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Survivor exposes bullies

Holocaust survivor Dr. Eva Olsson's message to the Roberts Creek audience Monday, May 17, was clear - if a child comes from a compassionate environment and grows up with love then that child will not become a bully.

Holocaust survivor Dr. Eva Olsson's message to the Roberts Creek audience Monday, May 17, was clear - if a child comes from a compassionate environment and grows up with love then that child will not become a bully.

Hate is the cause of death, she told the crowd, like the hate she experienced from the Nazis while she was interned in the death camp of Auschwitz.

"You cannot resolve issues with anger and hate," she said.

She counselled parents to guide or to discipline with love, compassion, dialogue and understanding.

Olsson was a young Jewish girl in Hungary when she and her family were told to pack their bags (they were poor and didn't have much to pack) and board a train to Germany where they were told they would work in a brick factory.

"It was a killing factory," she recalls, and she has written about her experiences in her autobiography, Unlocking the Doors - A Woman's Struggle Against Intolerance.

She notes the parallels between Nazi intolerance and bullies of every nationality.

"These were a people possessed by hate," she said.

One and a half million of those murdered in the camps were children. Five of her nieces were among them. She recounted how she was separated from her mother and the children immediately on arrival. Somehow she survived, only to be sent into the fields as slave labour, living in filthy conditions. The girls ate potato peelings soup and bread made mostly of sawdust. The true horror was when they were served soup with human hair and bones in it. When their buildings were bombed, they crowded underground into a root cellar. Many died of disease and starvation. Olsson was a fighter and survived until liberation.

After 63 years, she returned to retrace her steps from Hungary to Auschwitz, also visiting Buchenwald where her father met his death. While visiting a camp at Bergen-Belsen she noticed the bus loads of school kids being taken to visit the site and felt reassured that the Holocaust would never be forgotten.

Now 85, Olsson said she has been given a gift - a gift of life - and it's up to her to do something with it. Consequently she travels from school to school giving talks in hopes of touching at least one child's life. She recounts the experience of her grandson when a bully called him a stupid Jew. It was not so much this insult that bothered him as the fact that a teacher stood by and did nothing.

Bystanders are as bad as the perpetrators of bullying, Olsson notes. In one of the few moments of hope within her life story, she told of the people of Denmark who wouldn't accept having Jews sent away to camps, but smuggled them out of the country to Sweden in fishing boats.

"They were not going to be bystanders," she said.

Counsellor Sandy Wrightman, who helped organize the Olsson lecture, is offering two follow up sessions, Stop Bullying at the Source, at Roberts Creek Elementary School on May 31 and June 7. These evenings are for those who have ever felt without recourse, helpless, enraged by bullies, victims or those who stand by.

She can be reached at swrightman@telus.net for more details for those who are interested in taking part.