Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Students get a history lesson on compassion

Students get a history lesson on compassion

Students from across St. Albert got a lesson in caring and compassion from a survivor of the Holocaust.

Dr. Eva Olsson stopped at many schools in the city to share the life lessons she has learned in her 91 years, woven in with a history lesson on the Holocaust from someone who has lived through it.

“These children need to know what they did to other children so they don’t take things for granted,” Olsson said. “It’s very important that they don’t.”

Olsson was one of six children born into a Jewish family in Szatmár Hungary. In May of 1944, when Olsson was 19 years old, her family was taken away in boxcars to the infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Olsson and her sister survived but the rest of her family did not.

Now Olsson is based out of Ontario and travels across North America to spread a message of love and tolerance to students. During her tour she stopped at Sir George Simpson Jr. High School to speak to a crowd of a few hundred students.

The best-selling author and public speaker spoke to the students for over an hour, recounting her story and teaching the children about the dangers of bullies and bystanders.

She also describe the most frightening moment of her life, which was when her mother disappeared into the crowd when they first arrived at the camp. Olsson was directed into the line for those heading to the work camp and her mother was not. She turned her head to look for her mother but lost sight of her and never saw her again.

“It happened so quick but in seconds we were separated but I never thought that I would never see her again,” Olsson said. “How I wish in that moment I could have given my mom a hug and tell her how much I love her. The biggest regret in my life in my 91 years is that I never had the opportunity to say to my mom ‘I’m sorry’.”

Olsson encouraged the students to not take their families for granted and asked them to never go to bed angry at their parents.

Her message to students was about anti-bullying and she made sure to discourage students from being bystanders to bullies. She said bystanders who did not take action against bullies are what made the atrocities of the Holocaust possible.

This was Olsson’s third trip to St. Albert to speak and Sir George Simpson principal Pierre Rousseau said that they wanted her to return because the message is important for the students.

“Very few kids will be able to say they have met someone who has survived the Holocaust,” Rousseau said. “I believe that her message is still very important and accurate when she says she has seen what hate can do.”

After Olsson spoke, she took questions from the audience, and the eager junior high students had to be limited to only twenty queries about her experience before heading back to class.

“I survived for a reason, and the reason is this,” Olsson said about sharing her story with the enthusiastic students.

Olsson will turn 92 years old on Oct. 28, but she says she hasn’t got time to retire. Olssson said she wants continue to share her message, to leave a legacy of caring and compassion that she learned from her mother.

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