By: Jostin Blanco
At 82 years old, Sami Steigman could just do whatever he wanted, and spend his days watching his favorite shows NCIS and Law and Order SVU. He could try and find peace at his age, and forget his past.
But as one of the last living Holocast survivors, Steigmann chooses to share his story instead. “People need to learn somebody’s story and listen to it,” he says. And as the same ideas that scarred his life are on the rise again today, he has taken to educating youth, cautioning that we must stand up against hatred and false narratives if we do not want history to repeat itself.
Steigmann was born in 1938 in Bukovina, a town in Romania then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At a very a young age, he was part of sadistic Nazi medical experiments, while also being starved, at the Transnistria Labor Camp.
The only reason Steigmann was able to survive was because a German woman risked her life to sneak him just enough food and milk to not starve to death. Fortunately, Sami and some of his family members were able to survive.
After they were liberated form the Nazi camp, he and his family were deported and lived in Reghin, a small village in Transylvania.
Growing up, his parents rarely talked about the Holocaust, and if they did, it would be in vague conversation, never specifics. “I understand why they didn’t talk about it, and it didn’t bother me,” he says.
In 1961 Steigmann and his family moved to Israel, where he joined the air force as an auxiliary member. Then, In 1968 Steigmann decided to come to America alone, with no money and no knowledge of English.
He moved to Wisconsin, where he married and had children. He became passionate about football, he says, “but not the Green Bay Packers. I love America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.”
He also became interested in politics, watching many hours of C-SPAN to know how politics were spoken about in America.
After moving back to Israel 1983, Steigman returned to the U.S. in 1988, making New York City his final home. It was then that he embarked on his speaking journey.
In 2017, he made his first appearance at Bergen. This was in commemoration of Krystalnacht, ‘’the night of broken glass,’’ a key moment in the start of violence against the Jewish communities in Europe.
Last month, he returned to Bergen to share his story again, as the nation feels more divided than ever by politics. “People in this country forgot how to disagree in a civilized way,” he says.
But in his presentations, Steigmann tells students we must not compare the past to what is going on today but to use it as a guide against false narratives. “During the Holocaust not every victim was a Jew, but every Jew was a victim,” he says.
Steigmann’s story is heartbreaking, but also inspiring. The medical experiments done on Steigmann have left lifelong medical conditions and chronic pain. Today Steigmann lives below the poverty line. Despite this, he runs his own charitable foundation, and volunteers for the Make A Wish Foundation.
Through everything he has been through, Steigmann remains extremely positive about his life, living by an inspiring motto. “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to be”.