This post was written by Jessica Goodman, 21, who is studying broadcast journalism and political science at California State University Northridge. She plans to write her grandfather's Holocaust story into a novel. Goodman is an author of "RED the Book," a collection of essays written by 58 American teenage girls, available in paperback.
I didn't even need to turn on the television on the night of May 1 to find out that Osama bin Laden had been shot and killed by U.S. intelligence. It flooded my Facebook account within seconds, giving me plenty of time to find the remote to watch President Obama speak. First, I was hoping people would not get Obama and Osama confused with the one-letter difference. But as Obama spoke, he kept saying "mass murderer," which sent my mind wandering out of 2011.
May 1, when the bin Laden assassination went down, also happened to be Holocaust Remembrance Day. Sixty-six years ago, on the exact same date, Hitler was declared dead. I just can't imagine that the world continues to have those bad apples -- and continues to be able to hate an entire group of people for some invented reason.
Haven't we learned anything? Anne Frank said, "I believe people are really good at heart," and maybe she is right. People like bin Laden and Hitler are just not those people.
Most 21-year-olds would tell you that they are just into the party scene and enjoying life. I wish I could say I'm the same, that I'm "living in the moment." Instead I have my eye on some bigger dreams, like becoming a news anchor or producer. It took me a while just to get to this point in my life -- the point of being able to consider stories larger than my own -- and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Credit goes to two very different individuals: Anne Frank and my grandfather.
I grew up never having a real best friend or a core group of girlfriends; Anne Frank became that best friend for me. Yes, I know she is not alive, and I was not pulling a "Jennifer Love Hewitt's 'Ghost Whisperer'" phenomenon. My third-grade class was doing a biography project, and I couldn't find anyone to research, so the school librarian handed me Anne Frank's diary. From then on, I wanted to learn more and more about her.
My connection with Anne Frank went beyond both of us being Jewish. It was about fighting the odds. People had told her that she couldn't do anything because she was Jewish. I was told something similar with my learning disability, dyslexia: that it would not let me be a good mathematician or writer. Honestly, I wasn't too upset about the whole math thing; I was and still am into writing, though. But what I really want is to prove people wrong, just like Anne Frank did.
As I got older, my parents began to tell me more about my direct connection to Anne Frank, and that was my grandpa, Benzion Woloschin.
He had his story recorded and transcribed by the Shoah Foundation as a result of Spielberg's movie, "Schindler's List." He was a German Jew who fought for the French defense. He would tell my brothers and me stories before we could really understand them, about things like going into the woods to use the bathroom and coming back to find his whole troop dead at the hands of the Nazis. He escaped death so many times throughout the war.
After he died, in his 90s, my mother picked up the telling of her father's stories. There was the time he was shot in the hand and went to the nearby hospital -- where the nurses put him in the line to get his arm amputated. My grandpa quickly figured out the impending fate of his limb, and he was not looking for that to happen. Slowly and slyly, he switched lanes. He got to the front, and his thick German accent came out, for the German doctor, who remembered them being in the same kindergarten class. My grandpa, not remembering -- and not ever sure it was true -- played along. He got his arm fixed.
Astonishingly, his is a story of release from, rather than escape from, concentration camp. The details are vague, but he was deported to Drancy, one of the camps on the way to Auschwitz, where a couple of guards took him into a private room. They secretly let him out of the camp.
This is what I think of as I process the death of Osama bin Laden. Some people go mad with hate and plot to take over the world, destroying anyone in their path. At the same time, the worst circumstances can bring out the hidden strengths in people, reframing their lives forever.
May 1 is now to me a day of peace and hope that maybe there is one fewer evil person in the world.
And it is a reminder that things for sure are under different circumstances than during the Holocaust. I have my grandpa's yellow star at home, and over time I look at it and I see his face and how proud he was to get past it all. As a young writer in hiding once put it, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."