Sami Steigmann as been many things. He has been a victim of the Holocaust. When he was liberated, he became a survivor. Now, he is a motivational speaker.
Sami's experience is invaluable. Few people on this earth have gone through the atrocities he faced when he was just a child, and he was able to transform himself from a victim into a social action agent. Learn about Sami's story, and how he can help you.
Mission and Motto
Sami is dedicated to reach as many young people as he can, nationally and internationally, promote tolerance, and, hopefully, they will make it a better world for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
His advice to the young people: "NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER LOSE HOPE and enjoy the life you’ve been given. NEVER BE A PERPETRATOR (anyone that hurts another, intentionally and repeatedly, is a perpetrator). But most importantly, NEVER, EVER BE A BY-STANDER. The greatest tragedy in human history, the Holocaust and all the genocides, happened because the world stood by and did nothing.
As a bystander, you are part of the problem. He wants you to "BE PART OF THE SOLUTION."
Sami's life story is remarkable. He was born on December 21, 1939 in Czernovitz, Bukovina, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire belonging to Romania. Later, it became part of former Soviet Union and today it is in Ukraine. From 1941 through 1944, he was with his parents in the
Ukraine at Mogilev-Podolsky, a labor camp in an area called Transnistria. The camp was liberated by the Red Army and his family was deported by the Romanians, not by the Germans. He grew up in Transylvania, in a small town called Reghin. He did not know the language. In 1961, the whole family (his sister was born in 1946) emigrated to Israel. He served in the Israeli Air Force, not as a pilot. In 1968, without knowing the language and no money, alone, Sami came to the United States. He lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he married, divorced and eventually, in 1983 returned to Israel. However, in 1988, he returned to the United States, choosing New York City as his final home.
Being too young to work, per his parents, Sami was subjected to Nazi medical experimentation in his early years, but has no recollection of those years. However, he has felt and still feels the side effects every single day of his life.
When he sought compensation from the
Claims Conference Compensation Program, one of the questions on the application dated Feb 8, 2002 “Were you subjected to medical experiments by the Nazi Regime?” Sami answered YES and provided the following statement:
“My parents told me that I was subjected to Nazi medical experimentation but did not go into specifics (too painful to remember.) All I know is that I suffered all my life from neck, head and back problems. The severity was so great that I had days and weeks that I could not sit, lay down or walk (not all at the same time). My headaches were so severe that I was crying in pain. My parents and the other witnesses are all gone, therefore, I hope that this information will suffice.”
Obviously, Sami had no proof. He was not expecting an answer. To Sami's surprise, he received an answer two years later, on January 26, 2004. To his shock, he received - based on their records - a single payment of 2,500 DM. The financial settlement did not make a big difference
in his life, but two paragraphs in the letter accompanying the settlement are invaluable to him:
“Based on the information and evidence you provided, your eligibility has been established as a victim of medical experiments."
"Fully aware that no amount of money can compensate you for the severe injustices that you suffered, we do hope that you will regard this payment as a symbolic acknowledgement of those injustices".
After the medical experiments, life was very difficult in the camp. The starvation and the bitter cold Russian winter created survival problems. Struggling to take care of his family, Sami's father gave away his winter coat for a loaf of bread. At one point he was dying of starvation
and his life was saved by a German woman.
This German woman lived on a farm near the camp and brought food to the SS and Ukrainian guards. Fortunately, she saw Sami and recognized he was dying of starvation - physical signs are big head, swollen stomach, swollen feet. She decided to give him milk, risking her entire family's lives. Eventually, when color began to return to his cheeks, she would pinch him (in Yiddish, we called it a knip), and say: "Those are my rosy cheeks!". This German woman enabled Sami to survive and eventually, the whole family returned to Romania. Not knowing her name, years later, it was a very happy sight to see at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Va'Shem a stone/marker and a tree honoring the unknown ones.
NOTE: Sami's paternal grandmother was 1st cousin with CARLO SCHANZER, the Foreign Minister of Italy (Secrtary of State) in 1922. Carlo's successor, in 1923, was BENITO MUSSOLINI.
