Sami Steigmann, a Holocaust survivor and motivational speaker, talks about overcoming challenges during the annual Days of Remembrance observance April 30 at the Commons on post. (Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum community welcomes Holocaust survivor during Days of Remembrance observance on post
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 2, 2019) – At 18 months old, Sami Steigmann and his parents were deported from their home to a Nazi labor camp in the Ukraine where they stayed from 1941 to 1944. Being too young to work, he was subjected to inhumane Nazi medical experiments and nearly died of starvation, according to his parents.
Steigmann shared his life story with the Fort Drum community April 30 during the annual Days of Remembrance observation.
Although he does not remember what was done to him during the Holocaust, he was told that it was a German worker in the camp who recognized his deteriorating condition and had saved him. Steigmann said it is important to note that not every German was a criminal, and that some had risked their lives to help prisoners.
“In doing that, she risked not only her own life, but she risked the life of her entire family, even to save strangers,” he said.
After being liberated, Steigmann said that he lived a rewarding and sometimes challenging life.
“I’m not just a survivor of the Holocaust, but I’m a survivor of the life challenges I had to go through,” he said. “In Romania, where I grew up, I knew persecution, I knew anti-Semitism and I knew intolerance.”
Steigmann said that tolerance means different things to people, but for him it is about accepting other people’s culture and differing opinions.
“The biggest problem that I’m finding today in this country is that people have forgotten how to disagree in a civil way,” he said. “Everything is anger, hatred. Hatred must be eliminated through education.”
Steigmann said that he tells his story not to draw sympathy or pity but to teach. A few years ago, he experienced difficulty climbing stairs, but last October he decided to climb the highest pyramid in Mexico.
“My goal was never to reach the top,” he said. “My goal was to make the first level. Once I made the first level, why not try for the second one? And this is the lesson I want to teach to young people. We might have lofty goals, but we have to cherish every small step – little successes that make us go further and further until we reach our goal.”
The Days of Remembrance theme this year is “Learning from the Holocaust: Beyond Religious Boundaries.” The national observance is commemorated from April 28 to May 5.
“Today we have the distinct honor of actively remembering more than six million Jewish people and five million non-Jewish people who suffered and were murdered under the Nazi persecutors,” said Col. Darrell Doremus, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade commander. “Remembering this piece of history is vital to ensuring that it never, ever happens again. We cannot erase our history – we know that – but we have to learn from it. Equally important today is memorializing the victims and not forgetting the price that they paid for this world.”
Doremus said that people must always choose a side because neutrality favors the oppressor and never the victim.
“As we saw here today, some people stood up to this evil. Some prevailed; many did not,” he said. “However, the courage they demonstrated must never be forgotten and always upheld.”
Doremus also thanked those who contributed to the day’s event. Students from Copenhagen Central School and Cub Scouts from Pack 26 and 55 and Boy Scout Troop 55 supported the event with static displays. The students also collaborated with 10th CAB Soldiers and Sgt. 1st Class James Webb, 10th CAB equal opportunity adviser, on a remembrance video. Members of the 10th CAB Soldier and Family Readiness Groups also contributed the observance-themed table displays at the Commons.