Eva Olsson says she is “honoured” to be one of the 135 new appointments to the Order of Canada.
Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, cites “relentlessly promoting tolerance and for encouraging Canadians to rise against bullying and discrimination” as the reason for Olsson’s appointment.
The Order of Canada is the highest honour a civilian can receive.
“I am honoured to receive the Order of Canada,” Olsson wrote on Facebook. “I arrived in Nova Scotia in 1951 with my husband, at the age of 27. We were grateful for the opportunity to become Canadians and proudly adopted the values of this country.”
Olsson was raised in Satu Mare, Hungary and was separated from her family after the Germans occupied Hungary during the Second World War. They were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. According to a biography posted on Toronto’s Crestwood School’s website, Olsson and her sisters were forced into slave labour. She was moved to different camps before the British liberated the Belsen camp she was at in April 1945. She was “barely surviving” at the time of her rescue.
The bio notes that Olsson didn’t speak about her life until her grandchildren convinced her to open up.
Olsson, who turned 97 in October, has told her story close to 4,000 times to over one million students, church-goers, and to people attending conferences across North America. Since she started doing that in 1996, she’s also published a book called Unlocking Doors: A Woman’s Struggle Against Intolerance and released a CD titled Stronger Than Fire.
In October 2020, Olsson was honoured by Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith for her work advocating against racism and prejudice. She was also named to the Order of Ontario in January 2008.
“I still recall the profound impact of Dr. Olsson’s presentation to Council on October 7th, 2020, about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor, her work against racism and her appreciation for living in Muskoka and Canada,” Smith said in a statement released by the Town of Bracebridge. “On behalf of all residents and members of council, I wish to sincerely thank her for sharing her story, and for her efforts to improve the lives of everyone she meets.”