Son of Austrian refugee returns to the school which expelled his father

Michael Bibring continues to tell his father’s story to young people


Harry Bibring (left) and his son Michael, who continues to share his father's story (Photo: Michael Bibring)

Over 85 years since his father was kicked out of his school in Vienna for being Jewish, his son has returned there to speak to the pupils – and to pick up his father’s school report.

Michael Bibring’s father Harry Bibring BEM was 12 when he was expelled from Amerling Gymnasium (grammar) school in 1938, following the Anschluss (Germany’s annexation of Austria). 

Now Michael has retraced his father’s steps to speak to over 70 students at the school.

Having just returned to the UK, Michael told the JC that his talk at the school was “the most amazing I’ve ever done; so rewarding and emotional.”

Michael spoke for one and a half hours, with another hour of “fascinating” questions at the end. “They even brought in an English teacher in case they needed help,” Michael said, “but they all spoke perfect English and were so engaged.”

"Some questions have stayed with me, like: ‘Was your father angry?’ ‘Did he love or hate Austria?’ and ‘Do you think I should be proud to be Austrian?’”

Harry, who passed away in 2019, aged 95, was born on December 26, 1925, in Vienna, Austria, where he spent a happy early life with his father Michael, mother Esther and sister Gertie.

Micheal said he used to fondly recall going ice-skating twice a week with his friends. However, after the Nazis took over, Harry’s non-Jewish friends stopped speaking to him, and he was forced to leave the grammar school which he had worked so hard to get into.

His father was arrested, and the family’s menswear business looted and destroyed during Kristallnacht, forcing the family to leave their flat and live in a house, together with 50 other Jewish women and children.

Fearing for their son’s safety, Harry was 13 when he was placed on the Kindertransport bound for Britain.

Harry’s father died of a heart attack in November 1940, and his mother was deported to the death camp at Sobibór in Poland in 1942.

In England, Harry went on to secure an engineering apprenticeship, and even applied to join the RAF, but was declined because his mother was believed to be alive and still living in enemy territory, and if Harry had been caught, it could have been used to extract information from him.

He met his wife-to-be Muriel in 1945 and enjoyed a career as an engineer and full-time lecturer, based in Bushey.

After Muriel passed away in 2009, Harry “reinvented” himself and dedicated his remaining years to educating people about the Holocaust.

Harry became one of Holocaust Education Trust’s (HET) “most mobile and keen” educators, said his son, averaging about 75 school talks a year between 2009 and 2019.

But he was “most proud” though of being asked in 2005 to return to the grammar school in Austria, where he had once been a pupil, to share his story.

Michael, said: “I remember him feeling very honoured to be asked. He didn’t know initially how the pupils would react, but they were incredible, and he spent ages with them. He was so impressed and overwhelmed by them. They were all well prepared, curious, and asked amazing questions.

“We actually surprised him by taking a later plane to Vienna and showing up at his talk. I still remember his face after he had finished that session. He was beaming, like a loose thread of his life had been tied up.”

Harry would return to the school to speak four more times. The school even installed a Stolperstein (stone of remembrance) near campus grounds in his honour and unveiled a memorial plaque to remember all the Jewish former students who were expelled.

During Michael’s recent visit, the school gifted him a card featuring pictures of his father speaking there in previous years, with the caption: “You are always welcome at our school”, as well as a copy of his father’s report card from 1937.

Michael said: “I think picking up the baton of Holocaust education is more important than ever. I’m keeping alive my dad’s story, and my grandparents’ story, because there is no one else that can. I do it for the same reason my father did it, because education is key to understanding differences.

“HET, my dad and I were and are firm believers in education being so important in fighting prejudice and intolerance, and this whole experience underlined the importance of that in a way I found so moving.”

Karen Pollock CBE, chief executive of HET, said: “We are so proud of Michael for all he does to continue his father Harry’s legacy. Michael is already making a huge difference in schools across Britain and now is spreading this even further afield to Austria, the birthplace of his father Harry and his grandparents.

"Going to the school his father was forced to leave is amazing. The work of second-generation speakers is becoming increasingly vital, and we are delighted to support Michael in all he does.”

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