I want to tell you about a very special person in my life. Her name was Dr. Margaret Zassenhaus, and she was my hero—not only because of her uncommon courage, but also because of her unvarying kindness.
Dr. Zassenhaus was our family physician. I remember days when Mom would squeeze all five of us girls into the car to visit the doctor. We looked forward to visiting her, as she happily greeted us at the door with her thick German accent and ushered us through her waiting room and into her office. Our visits always went well until the smell of cookies came wafting through the air. Once we began to smell the cookies, one of my sisters would begin to cry, then another and another, and before long, all of us would be in tears. The doctor's mother would come into the office with a plate loaded with warm, freshly baked cookies. You see, Dr. Zassenhaus, in her gentle and kind hearted way, had asked her mom (who lived with her above the office) to bake us a treat on the day of our vaccine shots—a reward for what we would endure. But my sisters and I had come to know the routine, and although we loved the cookies, we knew that that smell meant…THE SHOT!
Margaret's compassion also manifested in every large and small action—in the way she extended her friendship, joined community boards, cared for patients and listened to them. She shared stories of the people who inspired her, like Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi, and taught us that every human being mattered; that even the smallest gesture could affect the world in a constructive way.
Margaret was gentle and kind, but she was also courageous. Born in Germany, she was under the rule of Adolph Hitler during World War II. As a young medical student assigned by the Gestapo to monitor Norwegian and Danish political prisoners, she took it upon herself to smuggle in medicines, carry out letters and, ultimately, save many lives. After the war, Margaret learned that her mother, too, had been part of the resistance, although neither of them had confided in each other about their involvement during the war, as to protect one another if the worst happened and they were to be found out.
When I was a girl, I asked her, "Were you scared when you saved the lives of all those men?" and she replied, "Of course, I was very scared! But I was the only one in a position to help, so I did what I could do." I have come to learn that that is all any of us can do.