.
Eva Olsson, aged 92, is a Holocaust survivor, author and widely acclaimed public speaker. Over the past decade, she has spoken to more than one million people across North America concerning intolerance, bullying, and the importance of not being a bystander to injustice. Olsson uses her gripping personal stories about the Holocaust and being a prisoner in the Auschwitz death camp to illustrate the destructive power of hate and the importance of standing up against the forces of discrimination and intolerance. Olsson is author of Unlocking the Doors: A Woman’s Struggle against Intolerance (2001), her autobiography. Q: Mrs. Olsson, on May 15, 1944 you and your family, together with hundreds of other Jews, were taken away in Boxcars from Szatmar, Hungary to the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland. Did you have any inkling at the time of what was happening or the horrors that would be waiting in the camps? Olsson: No, I had no idea other than what they told us. We were told we were being shipped to Germany to work in a brick factory. However, my mom was very suspicious. I remember very well, as she was crying, she said “if we are being taken to a brick factory then why are they taking the disabled, elderly, and pregnant?” She thought there was definitely something wrong with this. We found out on May 19th as we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau, that we had entered a killing factory. Q: After Auschwitz, how were you able to regain a sense of personal dignity as a human being? Olsson: It was difficult. After two slave labor factories, enduring Bergen-Belsen, and having typhoid fever, small miracles happened out of the ashes. On April 15th, we were liberated by the British and Canadian forces that came in from Holland. A couple of months later the Red Cross arrived from Sweden to give us some advice. They told us to go back to the country where we were born or stay in a displacement camp. I chose to go to Sweden through the Red Cross and that was a blessing, to get out of hell. Through being accepted as a human being and receiving respect and dignity from the Swedish People, I began to regain my own personal sense of dignity. Once I began to regain that sense of self-worth I met my future husband and through his caring, compassion, and unconditional acceptance I learned to balance my life as a human being. Q: How are you now able to maintain your faith in humanity? Olsson: Twenty years ago, I made a choice to unlock my doors that I had kept shut for 50 years out of fear. Being given this opportunity to travel across Canada and part of the United States, I have made it my mission to talk about the past, so that this generation of today has some opportunity to see that the future needs to be better. The feedback I receive from educators and young people has given me a purpose in life. I realized that I needed to find my calling and through the way that people have treated me, through sharing my story, I have maintained my faith in humanity. Q: You frequently speak to school children of all ages across North America on the importance of tolerance and standing up against the forces of discrimination, intolerance and bullying. What is the essence of the message of hope you bring to young people? Olsson: The essence of my message of hope is to never to give up that hope because no matter your circumstances tomorrow can always be better than today. I also believe that no one should ever be a bystander. My mission is to pass along to young people that together we can eliminate hate and live only for love. Parents have a great impact on their children through the legacy that they pass down and it is important for young people to understand this legacy. Not only is it important for the young people, but also the parents themselves to understand the messages they are passing down to the next generation in shaping their lives and behaviors for the future to give them hope. Q: Where have you found the strength and resolve to recount such painful experiences of what you endured and witnessed as a child in the two concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? Olsson: My mom and dad married six months before the first world war ended and moved into a winterized shed with no facilities or electricity. Eventually they had three children. I was to be the fourth, but my mom was very ill. The doctor told my mom to have an abortion, however, she refused. She stayed in bed for eight months. She was determined for me to have the life I deserved to live. The legacy that my mom passed down to me allowed me courage, hope, and strength to endure living through the two concentration camps and be able to tell my story today. I need to have strength for the youth of today so that they can also have strength for their futures. Q: The Hebrew language has a very special word for love: “Ahava”, which, when broken down into its component parts, it means “to give”. Is this what the world needs more of–this mutual giving—to foster connections and better understanding between people and thereby combat hatred and intolerance? Olsson: Yes, the world needs more mutual giving and understanding to combat hatred and intolerance. I speak to people about unconditional caring and it is important for people to be more spiritual. To me being more spiritual means not being judgmental, showing that you care, and being compassionate. Compassion is caring for and giving to someone that is worse off than you are. This is the legacy that I want to pass down. To me, it is very important to give, to show love, which is why I go out every day and speak about my experiences. In the last twenty years, I have done 3800 presentations for a greater awareness and understanding to combat hatred and intolerance. Q: What things are most important to you now at this point in your life? Olsson: At this point in my life the most important thing to me is family. I tell the young people that I speak to that no matter what the challenges are, to never take your family for granted. It is also very important at this point in my life to have a good attitude and gratitude to keep me going. Photo by Daily Herald Tribune  

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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INTERVIEW: One Woman’s Stand Against Intolerance and Hate: A Conversation with Holocaust Survivor and Author Eva Olsson

