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Sami Steigmann, Holocaust Survivor – A Tale Of Resilience

His life's mission is to educate the next generation

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Sami Steigmann survived Nazi experimentation thanks to an ethnic German woman from a farm near the camp. (Photo: Supplied)

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Sami Steigmann survived the Holocaust as a child and at the age of 83, he is considered ‘young’ for a survivor. Today he gives talks, telling people about his harrowing tale of survival as a motivational speaker. “I don’t let the Holocaust define me; my actions define who I am,” he told TheJ.ca.

Sami’s story began on December of 1939 in Czernovitz, Bukovina, then part of the Kingdom of Romania – the place has changed hands so many times and is now part of Ukraine. The octogenarian also spent a part of his childhood in Reghin, Transylvania.

In 1941, when the Nazis took over, the local Romanians handed over the family (himself and his parents) to the Nazis and they were sent to Mogilev-Podolsky labor camp in Transnistria, now a disputed part of Moldova. Since Sami was too young to work, he was subjected to medical experimentations by the Nazis. He does not recollect the details in depth given his age. However, he has felt and still feels the painful side effects to this day. 

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Many Jews perished here due to cold, starvation or the tolls of forced labour. However, Sami miraculously made it thanks to the intervention of a ‘guardian angel’ – an ethnic German woman who lived on a farm in close proximity to the camp brought food to the SS and other camp staff. She decided to give the starving child milk and food, risking not only her life but that of her entire family. Eventually, as the colour returned to his once pale, starving cheeks, she pinched him [he used the word ‘khnip’ in Yiddish], and said: “Those are my rosy cheeks!”.

Alas, Sami does not know the name of the German lady. When Sami visited Israel to give a testimony at Yad Va’Shem in 2014, he went to the garden honoring 27 000 Righteous Among Nations, who risked their own safety to help Jews and added “They honoured her ‘indirectly’”. That gave Sami a sense of solace, knowing that her sacrifice is appreciated even if he doesn’t know where her descendants are today.

The family was rescued by the Soviets when they liberated the camp and added it to the Soviet Union. Sami’s family moved to Romania, where life for Jews would still be difficult even after the Nazis were gone.

For example, he remembers a teacher threatening to not permit him to graduate to the next grade if he did not write on Sabbath or complete other required work. Since he grew up in a religious household, he did not consent and ultimately, she relented and gave him a passing grade on the end of year school report card. So, life under communism was still highly discriminatory. 

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He said “My family lived a simple life in a small village. My father was a bookkeeper by profession, my mother was a homemaker.” Sami has a sister who was born after World War II who lives in the UK today.

In 1961, the entire family emigrated to Israel to escape persecution. Sami served in the Israeli Air Force and was among the first class trained in Israel on how to handle the Delta Wing Mirage; prior classes were trained in France.

Describing the 6 Day War of 1967, he says “We were so efficient in refueling and fixing damages that wave and wave after wave flew into Syria and Egypt and came back replenished and ready go back into action in no time. They say America helped us; but this was a huge exaggeration: we did it ourselves.

It was a miracle that we beat the combined Arab armies in 6 days – Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. I remember a feeling of invincibility that followed, yes there were hijackings and terrorism and we lived for today, always uncertain what would come next. But we had a feeling of invincibility having taken the Western Wall (Kotel), but that feeling would be put to the rest in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. 

Author Avi Kumar with Holocaust educator Sami Steigmann. (Photo: Supplied)

In 1968, Sami moved to the United States, without knowing any English, and found work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as an accountant. He eventually got married, and had a son and divorced. He returned to Israel, but decided that the US was where he preferred to lived and so, he relocated to New York. 

There was a brief spell where he was homeless for 6 months. He lives under the poverty line (today, 1/3 of the Holocaust survivors in the US live under the poverty line). Sami said that his life’s mission is to educate the next generation and motivate them to be UPSTANDERS.

Sami donated his documents to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington DC when he was homeless, and has spoken at universities and schools and instilled positivity despite what happened to him. Sami lives in New York City and has a son and 2 grandchildren.

“Something that concerns me about the modern generation is that people have forgotten how to disagree in a civil way.”

He laments, “Our leaders teach the wrong lesson. For example, if you see the latest news it’s always about circumstances and someone else’s fault at play for your failures rather than what you can do. Instead, I try to instill a sense of responsibility and tell people to learn to forgive and move forward.”  

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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