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by Brad Aubin
Students at E.s. Northern S.S. had a living history lesson last Friday, April 6 as Dr. Eva Olsson, a Holocaust survivor and author, spoke to them about the horrors she lived through and how she turned her ordeals into a lifelong mission to educate and inspire.
Dr. Olsson, now aged 93 and living in Bracebridge, Ontario, has been bringing her message to people across the globe for the past 22 years. After being freed from the concentration camps of Auschwitz, she arrived in Nova Scotia in 1951, and took an overnight train to Montreal. In 1955, she came to Toronto, and then moved to Bracebridge in 1985.
For the past two decades, she has spoken to thousands of people in over 3,800 assemblies across Canada and the United States, and has even addressed the United Nations. It was not her first visit to Northern, but it was the first time current students got to hear her, and they were obviously enthralled as complete silence fell over the school gymnasium while she spoke. Though her voice was soft, it was all you could hear, and it resonated.
Dr. Olsson didn’t soften the realities of WWII to spare her young audience; she showed some hard hitting black and white slides, haunting visuals that underscored her story of survival. The audience travelled with her from her family’s home in Hungary, to the concentration camps of Auschwitz, and eventually to freedom thanks to the Allied Forces that brought her across the Baltic Sea to Sweden. That’s where she found acceptance and re-kindled her faith in humanity, she recounted.
“Today I will talk about hate,” Dr. Olsson told the crowd of over 300 people, linking the hate that fuelled the Nazis to the hate that keeps dividing and hurting people today. “I will talk about bullies – and how not to be a by-stander. On the screen there will be images – images that will show hate and what it can do to people. What you will see is not a Hollywood movie, and it is not a video game. It is real life, and I was there. When I was 19, I was bullied by the Nazis. Was it because I was ugly? No. Was it because I was Hungarian? No. It was because I was Jewish. 67 years ago this month I became Canadian. (…) To me being a Canadian is accepting the Canadian values. It represents acceptance. All of your ancestors came to this country many years ago – they were accepted. They were not bullied. Like our ancestors, we must always remember the importance of acceptance. The importance of peace and what it means to us.”
Northern’s Bill Vanmeer, Ryan Sauder, Elisa Macfarlane and Laurent Paquette flank Holocaust survivor Dr. Eva Olsson (center) after she addressed the school last Friday, April 6.