“I live one day at a time,” says Bracebridge resident and Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson. “I like to make the best out of each day.”
Born on Oct. 28, 1924, just after 8 AM in Satu Mare, Hungary, Olsson says her mother was unwell when she became pregnant with her. “The doctor ordered her to have an abortion,” she explains. “She stayed in bed for eight months so I would be here and share the legacy of her compassion and never giving up hope.”
Olsson was one of six children. Her eldest sister died in 1944, just prior to the Nazis invading her hometown in May and taking her family and others to Auschwitz in a boxcar. It was there that her parents and four of her siblings were killed in a gas chamber. Eva and her sister Fradel were sent to a work camp and survived after being freed by British and Canadian troops in April 1945.
Soon after, she relocated with her sister to Sweden. That’s where she met her late husband Rudi and a few years later they moved to Canada where they started their family.
“I survived for a reason and you have to find your calling,” Olsson says.
For years, Olsson didn’t speak about what happened. It was only decades later when her grandchildren asked her to speak to their class that she began to open up. Since then, Olsson says she’s traveled to seven provinces and presented thousands of times, even speaking at the United Nations. If you ask someone that went to school in Muskoka, they will likely tell you about how they listened to Olsson speak about her life while sitting attentively in their school’s gymnasium.
Approaching her third decade of speaking about World War II and her experience in Auschwitz, Olsson says she’s been told by the Jewish Federation of Toronto she has reached an estimated two million people with her story.
In Dec. 2021, Olsson was named to the Order of Canada and was named to the Order of Ontario in 2008. In years past, she’s been honoured by the Town of Bracebridge and has received countless awards, including one from the YWCA Muskoka in April 2019.
Olsson, speaking to the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom from her Bracebridge home, said she’s enjoying the beautiful fall weather in Muskoka. “I do go out when I need to buy groceries, I go to the drug store, I pick up my mail,” she says. However, she says she enjoys staying inside adding, with a laugh, especially as it continues to get colder.
Her son, Jan, lives nearby and Olsson says he is planning a party for her 98th birthday. He, along with two of Olsson’s three grandchildren and other family members, will join her for a dinner organized by Jan to celebrate the significant milestone.
Even as she turns 98, Olsson says she continues to speak about her life, albeit virtually. She says Jan often helps her set up virtual meetings. She recently spoke to a school in Newmarket, Ont. and has presentations coming up in Feb. in Ottawa and has been asked to speak at the Greater Edmonton Teachers’ Convention Association that month as well.
On top of her speaking engagements, Olsson says two filmmakers spent time with her for a documentary on her life. She says the hour-long documentary will be about her early life until now. “The filmmaker was asking me, how do you deal with it, what keeps you going today,” Olsson says. “Do you know what I told him? The love of the people.”
In all of Olsson’s presentations, the many interviews she’s done, and the documentaries she’s been featured in, one theme is consistent: “hate needs to be eliminated,” she says. “Hate serves no purpose. Hate is a killer.”
Olsson adds the message she often sends to parents is “send your children to school the way you want to see them as adults.”
“It’s our responsibility as parents to make sure our children grow up well,” she continues.
As for what’s next for Olsson, she says she is always looking forward. “It’s beautiful outside, it’s a great day,” she says. “I have no reason to complain.”
She adds that yesterday was great, but that’s not good enough for her. “Today, I’m going to try to be just a little bit better,” Olsson says.