BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL - The voices of 11 million men, women and children were silenced by hate during the Holocaust. Dr. Eva Olsson refuses to be silent.
The Holocaust survivor and national best-selling author shared her story with an audience of parents and students at Listowel Central School last Tuesday night, speaking on the need to eliminate hate, and the strength of the human spirit.
A member of a Jewish family in Hungary, Olsson said she could hardly believe the news when Poland was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany, hearing of entire families slaughtered by soldiers. The stories became a reality for Olsson at the age of 19 in 1944, when her family and other residents were loaded into a boxcar, and told they were being sent to a brick factory in Germany. Olsson’s mother was one of the few who realized the dire situation they were in, and cried not for herself, but for the children.
Olsson recalls arriving at the gates of Auschwitz, where prisoners were herded like cattle as “the angel of death” Dr. Josef Mengele directed them left or right. Olsson believes her life was saved as she was exiting the boxcar, when a prisoner from Auschwitz told Olsson to leave her young niece with an older woman.
“They knew what happened to young mothers with children,” she said. “He saved my life, I don’t even know who he is.”
Olsson and her young sister were ordered to the right with the other young girls, separated from their mother. By the time Olsson turned back to the crowd looking for her mother, she was gone.
“At that moment I couldn’t see my mom, how I wished I could put my arms around her, and just tell her how much I love her,” Olsson said. “For me it was too late. Do it while you can.”
The prisoners were ordered to strip for a nude inspection, at which point Olsson said her life was saved again by a second miracle since arriving at the death camp. Olsson walked with her clothes hung across her right arm, by chance covering an appendix scar from a few months earlier. Olsson didn’t realize the significance of her actions until speaking at an event in Peterborough in 2001.
“Anyone that arrived with a scar from surgery was immediately sent to the gas chamber,” she said. “Miracles do happen, even though you don’t know at the time.”
For almost a year, Olsson survived in Auschwitz and forced labour camps, living off rations of sawdust bread and dirty soup. After trying to put the Holocaust behind her for 50 years, Olsson realized the importance of sharing her story with students, not simply about what happened, but also about how things like compassion and the elimination of hate can prevent it from ever happening again.
“We must eliminate hate so that we can eliminate bullies,” Olsson said. “If hate is not checked, it builds into rage, and that’s what you saw on Hitler’s face.”
Olsson had a message for parents in attendance, telling them they have a responsibility to shape their children into understanding, compassionate adults.
“Send your children to school the way you want to see them as adults,” Olsson said. “Don’t expect the teacher to fix it for you.”