Holocaust survivor spoke to local students

April 30, 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells – Six schools as well as a number of members of the community last week had the honour of hearing Dr. Eva Olsson, a Holocaust survivor and advocate against hate, intolerance, racism and bigotry, share her story. Students at Credit Meadows, Montgomery Village, Parkinson Centennial and Princess Margaret Public school, as well as Robert F. Hall and Orangeville District secondary schools gathered to hear her message.

“The message I bring is that we need to eliminate hate,” said Dr. Olsson. “When we eliminate hate, we eliminate bullies, because they go hand in hand. People need to learn unconditional acceptance. It doesn’t matter where people pray, it’s one God. It doesn’t matter what people look like, their blood is still red. You accept the other people for what they are, that means unconditional acceptance.”

Dr. Olsson began speaking to students 18 years ago after an experience with her granddaughter helped her realize why she needed to begin sharing her message. Her granddaughter was asked to interview Dr. Olsson regarding her time spent in a concentration camp when she was 19.

“She was in a French-immersion class, in grade 7 or 8. Her teacher asked her if she would talk to me and interview me about the war,” said Dr. Olsson. “She did, and took the project in, and that’s where it started, in a portable 18 years ago. It may not be so simple for other people, and I understand. It’s painful, but I have made up my mind after fifty years of silence, that I am no longer going to allow my pain to control my life. I have to be in control, not my pain.”

Out of 11 members of Dr. Olsson’s family, only she and one sibling survived. On her mother’s side, 87 members of the family never made it out of the concentration camp. It’s been nearly 69 years since she was rescued by British and Canadian soldiers and found freedom again.

But if you met Dr. Olsson, you wouldn’t see a woman who had been through suffering and pain. Despite her age (89), she is lively, passionate and positive. She attributes her capability to move forward from everything entirely on attitude.

“Some survivors believe they are victims; I am not a victim,” she said. “I was victimized, but the victims are dead. It’s not ‘poor me’ because it had nothing to do with me. I can go and sit there and vegetate, or I can take it a little bit further. Even though I can’t change what happened there, maybe we still have a chance to teach the generation of today how to behave so that it doesn’t happen again.”

She has spoken to over one million people at over the nearly two decades since she began sharing her message against bullying and the importance of not being a bystander to injustice. Her life experiences, mainly with the Holocaust, are used to illustrate the power of hate and need to stand up against forces of racism, bigotry and intolerance.

“I survived for a reason, and I’ve accepted that,” she said. “I don’t believe that any of my other family members would have done what I had done. They would have remained silent because they were fundamentalists, and did not believe in getting involved.”

Dr. Olsson has received much recognition and numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from Nipissing University, a doctorate in Humanitarianism from and was honoured as a Fellow from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. She also received the high honour of the Order of Ontario at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2008.

She has authored two books, including an autobiography entitled ‘Unlocking the Doors: A Woman’s Struggle Against Intolerance’ and ‘Remembering Forever: A Journey of Darkness and Light’.

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