A gym full of Hughenden and Highland View Colony School students, staff and various community members listened to the incredible story of courage and resilience by 89 year old Eva Olsson, a survivor of the Holocaust and Nazi Concentration Camp. Her story was moving and brought many in the audience to tears.
At 19, Olsson was led to believe that her destination was work in a brick factory when she was ordered to walk seven kilometres to board a box car, packed like sardines, with hundreds of other Jews destined for concentration camps.
Many on the “Death Train,” as it would later be known, collapsed or even died as they fought for oxygen over the long train ride from Szatmar, Hungary. The group of over 100 people had one small pail of water between them, while another pail was to be used as a toilet.
Olsson was very close to her mum and shared with us how she asked “why are you crying mum?” The reply was “I’m not crying for me, I’m crying for all of the children. I have lived.”
Olsson vividly remembers seeing her 49 year old mother squatting down in a corner hugging her grandchildren.
Olsson described how she became aware of a terrible, nauseating stench in the air as she took her first breaths upon arrival at the platform where a sign said Auschwitz. There was massive turmoil and screaming by people on the platform. The sky was black with billowing smoke from tall chimneys, impenetrable barbed wire fence ensured no one would escape and guards armed with machine guns were everywhere.
Olsson joined the line of terrified people. She was with her niece and mother and was oblivious that this would be the last time she would ever see her mother and many other members of her family.
The Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, a Nazi officer and physician, was at the head of the line and silently gave his orders by either pointing left or right: life or death. Those going left, including her mother and small niece, entered a gas chamber. Olsson reported that it often took 20 minutes for the occupants to die from suffocation by the cyanide gases, with children dying first. There were terrifying screams and moans before the gas chamber was silenced.
When the doors were opened by the guards the hundreds of corpses, many of which were babies with their heads crushed by the weight of their dead parents, was what was left of many loved ones.
Olsson was clearly moved by the recollection of the traumatic memories and continues to share the sickening events. She reported that the dead women were pulled out of the chamber, their heads were cut off and the human hair was removed and shipped to Germany to manufacture socks for soldiers manning the U-boats. The rest of the corpses were burned, hence the stench that Olsson noticed upon her arrival.
Olsson used her story of the Holocaust and its extreme examples of hate, bigotry and inaction of onlookers in attempts of getting members of the audience to understand that it is always a bad thing to hate.
“To some people hate is a joke,” she stated to the audience. She said that there are no innocent bystanders. They are as guilty as the perpetrators.
“Hitler could not have got away with what he did without the bystanders,” she said, wiping her eye. “He is the ultimate bully”.
Olsson ensured that students were paying attention before emphasizing that “hate is a killer; hate murdered one-and-one-half million children”.
Those who were spared from the cyanide endured absolutely horrific ‘medical research’ by Mengele. This included sewing together twins by their backs and then injecting them with tuberculosis, typhoid and other diseases; exposing them to radiation and high voltage. Olsson also reported that “they made sure that the females would never bear a child and that males would never father one”.
Heart-wrenching symbols of the Holocaust for Olsson were all the shoes: empty. Jews had to give up their shoes so that they could be sent, along with their clothes, to Germany. Some Jews were even ordered to line up on the bank of the river naked, where they were shot and then pushed into the river. It was sickening when Olsson said women holding their babies would have a bullet fired through the baby first which then would go into the mother in order that the soldiers could save ammunition.
Others were confined as slaves in prisoner of war camps. If food was given, it was very little and often not palatable. Olsson remembers eating bread made from sawdust and drinking the dirty water that was used to peel potatoes. Her clothes were taken, as were those of everyone else. They had no bathroom facilities and no toilet paper. Often they would have to sleep in the same place as their fecal matter.
Olsson remembers how her health became poorly causing her to succumb to typhus. She shared how her fever became very bad and she remembered that growing up her mom would treat a fever with a wet flannel (facecloth). Having no water she said she would urinate on the flannel and hold it to her forehead.
Olsson is a fellow human who is to be admired for her incredible resilient spirit.
“Nazis stripped me of absolutely everything except my will to survive,” she said. She explained why and how she maintained this strength.
On April 15, 1945 at 11 a.m. Olsson, along with her prison mates, were freed by British and Canadian soldiers.
We are grateful that Olsson shared her story with us and her journey back to the ‘hell’ of the Holocaust where she ended her silence of the horrors of her past. Everyone in attendance left humbled by the story she shared. She reminded students and adults that ‘family is very important and so is unconditional love”. During the Holocaust she lost 89 members of her family. Through sharing her story she hopes that those who did not survive Hitler’s wrath would be remembered.
“Eleven million voices were silenced by hate,” she sadly reported.