This past Sunday morning I was at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on the Battery to see my friend Sami Steigmann participate in a ceremony to remember the Holocaust and other crimes committed in Europe in the twentieth century. Sami Steigmann was born in 1939 in Bukovina, one of those regions whose nation status changed hands numerous times in that span during and after the World Wars. The other day I wrote about the 135th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That may seem like ancient history, but it is incredibly humbling to meet people like Sami Steigmann, whose lives were changed through the decisions made by the leaders of the twentieth century. Sami and his parents were imprsoned in a concentration camp, where as a toddler he was the victim of medical experiments. Just typing these words is difficult.
We have known Mr. Steigmann for eight years now. I even wrote a book chapter about it that was published last year during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service. I am glad to see that Sami is becoming an increasingly prominent national figure. Even while we are still early in the new year, his 2017 calendar is already filling up with speaking engagements. And why not? Still a relatively young man in his mid-seventies, he is uniquely positioned to tell a personal narrative of the mid twentieth century in a way that few people today can. Sunday’s event had just the right balance of seriousness and levity. There was even a young all-male song and dance troupe of boys strongly reminiscent of what one might have seen at a borscht belt camp ground circa 1955, and that’s a compliment. When it was all over I didn’t stay long. The crowd to meet Sami was so deep that I said a quick goodbye and headed out the door into the January light.