Learning From Oma


We never discussed how both her feet were broken across the middle by the same group of men who tattooed her. Instead, we talked about her hot pink nail polish.

She was tortured by the Gestapo for three weeks, but there is proof she never talked. How could she do that?

My dad told me that British troops saved Oma. Unconscious with typhus, she was piled deep within a small mountain of corpses in Bergen-Belsen. A week later, liberating British troops heard a voice in English from within the mound. Stunned, they frantically dug through the bodies to save my Oma.

Even though she’s gone now, the lessons she taught by example endure. Empathy cannot be overvalued. Kindness matters. Oma shared Elie Wiesel’s opinion of the evil of indifference, thus encouraging me to be caring and to act.  I am so grateful to have had such a strong figure to guide me. She was unbelievably selfless, positive and understanding. I wish she could see that I strive daily to emulate her, to be inclusive of others, to engage in society and to try to have the same positive influence on the world around me as she had.

Oma gave me a sense of the importance of justice as a guiding principle in my life. In Vienna, Austria, I led a workshop at an academic symposium on how to teach the Holocaust to children. In my work on the board of my synagogue youth group and as a president of the Jewish Student Union at my school I try to cultivate my belief in sharing and deepening an understanding of my heritage, as well as foster warm, inclusive communities.

If five AP history classes have taught me anything, it’s that inclusive leadership results in platforms of positivity and hope (thank you, JFK). I want to build a more humane, inclusive style of leadership based on the kindness and empathy that Oma was able to embody, despite never receiving it. Understanding her story is to understand how ideas and values become how we treat people. My passion is to take the lessons in compassion I was fortunate enough to have learned from my Oma and share them with others.

Amalia Munn is a senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. She is also a member of the Fresh Ink for Teens’ Editorial Board.