It was an important history lesson for the students of VES, J.R. Robson, and St. Jerome’s school, as Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson told stories from inside the Auschwitz concentration camp with frankness and detail in Vermilion on October 27.
Eva Olsson was 19 when her family was sent to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, during the Second World War.
After standing, packed on a train with hundreds of other Jews, fighting for oxygen as others collapsed and died, Olsson arrived at her destination; the “killing factory” Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. This wasn’t a brick factory, like Olsson was led to believe when she boarded what’s now referred to as the 'Death Train,' from Hungary.
“I walked off the train and noticed the chaos. Black clouds of smoke blanketed the skies, the sound of machine guns roared, and there were barbed wire fences to ensure no escape. I remember I turned to my mother and said where do we work here… I soon found out what was going on,” said Olsson.
Photographs from Auschwitz were projected on screen during Eva Olsson’s presentation at VES School.
“At that point, I held the hand of my youngest niece, the daughter of her dead sister Judy, as the Nazi soldiers rounded us up. A senior man who was a prisoner came over and said to me give the child to an older woman; I didn’t let go of my niece’s hand until he came over for the third time. If I had not let go of her hand - I would not be here today!” she told the astonished gymnasium.
Olsson lined up beside with her mother. At the front of the line, a man stood silently at the top, only pointing either left or right to convey his orders… life or death.
“He was the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, the Nazi, officer physician. What happened next was the most brutal experience of my life. My mother was by my side, and then she was gone. Everybody in my family went to the left (to the gas chambers) expect my sister and me." explained Olsson.
She survived one year in the concentration camp living in the worst condition imaginable. Olsson described the soup made from dirty potato skins they had to eat and how she slept outside on the ground of a dirty football field in graphic detail. No one spoke and hung on Olsson’s every word in disbelief that humans could have been so cruel to one and other.
She described the constant smell of human flesh burning and how prisoner’s heads were cut off after the bodies were removed from the gas chambers so that the hair could be sent to Germany to make socks for soldiers.
Olsson is one of the few survivors left in the world today, who walked away from one of the most horrific genocides in human history, an injustice masterminded by Adolf Hitler, executed by the Nazi regime, and worsened by the inaction of bystanders.
The students of VES sang Happy Birthday in celebration of Olsson’s 92nd birthday on October 28.
Olsson advised children to always stand up against the bully and strive for compassion. “Never hate. 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz and hate was the cause of it all. Never hate – hate is a killer!”
Today she used her story of the Holocaust and its extreme examples of hate, bigotry, and inaction of onlookers to promote a message of peace and love.
(Pictured) Auschwitz Survivor Eva Olsson at VES on October 27.
Photos Marie Conboy
She said bystanders are as guilty as the perpetrators, there are no innocent bystanders.
“Hitler could not have got away with what he did without the bystanders and a lack of compassion among European countries. The wars in the world on our screens today are very frightening and it’s not a good sign.”
Olsson said that what happened to her never leave, “it is always there; it is something that doesn’t go away.”
“The message I want to bring to the world is illuminate hate.”