Food was extremely scarce with everything sold on the black market - including bread. Naturally, Sami inherited his father's confidence. After the war, the Soviets allowed a small group of Jews - about 3,000 - to return to the country of origin, if they so desired. Sami's father, born in Vatra Dornei, opted to go back to Romania.
After the war
Sami had a reoccurring nightmare that lasted for many years. In the nightmare, he was in the corner of a building. He was naked. The only lights and sounds he saw and heard were from the explosions. It made him feel like he was in a void and alone. Born during the war,
Sami knew no one who had experienced exactly what he had during the war years. He knew survivors, and children of survivors but no one who shared his story. For almost 63 years, he felt he did not belong to either generation. However, in 2003, for two days - November 1st and 2nd - the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. closed its doors to the public. The Holocaust survivors, their children and their liberators - over 8,000 people - were invited to attend.
Sami was there.
NATHAN, Sami's father, was an orphan who became a confident person with street smarts as well as a benevolent dictator and an unforgiving person. Nathan's father died before he was born and his mother (Sami's grandmother) was unable to take care of eight children. She decided to take the 2 youngest ones and commit suicide. A stranger saved the children but, Sami's grandmother DID commit suicide. Consequently, Sami's father grew up in an orphanage in Vienna but was thrown out into the street at age 13. His street wise experiences enabled him to save his family during the war, and also, provide them with food after the war.
REGHINA, Sami's mother, was an uneducated person who had a heart of gold and Sami inherited her warmth and sensitivity. He knows very little about her family or background. She was abused by her stepmother and her father (Sami's grandfather) did not allow her to go to school. She had to stay home, work in the store and help provide for the family.
SAMI wishes to honor his 35 paternal family members murdered by the Nazis; his uncle Max, who was a refugee in Shanghai (China was the only country that did not require a visa and 25,000 were saved); his maternal family members; and all the other victims who perished in the Holocaust.
BASHERT (Meant to be)
It was meant to be. At the table where Sami was sitting, there was a man born in the same city as Sami, who had been in the same camp as Sami, for the same years (1941-1944) as Sami. He was taken at 8 months old and Sami was taken at a year and a half. For the first time in his life, Sami felt like he belonged to both generations and did not have to ignore it anymore or keep silent. Today, Sami definitely believes in Bashert.
Sami was a victim of the Nazis. But after the war, Sami always faced life challenges and obstacles as a survivor! Sami evolved! Sami now carries
the torch for his generation and teaches young people life lessons based on his personal experiences. Sami overcame life challenges and obstacles by volunteering - finding healthy substitutes to fulfill his need to teach and share. On February 17, 2016, Sami was recognized for his life's work when he received the Harmony Power Award at the Museum of Tolerance on East 42nd Street in NYC. That same night he also received a proclamation from the New York State Assembly recognizing him as an example of courage, compassion and for his work speaking with students and visitors to New York.
Positive thinking --> Positive words --> Positive attitude --> Positive actions --> Positive experiences.
Associate yourself with positive people -- negative people will drag you down.
Respect yourself and, you will be respected.
In every calamity there is an opportunity. Tomorrow is a new day. Enjoy life..
Validate your feelings - don't feel guilty/upset about the emotions you feel. You have a right to feel them.
Don't dwell on the past or regret it (you made the best decision with the information you had at the time).
Believe in yourself and never give up (even in the worst circumstances).
Be a strong person in character (elevate somebody instead of putting him/her down).
Forgive but don't forget.
By forgiving others, you actually forgive yourself.
People who cannot forgive are usually angry, depressed and tend to stereotype.
You cannot change the world but, you can change a person's perspective in life. One person at at time.
Before your try to change others, change yourself.
Take reponsibility for your actions (do not blame others and/or circumstances).
Have a positive outlook on life (see the glass 'half full, not 'half empty').
If you BELIEVE it will work out, you'll see opportunities. If you believe it won't, you'll see obstacles.
Define who you are instead of allowing others to define you.
Life is based on the choices we make. Choose wisely.
Never be a bystander -- be an UPSTANDER and part of the solution.