Hope, rather than hate

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Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson asks those who have been bullied to raise their hands during a presentation at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale.  

COALDALE – The images displayed on the projector screen were disturbing, and first-hand accounts of the horrors of Nazi death camps brought tears to the eyes of more than one audience member.

What Kate Andrews High School students heard loudest from Eva Olsson’s presentation, however, were messages of hope.

“We are one human race and it should be our goal to love each other and respect each other,” said Grade 12 student Alyssa Brown, of what she took away from the Holocaust survivor’s talk. “It shouldn’t depend on our race, religion, sexuality or gender. We should all have the same opportunities and feel loved.”

Olsson visited Kate Andrews High School to bring awareness of hate, bullying and bystanders.

She has many reasons to hate – having lost almost all of her family at the hands of the Nazis – but told the students that hate is a sickness, and at the age of 92 it would prove fatal to her. When hate is left unchecked it turns to rage, and that’s what allows things like the Holocaust to happen, said Olsson.

“The cause of 11 million people’s death is one word, ‘hate.’  When you have the urge to say to someone ‘I hate you,’ think of someone the same age as you who died because they were hated,” she said.

Several hands went up when Olsson asked how many had been bullied. She was the target of Nazi bullies simply because she was Jewish, and stressed the need to stand up to bullies. Bystanders give their power away to the bullies, and that enables them to continue their destructive behaviour.

“There are no innocent bystanders. They are as guilty as the perpetrators,” she said.

Olsson also spoke about leadership, and compared Ghandi and Hitler. While both were leaders, the difference was in the choices they made. Ghandi led his people from darkness to light, while Hitler did the opposite.

She said every student has the ability to lead inside them, and urged them to find it and build upon it. Olsson’s take on leadership was what resonated most with Jenna Penner.

“She really wanted to get across to be a leader, and a compassionate leader, and show love to everyone no matter what they’ve done in the past,” said the Grade 12 student, who hopes to carry that lesson over to her Student Council duties and ensure she focuses on the needs of all students as well as the larger community.

A  message that touched schoolmate Parker Kasko in particular, was to value family.

Olsson never got to say goodbye to her mother before they were separated at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The only thing that kept the 19-year-old going, was the need to look after her younger sister.

Now living in Ontario, she tours Canada and the U.S. seven months of the year and has shared her presentation more than 3,900 times since 1996.  Her address in Coaldale tied in not only with anti-bullying education at Kate Andrews High School, but also the social studies curriculum.

While some schoolmates are currently reading “Night,” the powerful story of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Kasko said Olsson’s first-hand account was particularly “impactful.”.

“I think in some way we’ve become hardened to the images because we see them so much. But when we bring someone here who witnessed them, it’s quite different,” said the Grade 12 student.

Olsson wrapped up her presentation with a request of the students. Don’t be preoccupied with ‘I.’

“Life is not about ‘I’ and it is not about ‘me,’ ” she said. “If you ever want to find peace, think about ‘we.’ ‘We’ can achieve peace. ’ I’ can’t.’ ”