Both Bashaw and Ponoka were drawn into an eye-opening experience as Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson visited the communities last week on her mission to change the future of the world.
Olsson spoke at the Bashaw United Church on Monday, Feb. 9, at Bashaw School on Feb. 10 and at St. Augustine Catholic School in Ponoka, also on Feb. 10
Since 1996, she’s visited more than 3,000 schools, churches, military bases, communities across Canada and the United States, as well as the United Nations. Sharing her experiences from under the Nazi regime, she is spreading the message of the importance of legacies in an effort to change people’s minds and rid the world of hate.
As the lives of 6 million Jews were taken by the Nazis, Olsson’s life was forever changed by the three people who had the biggest impact on her own life; her mother, her father and Hitler.
“What did I learn from my mom? Never give up,” said Olsson.
Olsson was born in Hungary, and before even getting pregnant with her, her mother was sickly. The doctor ordered an abortion, but Olsson’s mother decided on bed rest for eight months while she already had several other children living in the two-room shed they owned, as the family could not afford a house.
“Most of us bond with our mothers, it was no different with me. The difference is I wasn’t supposed to be born,” said Olsson.
From her mother, as they went from Jewish Hungarian family to a several million-body collection of people unfairly persecuted, Olsson says she learned the trait of perseverance and the value of a human life.
This is also the lesson Olsson passed down to her younger sister, who was one month shy of 17 years old when the family arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“I asked myself who could do this. Animals? Animals don’t treat each other this way,” said Olsson. She says only people can create and condone genocide, people consumed by hate.
Hate was the cause of the Holocaust, says Olsson.
“Mostly I talk about bullying and hate,” said Olsson. While everybody can learn something listening to Olsson’s incredible journey, her message is directed at the children of the world.
“You’re the future,” said Olsson addressing children at the St. Augustine Catholic School.
She says she has not been in a school anywhere in Canada or the United States where children are not bullying each other.
Now living in Ontario, Olsson says because her grandson is Jewish, even nowadays he is still a victim of hate because of his ancestry.
While in Grade 10, attending an Ontario school, a schoolmate called her grandson a “stupid Jew.” She says it was not the name calling that was the real problem for him; it was the teacher standing beside him that took no action.
Rather than going to the principal the grandson went to a newspaper and the teacher was shortly thereafter removed from the school.
At 21 years old, he graduated from Queen’s University with two degrees. “Now you have to be pretty stupid to achieve that,” Olsson told the crowd.
Hate breeds hate, but her grandson refused to follow. Rather than getting mad, he chose dialogue and communication, which Olsson says is the only solution.
Although he was not a bad man, Olsson says she was gifted the legacy of dishonesty from her father; something she carried with her into adulthood and to Canada.
Growing up, Olsson, on her parent’s wishes, never attended school. After she was widowed in Canada, she could not read or write. In public, she would lie to cover her perceived shortcomings.
“One day I looked in the mirror and said ‘who are you?’” At 39 years old, she decided if people did not like her because she less educated that was their choice.
“I had the courage to free myself from that negativity. I had the courage to walk through that door. A door that had always been open,” said Olsson.
“And then there’s the legacy passed on by Hitler,” said Olsson.
The day Olsson and the 18 other members of her family were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were told they were being relocated to a brick factory in Germany. Everyone, the youngest being two months old, was made to walk seven kilometers to the waiting railway cars.
Inside, 100 to 110 people were crammed together with little oxygen and human waste covering the floor. For four days they travelled and when they arrived at the concentration camp people were relieved at the thought of water and fresh air.
“The air that hit us was nauseating, black smoke covered the skies,” said Olsson.
Within two hours of arrival most of the members of her family had been killed. As she looked in line one last time to see her mother Olsson’s mind flashed back to a time when she was approximately 10 years old and her mother was telling the children the story about how the Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites.
“History had repeated itself,” said Olsson.
Without a change in human thinking, Olsson says history will always repeat itself, and that is why she has been working for the last 19 years to make a difference in the next generation.
One of the reasons she spends her time presenting her experiences from the Holocaust, and the ultimate bullies, to children is because babies cannot hate, it is a learned trait.
Children are also the first victims when it comes to wars. During the Second World War 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered, five being Olsson’s nieces.
“I have made it my mission to speak for them and for all the other children who have been silenced by hate,” said Olsson.