Bullies & Bystanders: An Afternoon with Dr. Eva Olsson

Wide angle view of Eva Olsson presentation

Eva Olsson-32_1Holocaust survivor Dr. Eva Olsson came to J.C. Charyk Hanna School on March 18th and 19th (Wednesday and Thursday of last week)  to share some her experiences and thoughts with local residents and our school community. Many students from other PLRD schools were bussed in on Thursday to hear Dr. Olsson speak about her experiences, her views, and her philosophies.
For almost two decades Dr. Olsson has spoken to millions of people at schools, service clubs, military bases, and more to spread awareness about bullying and being a bystander to hatred and injustice. As the gymnasium full of students, staff, and community members sat in quiet reverence, she described the lessons she has learned about love, hate, and hope.

When she was a young teen during World War II, she and her family were taken from their home and forced onto a train, supposedly headed to brick work factories. When the trains arrived at Auschwitz, she was separated from her parents who were sent to the gas chambers. She and her sister were sent to be slave labour. Even though she had to work in a factory, she thought it was much better than living in a hole. This hole was all that was left of the last concentration camp she resided in after it was burnt to the ground by Allied bombing raids. This hole consisted of damp, musty straw with no water or food and was always cold. She had no socks, no underwear, no toilet or toilet paper and no way to wash herself. She had to wear the same dirty dress for years. Despite all of these horrifying conditions, Dr. Olsson maintained her humanity. She never gave up hope, and she never hated her jailors.

Dr. Olsson also went on to explain how none of the horrors foisted on her and millions like her could have happened without bystanders. She considers that bystanders are as guilty as the perpetrators; there are no innocent bystanders. There were many bystanders during the time of Hitler’s power that helped to kill many innocent people because they did not stand up to the aggressors; they did not stand up for those who were too weak to do so for themselves. Dr. Olsson encouraged all of her listeners to not be bystanders, to not let bullies get away with their actions.

Interwoven in her stories was really her main point: hate kills. She not only wanted to make her audience understand what hatred had done to her childhood, but also how it did not have to destroy the rest of her life. She lost everything, and yet she didn’t hate those who had committed some of the most horrific examples of hatred in our history. She is one of few people who understands hatred is a sickness, and when left untreated, it can grow larger and larger until hope and humanity is destroyed. Hate kills, and Eva was one of a few who survived.

Dr. Eva Olsson is a very hopeful and courageous women who spoke out for the eleven million people whose voices were silenced by hate. She spreads her message and makes us all responsible; as we have now all heard the story…we have borne witness to her experiences. We will be the last generation to do so.

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(Images by Sean McCormick. Used with permission.)


by Ashlyn McCormick
Grade 8 student
J.C. Charyk Hanna School

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