‘To be upstanders’: Holocaust survivor’s message to Yalies
Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann spoke about finding his voice and overcoming hate last Thursday at an event hosted by Yale’s new Moderate Party.
Andre Fa’aoso, Contributing Photographer
The Yale Moderate Party welcomed Holocaust survivor and motivational speaker Sami Steigmann to the 53 Wall Street Auditorium on Thursday to share his life story and words of wisdom with students and faculty.
Yash Chauhan ’26, who leads the Moderate Party, interviewed Steigmann. The two spoke about Steigmann’s upbringing, his career and his continued advocacy work.
Steigmann was born in a Romanian Nazi labor camp in 1939 and during childhood was subjected to medical experiments and starvation, per his website. At the event, Steigmann spoke about the “dire” conditions he and his parents experienced before being liberated in 1944.
Following the war, Steigmann spent his early years in Transylvania before moving with his family to Israel, where he served in the Israeli Air Force. Steigmann originally settled in Milwaukee, and had a family before divorcing and returning to Israel. He returned back to the United States and settled in New York City, where for the past 15 years he has shared his experience and explained why he thinks we “should talk about the Holocaust forever.”
Steigmann said that since 2008 he has spoken to nearly 250,000 people and told the News that it “means a lot” for him to speak at Yale. Steigmann said he wants people to learn to not be afraid to “speak up and stand up and take responsibility for their actions.”
Chauhan told the News he wanted to bring Steigmann to Yale because he has a “real story” that would inspire Yalies through his energy and “the kind of grace he has.” Chauhan met Steigmann at a networking event in New York City and was engaged by his character.
Danat Kenzhegali ’26 told the News that he thought Steigmann was a “truly inspirational guy” because he emphasized the importance of learning more about the wider impacts of the Holocaust. The Moderate Party hosted a dinner before the speaking event at Silliman College, offering members and invitees the opportunity to talk face-to-face with Steigmann. Chauhan said that it was an off-the-record moment where people were able to “get to know Sami in an intimate way.”
Netanel Crispe ‘25, who attended the dinner, said that it was “very important” to him to listen to what Steigmann had to say. Crispe told the News that his maternal great-grandfather a Holocaust survivor who escaped through Lithuania. As a practicing Hasidic Jew at Yale, Crispe noted that it was important to hear Steigmann’s “positive message [around] approaching people with positive mindsets and to address people with love and care.”
In his talk, Steigmann also reflected on the importance of learning how to have civil disagreements with each other within the context of a divided American society. He emphasized his motto to attendees, saying that his purpose is to “educate, motivate, empower and tolerate.”
Steigmann told the audience that it is important to learn “what hate can do to a person,” a comment he made in the context of atrocities committed during World War II.
He also said that the only way to combat hate is through education, a sentiment he echoed as part of his wider idea that people should be “upstanders.”
Steigmann also spoke to the divisive political climate and the hate that flows from it, and said that despite the pain and torture forced on him by the Nazis as a child, he said hate is “not in my nature.”
Chauhan told the News that, while everyone makes mistakes, Steigmann’s emphasis on forgiveness encouraged him to “learn from them and reckon with them, and own them and talk about them.”
“Yes, we’re divided, yes we have a lot of issues in this country, [but] it doesn’t matter where you come from, there is one humanity,” Chauhan said of Steigmann’s philosophy.
Steigmann has been a motivational speaker for two decades and in 2016 was recognized by the Museum of Tolerance in New York City and the New York State Assembly for his work educating visitors and students in the city of New York about his life and the Holocaust.