Written by: Hannah Ellsworth, first-year Journalism student
Follow Hannah on Twitter @TrentVoice
“How many of you use the word ‘hate’ every day?” Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson asked a group of Trent students. After some in the crowd reluctantly raised their hands, Ms. Olsson continued, “Tonight you will see on these slides what hate can do.”
As part of a lecture entitled A Journey of Darkness and Light, Ms. Olsson shared with Trent students, faculty, staff and alumni her family’s experiences in the Holocaust, as well as her life before and after the event, and the different ways in which the forces of human nature, hate, acceptance and love have influenced all of the different aspects of her life.
Ms. Olsson was born into a poor Hasidic family in Hungary in 1924 and forcibly deported to Auschwitz in 1944. An author and public speaker, she has been sharing her story of survival during the Holocaust and her message of acceptance and perseverance for more than a decade. She has spoken to hundreds of schools and universities, and she has also addressed the United Nations. For her services in helping to educate students about the Holocaust, Ms. Olsson has received the Order of Ontario and an honorary doctorate from Nipissing University. She is the author of an acclaimed autobiography and the subject of a documentary film entitled Stronger than Fire: The Eva Olsson Story. Today, she is 89 years old, the mother of Trent alumni and grandmother of a current Trent student.
One of the first points Ms. Olsson made to the audience was the fact that she has always tried to focus on what she can do, as opposed to what she cannot. Having never been formally educated, she faced many obstacles throughout her life. Despite this fact, she is fluent in several languages and is a national bestselling author. To many of the students in attendance, Ms. Olsson offered both wisdom and inspiration.
Ms. Olsson went on to describe her upbringing and emphasized the importance of a healthy family dynamic. She described her family’s journey in a box car, after they were initially captured, their arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau, their separation, and her life as a worker in the concentration camp. Her story continued after the Holocaust, as she described her experience as an immigrant to Sweden, her marriage to a Swedish man that was outside her religion, and her later life after she immigrated to Canada as a widow and single mother.
Near the end of her presentation, Ms. Olsson emphasized the responsibility of the students’ generation to pass on her message and to carry her lessons to their children. She described every day as Remembrance Day, and suggested the consequences that would ensure repetition of events like the Holocaust if the lessons learned from it were ever to be forgotten. In an emotional statement, Ms. Olsson said, “You are the last generation that will ever be able to put a face to a textbook.”
At the end of the event, Ms. Olsson took the time to conduct a question and answer period. She then gave her time to talk with attendees one-on-one, as well as to sign copies of her books, including the nationally-acclaimed autobiography Unlocking the Doors: A woman’s struggle against intolerance.
Ms. Olsson’s lecture was hosted by the History Department at Trent University, and by Lady Easton College and Peter Gzowski College. For more information regarding Eva Olsson and her story, visit her website.