Dr. Eva Olsson, Canadian author and concentration camp survivor, visited Glendale School last week where she gave a presentation asking students to stop bullying and to never use the word ‘hate’.
She started her presentation by asking the students to raise their hand if they had ever been bullied before. It was of little surprise when nearly every child in the gymnasium raised his or her hand.
Olsson, 90, responded to the children by saying that she too had been bullied in her lifetime. She explained she was 19 when she bullied, only it wasn’t by a peer in her school, as she had never been given the opportunity to go to one. Instead, Olsson was bullied by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis simply because she was Jewish.
“Do you know why they bullied me?” she asked the children. “They bullied me because I had a different religion.”
When the Second World War started, Olsson was living in two-bedroom home in Hungary with her 17 family members. They had no running water, no electricity, and no indoor toilet.
“Some of us had to sleep on the floor because we didn’t have enough beds – but it was okay,” she explained. “Why was it okay though? Because I had a mom, I had a dad, I had brothers, I had sisters and five little nieces.”
It was mid-May when the Germans arrived and told them to pack their things. They marched the family of 18 to a train station 7 kms away and told them they were being sent to work in a brick factory.
Olsson and her family soon became one of the 110 people in a standing room only box car. One pail of water and another empty pail to use as a toilet were placed at either end of the car.
“They packed us into the box cars like sardines,” she remembers. “Very little air came into these box cars and people started to die, children were crying, there was no water, no food, and we stood day and night for four days.”
They had been told the name of the brick factory they were being sent to was called Auschwitz-Birkenau, but when they finally arrived Olsson said it didn’t look like much of a brick factory to her.
“There were five large chimneys and the air smelled terrible,” said Olsson. “There were high towers, electric fences, machine guns, guards with rifles – Auschwitz-Birkenau wasn’t a brick factory, it was a killing factory.”
They were lined up with only two ways to go, left or right and in front of them stood ‘The Angel of Death’ Dr. Josef Mengele.
“He didn’t say anything to us, he just pointed left or right,” said Olsson. “That’s how he decided who would live or die.”
Olsson turned to see where her mother had gone but she couldn’t find her. She looked desperately around the crowd but it was too late. Her mother was gone in the blink of an eye.
“How I wish I could’ve given my mom a hug and tell her how much I love her and say sorry I disobeyed her just one last time,” she told the audience. “I can never tell my mother I was sorry, so I’m asking you to go home tonight and if your mother is there, tell her you love her even if you don’t agree with her some days and give your mom a hug.”
Olsson’s journey through a number of concentration camps continued until the end of the war when the camp she was in was liberated by Russian troops.
She said if the troops had been only four hours later, she quite likely would have died from the years of abuse she had experienced.
Following the war and her liberation she went to Sweden, where she met her husband and eventually moved to Canada. She learned to read and write, had a child, and is now travelling across North America to use her experiences to put an end to hate and bullying.
“Do you know what I don’t like? I don’t like being called names, I don’t like being pushed around, do you?” she said. “Nobody likes that, so when someone does this to you, you have to tell that other person ‘I don’t like your behaviour’ but never say ‘hate’ – hate murdered many children and I don’t use the word hate, never,”
For more information or to get a copy of her book visit www.evaolsson.ca.