Dr. Eva Olsson, Holocaust-Survivor...
I have never heard the lecture theatre that quiet before. The silence was deafening. It was so quiet, I could hear my own heartbeat...
My university hosted a visit by a Holocaust-survivor for two days. Dr. Eva Olsson, a tiny lady, all 84-years of her, was our guest speaker. Born in Szatsmar, Hungary, Dr. Olsson started her speech by telling us that she was here to "bring awareness about hate, and the power of hate".
"I hear the word 'hate' frequently, and I don't like it. 'Hate' murdered my family; it murdered millions of innocent people, one-and-a-half-million of which were children less than 12 years of age. 5 of those children were my nieces", she said in her opening speech, as the theatre fell silent.
"When I leave here today, I will be grateful if I have touched one heart in this hall, because if I did, then 1 more child would not have died in vain", she said.
I heared sniffles all around.
Her speech lasted slightly longer than an hour. She showed us pictures of concentration camps, of the box-cars where lives were taken, the gas-chambers where her mother was led with her 5 nieces, the place where her father was killed, and the mass graves where millions were shot brutally and bulldozed.
"Those are not my pictures. They were taken by the Nazi's who documented almost everything", she said, reminding us that behind the horror, were real people.
"Not every German is a Nazi, and not every Nazi is German", Dr. Olsson told the crowd. And I must note that sitting in today's crowd were some of my German friends who were in tears.
"The worst thing to have are bystanders. Bystanders are never innocent. Not doing anything is a choice. Remaining silent is as much as condoning it", she said to the crowd, and she reminded us to never be a bystander when someone else is getting hurt.
Dr. Olsson has been speaking to schools, universities, colleges, churches, community halls and conferences for the past 12 years. She has addressed thousands of people, and received about 11 000 letters from students who have written to her thanking her for sharing her story.
Students lining up to give Dr. Olsson a hug after her speech.
"For many years, I kept quiet because I was afraid. I was in denial. I was afraid that if I spoke about it, it will happen again. BUT the grass will grow again. We must not forget the past, because otherwise, history will repeat itself. And we will never move on", she said.
"When the occupation was over, we were given a choice. To go back to where we came from, or to remain in special camps till someone came for us. I didn't want to go back; they didn't want us or the would do what Bulgaria did and protect their Jews and now allow the box-cars to leave. My sister Elona and I left for Sweden", she said, sharing that she recently returned to Germany to revisit her past and make her peace.
"I visited the Bergen-Belsen memorial site. I was touched to see so many tour buses of young people from all over Europe, who had come with their teachers. I was touched because it is these young people who can prevent the past from happening again", she said.
*Note: Dr. Olsson noted that Bulgaria and Denmark, among others, protected their Jewish people and did not allow the Nazi's to take them away. Countries like Sweden, on the other hand, 'smuggled' the Jews in and offered them protection*
Dr. Olsson's closing speech struck me: "The Nazi's stripped me of family, of human rights, of dignity. But they cannot strip me of my will to live. And the purpose of my living now is to bring awareness. As for all of you, what example would you live behind? Because the only thing worth keeping is what we have to give away, and that is our love"...
Dr. Olsson was given a standing ovation at the end of her speech, which was followed by a Q&A...
Students later, of their own accord, lined up to give her a hug. I don't think there were dry eyes in that theatre today...
PS: You may visit her at www.evaolsson.ca...