I received a message this weekend from our great friend Sami Steigmann. Sami was emailing to share the news that he was honored this past Thursday at a Words of Bonds event at the Bnai Zion Foundation Center here in New York City. Also featured at that program was Jennifer Teege, the granddaughter of Amon Goeth. Goeth was the commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp. Born in 1908, Goeth was an Austrian who came of age in the instability and chaos following the First World War and quickly found a home in the nascent Nazi Party. He was unrepentant until the end, which came in 1946 when he was hanged for torturing and murdering unknown scores of people. Goeth was played in the movie Schindler’s List by Ralph Fiennes. In one of those examples of Faulkner’s maxim that the past isn’t even past, his granddaughter, Ms. Teege, only learned of the family relation in 2008.
My wife and I met Sami Steigmann for the first time in 2009. He was our tour guide on a walk through the Governors Island Historic District one summer afternoon. Sami was the one who got me to volunteer at Governors Island in the first place. I wrote a piece about this whole episode that will be published by the Yosemite Conservancy this coming fall, on which I will share more when the time comes. That 2009 chance meeting was a great experience; I can still see it clearly as I type these words. After the tour Sami told the two of us how he survived a Nazi labor camp in the Ukraine and what he learned from the experience. His life has had many twists and turns since then, but he has always managed to hold on to hope and to his faith in others. It is a lesson he shares with school groups across the Greater New York area. He also volunteers at several museums and service organizations here in the city. I was so glad to hear of the event last week.
And Sami, if you are reading this, we are going to do that interview this fall!