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Sami in the Clubhouse

A New York contemporary witness uses social media to tell young people about the Shoah

A New York contemporary witness uses social media to tell young people about the Shoah

When Sami Steigmann appears on the zoom screen, he is wearing a light gray checked, ironed shirt, the virtual background image shows Jerusalem and the Israeli flag. But the 81-year-old is sitting in his small council flat in New York City, where he lives below the poverty line on just $ 1,316 minus rent. He looks tired this morning. A few months ago, a loss of memory ruined a lecture for him. "Something like this has never happened to me before," he says bent. "It would have been the first time that I would have spoken to a group of Syrian Jews." The meeting should be rescheduled, then they will hear Sami Steigmann's story. He was born in 1939 in Chernivtsi, in today's Ukraine. Sami was one and a half years old when he and his parents were deported to the Mohyliw-Podilskyj Nazi labor camp. The Nazis made medical experiments on him. Even in the camp he suffered from severe headaches, neck and back pain. He cried a lot and could not sit, lie or walk for weeks. "I've suffered this pain every day of my life, until today," he says.

Hunger and winter cold made survival in the camp almost impossible. Sami Steigmann's father gave away his winter coat for a loaf of bread. Eventually a German woman saved his life: she lived on a farm nearby and brought food to the Ukrainian and SS guards. When she saw the starving child, she secretly gave him milk. She risked her own life and that of her family - and saved Sami. For years he took high-dose pain relievers for his severe pain - which were addictive. "I'm proud that I managed to get rid of this stuff," he says. "I am a person who never gives up," he says of himself. But in 1996 he lost almost everything: he was the victim of fraud, lost his job as a tax advisor, lost his apartment. For a few months he lived in a home for the homeless. But with government support he was able to move into the small apartment in Harlem in which he still lives today. "I was 56 years old when I was born a second time," he says of that time. He used the opportunity to get involved in society. For many years he was active in various initiatives, including as a city guide for the Big Apple Greeter, a group of volunteer guides. "Every single organization gave me something that I was missing in my own life." The activities helped him against loneliness and brought him into contact with people. REPLACEMENT GRANDSON A few years ago he had to stop all of this, he can no longer make the long journeys. Now it's his lectures that give him meaning. "My need to pass on something is satisfied by speaking to my young audience," says Sami. "Whether they know it or not, they'll be my surrogate grandchildren during the lecture." Sami strives to reach as many people as possible, promote tolerance and give something back. "The key is to deal with the past constructively and positively," says the avowed optimist. When Sami started telling his story in 2008, he was giving six to seven lectures a day. He estimates that by 2019 he will have reached a total of around 150,000 listeners - among other things, he also reported from his life in Leipzig and Jena. »In Germany it is important to me to tell people that they are not responsible for what their grandparents did. But you just shouldn't follow in their footsteps. " Giving people positive impulses is the greatest thing for him. "Making the world a better place, that is my reason for living," says Sami Steigmann. He shares this motif with his friend, the well-known Jewish hip-hop artist Kosha Dillz. “Sami can listen very well and endure other opinions. For him it is a question of respect. I really like that about him, ”says Dillz. So he got the idea to invite Sami Steigmann to a talk via the social network app Clubhouse. "My aim was to empower Sami as a survivor so that he can tell his story," explains 39-year-old Dillz via Zoom. "Clubhouse is the perfect place for it, because there are many people there who like to listen." Several thousand were there, including a minister from Dubai and descendants of Nazi perpetrators. STEAK The follow-up event a few weeks later - the app is now used by millions worldwide - should be even bigger. It lasted 14 hours - without a break. At times there were almost 20,000 guests in the room, including 90-year-old Clarence B. Jones, lawyer and close friend of Martin Luther King. Sami Steigmann wanted to answer every single question, it took time. "One of the listeners, a doctor, had us deliver kosher steaks and fries by delivery service during the conversation," says Kosha Dillz. Dillz sees himself as a friend and helper, as a kind of manager who works in the background so that Sami Steigmann's voice and that of other survivors can also be heard by younger people across borders. "The task of our generation is to find creative ways to do this," says Dillz. "Sami was overjoyed to be able to talk to people from Saudi Arabia about Israel in the Clubhouse, for example." Clubhouse offers Steigmann the opportunity to continue to reach many people as a contemporary witness despite the pandemic. He is now on the road independently on Clubhouse, wants to increase his reach with the app and already has more than 7,000 followers. Sami Steigmann's message remains: "The greatest tragedies in human history, the Holocaust and all other genocides, occurred because the world simply stood by and did nothing." Therefore he warns: "Never be a spectator!"

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