(Editor's Note: Katelyn Borsos is a senior at South Plainfield High School and an intern with TAPinto South Plainfield.)
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The student body at South Plainfield High School (SPHS) received a special visit on April 28 from Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann. As part of a school assembly, Steigmann spoke to students in 9th through 12th grade about life during and after World War II.
Steigman was born in 1939 in Czernowitz when it was part of Romania, though today it is in Ukraine. As a young child growing up during World War II too young to work in labor camps, Steigmann underwent medical experimentation at the Ukraine-based Mogilev-Podolsky camp from 1941 to 1944. Although he has no recollection of the experiments, Steigmann recalls that what was done to him over 70 years ago has him ‘still in pain to this day.’
During his presentation, Steigmann told the students about a German woman who risked her life to give him milk when he was dying of starvation.
“Bystanders are afraid to speak up,” Steigmann said. “I want to encourage people to be UPstanders”
According to Steigmann, it wasn’t until 2003, when the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum opened to the survivors, their children, and liberators, that he felt incomplete. It was there that he met a fellow holocaust survivor who, had not only been born in the same city as him but who also also spent time in the same camp.
“I finally felt like I belonged,” Steigmann said, “It changed my life because I met a real survivor and I was not just reading about it in books.”
Steigmann became a motivational speaker ‘to empower young people to be the best they can be at all times’ and, for his volunteer work and presentations to young students over the years, has been the recipient an award from the Harmony Power Foundation and a proclamation from the New York State Assembly.
Steigmann told the students that comparing Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust to any person or event is entirely inappropriate. Comparing the effects of the holocaust to lesser events, he said, dehumanizes and insults those who suffered.
At the end of the presentation, SPHS students were given the opportunity to ask Steigmann questions as well as have photos taken with him.
“It was really inspirational and eye-opening,” senior Stephanie Lacasale said. “He showed us how you can overcome anything with the right mindset.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Hall added, “I found it very powerful how Mr. Steigmann was able to overcome such odds during the Holocaust and its aftermath."
For Steigmann, his goal in speaking to students is to teach them to stand up. “I want students to learn to fight in justice at any level, not to be a bystander, and not to be afraid,” Steigmann said.
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