By Andy Furman
It just doesn’t make much sense.
The event took place 83 years ago.
The young man who brings the story to life is a high school student.
The Holocaust took place in the larger context of World War II. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Over the next year, Nazi Germany and its allies conquered much of Europe. German authorities confiscated Jewish property in many places, required Jews to wear identification armbands, and established ghettos and forced labor camps.
The Holocaust, in which some six million Jews, Gypsies, gays and others were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany during World War II, was one of the most horrific war crimes never committed.
And Max Perry, a senior from Cooper High School, tells the story – not only attention – he found a Holocaust survivor – Sami Steigmann.
“I was involved with a Jewish youth group months ago,” Perry told the Northern Kentucky Grandstand“I met Sami at a conference. He told me he had never been to Kentucky; and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring him here.
Steigmann was born in 1939 in Czernovitz, Bukovina, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire belonging to Romania. Later it became part of the former Soviet Union and today it is Ukraine.
From 1941 to 1944 he was with his parents in Ukraine at Mogilev-Podolsky, a labor camp in an area called Transnistria.
“Sami was many things,” Perry said, “a Holocaust victim. Upon his release, he became a survivor. Now he’s a motivational speaker.
And he’s coming to Kentucky.
It was not an easy process for young Max Perry.
“I started in February,” he said. “I spoke to Michael Wilson (manager of Cooper) to see if there would be any interest in having Sami as a guest speaker.”
Thanks to the support of several anonymous benefactors and the community at large, Sami Steigmann will speak in the Commonwealth.
“I’ve been reaching out to school districts through emails,” Perry said.
But the bigger question is simply – why?
“I would like to educate the students and speak to as many people as possible. In fact,” he added, it’s amazing how many people wanted this to happen.
Perry estimates that some eight different school districts in the area will have the opportunity to hear Sami Steigmann speak. “It should reach about 3 to 4,000 students,” Perry said. “He will give about 15 presentations.”
Steigmann will arrive in the Commonwealth on Sunday May 8 and will stay until Friday May 13.
During that time, he will speak to students in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati at eight middle and high schools, according to Perry. He will also give two major community presentations at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at an event sponsored by the Holocaust and Humanities Center, as well as a presentation at the Kenton County Library.
Sami’s message is simple and beautiful, says Perry. “I am not what happened to me – I am what I chose to be.”
The Cooper High School eldest — and an only child — says his parents are pretty proud of his coordinating the project.
“Not only are they happy for me,” Perry said, “they know how important Sami’s message is — and needs to be heard.”
Max Perry met Sami Steigmann at a Jewish summer camp for high school through seniors in Lake Como, Penna., several years ago.
“They had Holocaust survivors at the camp,” Perry said, “and the program was called ‘Grandchildren.’
The camp’s teenagers served as guardians for the survivors.
Next week, the Perry family of Union will care for Sami Steigmann at their home for six days.
Maybe Steigmann’s message can change some people’s minds and have an impact.
He’s done it before with Max Perry.