November 24, 2016

Eva Olsson, aged 92, is a Holocaust survivor, author and widely acclaimed public speaker. Over the past decade, she has spoken to more than one million people across North America concerning intolerance, bullying, and the importance of not being a bystander to injustice. Olsson uses her gripping personal stories about the Holocaust and being a prisoner in the Auschwitz death camp to illustrate the destructive power of hate and the importance of standing up against the forces of discrimination and intolerance. Olsson is author of Unlocking the Doors: A Woman’s Struggle against Intolerance (2001), her autobiography. Q: Mrs. Olsson, on May 15, 1944 you and your family, together with hundreds of other Jews, were taken away in Boxcars from Szatmar, Hungary to the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland. Did you have any inkling at the time of what was happening or the horrors that would be waiting in the camps? Olsson: No, I had no idea other than what they told us. We were told we were being shipped to Germany to work in a brick factory. However, my mom was very suspicious. I remember very well, as she was crying, she said “if we are being taken to a brick factory then why are they taking the disabled, elderly, and pregnant?” She thought there was definitely something wrong with this. We found out on May 19th as we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau, that we had entered a killing factory. Q: After Auschwitz, how were you able to regain a sense of personal dignity as a human being? Olsson: It was difficult. After two slave labor factories, enduring Bergen-Belsen, and having typhoid fever, small miracles happened out of the ashes. On April 15th, we were liberated by the British and Canadian forces that came in from Holland. A couple of months later the Red Cross arrived from Sweden to give us some advice. They told us to go back to the country where we were born or stay in a displacement camp. I chose to go to Sweden through the Red Cross and that was a blessing, to get out of hell. Through being accepted as a human being and receiving respect and dignity from the Swedish People, I began to regain my own personal sense of dignity. Once I began to regain that sense of self-worth I met my future husband and through his caring, compassion, and unconditional acceptance I learned to balance my life as a human being. Q: How are you now able to maintain your faith in humanity? Olsson: Twenty years ago, I made a choice to unlock my doors that I had kept shut for 50 years out of fear. Being given this opportunity to travel across Canada and part of the United States, I have made it my mission to talk about the past, so that this generation of today has some opportunity to see that the future needs to be better. The feedback I receive from educators and young people has given me a purpose in life. I realized that I needed to find my calling and through the way that people have treated me, through sharing my story, I have maintained my faith in humanity. Q: You frequently speak to school children of all ages across North America on the importance of tolerance and standing up against the forces of discrimination, intolerance and bullying. What is the essence of the message of hope you bring to young people? Olsson: The essence of my message of hope is to never to give up that hope because no matter your circumstances tomorrow can always be better than today. I also believe that no one should ever be a bystander. My mission is to pass along to young people that together we can eliminate hate and live only for love. Parents have a great impact on their children through the legacy that they pass down and it is important for young people to understand this legacy. Not only is it important for the young people, but also the parents themselves to understand the messages they are passing down to the next generation in shaping their lives and behaviors for the future to give them hope. Q: Where have you found the strength and resolve to recount such painful experiences of what you endured and witnessed as a child in the two concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? Olsson: My mom and dad married six months before the first world war ended and moved into a winterized shed with no facilities or electricity. Eventually they had three children. I was to be the fourth, but my mom was very ill. The doctor told my mom to have an abortion, however, she refused. She stayed in bed for eight months. She was determined for me to have the life I deserved to live. The legacy that my mom passed down to me allowed me courage, hope, and strength to endure living through the two concentration camps and be able to tell my story today. I need to have strength for the youth of today so that they can also have strength for their futures. Q: The Hebrew language has a very special word for love: “Ahava”, which, when broken down into its component parts, it means “to give”. Is this what the world needs more of–this mutual giving—to foster connections and better understanding between people and thereby combat hatred and intolerance? Olsson: Yes, the world needs more mutual giving and understanding to combat hatred and intolerance. I speak to people about unconditional caring and it is important for people to be more spiritual. To me being more spiritual means not being judgmental, showing that you care, and being compassionate. Compassion is caring for and giving to someone that is worse off than you are. This is the legacy that I want to pass down. To me, it is very important to give, to show love, which is why I go out every day and speak about my experiences. In the last twenty years, I have done 3800 presentations for a greater awareness and understanding to combat hatred and intolerance. Q: What things are most important to you now at this point in your life? Olsson: At this point in my life the most important thing to me is family. I tell the young people that I speak to that no matter what the challenges are, to never take your family for granted. It is also very important at this point in my life to have a good attitude and gratitude to keep me going. Photo by Daily Herald Tribune  

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.