Sami Steigmann, Holocaust survivor and educator

Whether he is speaking at schools, organizations or to media outlets, he is passionate about his role of making sure the next generation is educated about the past.

Sami Steigmann (right) with the writer, Joseph Scutts (photo credit: JOSEPH SCUTTS)
Sami Steigmann (right) with the writer, Joseph Scutts
(photo credit: JOSEPH SCUTTS)

As a young Jewish professional who was born in the city of Cologne, Germany, I have always felt a strong connection to the Holocaust and the history of European Jewry. I have been back to Europe more than 20 times and have visited the Dachau concentration camp and many other historic sites of Jewish Europe that teach us to never forget the crimes of the Nazis, their collaborators and the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Around two years ago, I befriended Sami Steigmann in New York. I immediately felt a strong connection to him and was drawn to his life story and the work he does. He is an activist, guest lecturer and Holocaust survivor who lives to tell his story all around the world.
Whether he is speaking at schools, organizations or to media outlets, he is passionate about his role of making sure the next generation is educated about the past. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steigman and discuss his life work and mission.
Tell me about the early years of your life and how you were able to essentially survive as a youth in the Holocaust?
I was born (on December 21, 1939) in Czernowitz, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As my family moved to Israel, my passport stated that I was born in Romania and when I came to the US it stated that I was born in the Former Soviet Union.
Today, my passport states that I was born in Ukraine. My nationality has changed as the borders shifted. My parents and I were in a labor camp in an area called Transnistria and the name of the camp was Mogilev-Podolsky. I was only a year and a half old, obviously unable to work so basically they performed medical experiments on me and my life was saved by a German woman who had access to the camp by bringing food to the guards and the SS. When she saw my physical signs that I was dying of starvation, she decided to give me milk. Obviously, she is one of the Righteous Among the Nations. I don’t know her name but I was very happy to see the garden that honors the righteous among the nations in Jerusalem, in which I saw a marker honoring the unknown of the righteous among the nations. If she would have been caught giving me milk, both she and her entire family would have been killed.
What are you involved in now and how are you educating future generations about the Holocaust with the uptick in antisemitism today?
I am involved with the World Jewish Congress and both in 2018 and this year they asked me to represent them for the #WeRemember campaign. In the first one, I stated that half of the world’s population is unaware that the Holocaust happened.
One-third would even state that it is a myth or exaggerated and young people (from my personal experience) are totally clueless about it. I started to speak in 2008 to sixth graders and today I am also speaking to fourth graders and up. When I go to these schools, I try to prepare our youth for the future, and when I go to universities, I want the students to become active. There is too much apathy on the campuses and a lot of people are not involved. Interestingly enough, I give a background of the Holocaust (a lot of them don’t know about it). Six million is just a number difficult to relate to, so I give them the story and the background. At the same time, I bring the past to the present.
To give an example, people say that a Holocaust is happening now. There is a difference between genocide (which is the murder of a general group) and the Holocaust (a unique moment in history and the biggest crime ever recorded). The Holocaust was the attempted annihilation of the Jews. So we must call a lie a lie so there will not be a false narrative and no genocide.
I am not just fighting antisemitism but I am also fighting hatred. We have to be very careful about the words that we use. If someone says a lie, we and the future generation must stand up to it as upstanding citizens otherwise the false narrative will be perpetuated. One example, even Jewish people use the word “West Bank” instead of Judea and Samaria. You cannot occupy your own land and instead of using the word “occupied,” you can use disputed territory. “Occupied” creates an atmosphere of conflict. “Disputed” creates a form of dialogue, which may lead to reconciliation.
The writer is a financial adviser who resides in New York City and is involved with a dozen Israel-based and Jewish advocacy
organizations



Tags genocide