school, I saw people being arrested in the streets,” Mr Millet says. 

Synagogues were burning across Vienna. 

“The air was so dense in the district where I lived.” 

There was vandalism of schools and businesses and Paul was there to witness the horrors as a child. 

“I recall that vividly like it was today, and I was only eight,” he says. 

A train to Italy

Despite his age at the time, Paul's memories of the past have remained strong in his mind. He can recall key dates and details of what happened to him. 

Paul managed to survive the war, he said, because the Italian government welcomed him due to their anti-racial laws which supported the Jewish community.


“We found out if you go to Italy, they recognised a German passport,” he says. 

“It didn’t matter if the German passport had a J in it, which meant that you were Jewish.” 

The arrival from his homeland to Italy was, he says, “from hell to heaven”.

“The moment we crossed the border, the Italian customs, they were singing.”

The family survived as refugees and were in Italy for almost a decade. But once the Germans occupied it, Paul said he knew they would be searching for them. 

“The greatest tragedy was that the Italians surrendered.” 

“Thanks to the Italian police and the Italian people where we were hiding, we survived.” 

Family separated

The Nazis killed six million Jews during the Holocaust, more than a third of the world’s Jewish population at that time.

Paul said his father, Hermann, who "didn't look Jewish", was interned by the fascists but not harmed.

His older brother Joe went to England and was one of the passengers on the infamous HMT Dunera.

Paul with his father and brother.
Source: Supplied

The British passenger ship made a name for itself due to the maltreatment and injustice surrounding those on board.

“The British government advised the Australian government that 2000 Nazis were on that boat, which were actually refugees who had come from Germany and Austria to England,” Paul says. 

The vessel was crammed with 2000 mostly Jewish refugees when it left Liverpool in 1940 bound for Australia.

His late brother endured the tough conditions and later joined the army in Australia.

“Quite a phenomenal trip I should say,” Paul says. “They treated these 2000 people very badly.” 

But, he says, he credits the Australian government for accepting the many professionals and were able to practice their work in a new country.

“They realised that amongst these 2000 people, they are not Nazis, they are refugees - doctors and engineers - which Australia needed during the war.”

Paul's father Hermann at the Victoria market.
Source: Supplied

Joe would go on to find Paul’s name on a Red Cross list of war survivors and arranged transportation for him from Italy to Australia.

“After seven years, I missed my brother intensely during my stay in Italy.”

“But what could I do? He wasn’t there. It wasn’t easy.”

Life in Australia

Paul, as well as his parents, would go on to settle in Melbourne, where he met his late wife Pearl at a picnic.  

Pearl was from Poland and came to Australia in 1939 before World War Two began.

Paul and Pearl on their wedding day.

Paul helped his parents with their stall at the Queen Victoria market, selling knitwear and women's lingerie. His wife would later help him with a stall he ran in South Melbourne

He says he experienced racism until he retired in 2000 and it saddens him that it still persists today.

The couple had two daughters, two granddaughters and two great-grandaughters, and Paul has since re-partnered with Sue Apterman, 83. 

He says raising his family in Australia has given him a deep affection for the country.

“As a young man, maybe I did not appreciate it as much.”

Paul at his South Melbourne market stall.

He says he was one of the first migrants to arrive in Melbourne in 1946 and was still connected to his European roots. 

“I would be a liar if I say I feel 100 per cent Australian.” 

“But my family, my grandchildren, my granddaughter, my daughters, they were all born here, three generations, so I must feel deep down that I am Australian.” 

“I have lived here for 72 years, I think it is one of the best countries in the world.” 

He attributed his family's survival of the Holocaust only to luck. 

Paul today 

2020 has seen world leaders commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp’s liberation.

"We have learned nothing of it,” Paul says of past wars.

“The war years were all wasted I think, whatever bad thing happened is repeating itself.”

He says peace is the most important goal for the world.

“We must find a solution where we can live peacefully altogether, irrespective of what religion, or what colour and so on.”

Paul pours a cup of tea at the South Melbourne market.
Source: SBS News

After an incredible life, Paul has most recently spent his time playing tennis and golf and going to the cinema and theatre. 

He will be 90 in May. 

Would you like to share your story with SBS News? Email yourstory@sbs.com.au

Published 20 February 2020 at 9:42pm
By Stephanie Corsetti