Auschwitz survivor “had no hatred”
Israel’s Raphael Schutz recalls meeting Samuel Steinmann, in a time when anti-Semitism is again on the rise
Michael Sandelson & Sarah Bostock
Samuel Steinmann died one week before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Norway, aged 91. 2015 also marks 75 years since Norway was invaded, and the Russian Army’s liberation of Auschwitz.
772 of Norway’s then 2,100 Jews were sent to death camps under WWII. Only 26 survived the war. Steinmann was one of the 532 rounded up and deported from Oslo harbor on November 26, 1942. He and four other Jews returned to the capital on May 30, 1945.
“I’ve met him two or three times, I’m not entirely sure,” Israel’s ambassador to Norway, Raphael Schutz, tells The Foreigner. “I was impressed by his good sense of humor and vitality. What struck me most about him was that here you had a person who had experienced what he experienced, but he was nevertheless calm, open, and someone with seemingly no remnants of hatred in him.”
“At the same time, my impression was that he had a kind of light in his face that showed that he had experienced what he had,” the Ambassador remarks.
Samuel Leon “Sammy” Steinmann (August 24, 1923—May 1, 2015) grew up in the Oslo borough of Nordstrand. On October 26, 1942, state police came to the farm where he was staying with a friend, taking him to Berg in Oslo by train, following a tram journey from Nordstrand.
He endured constant harassment and humiliation at Auschwitz, following his journey with other Jews on Nazi Germany’s the SS Donau. Prisoner number 79231 had been tattooed into his skin.
His brother, Harry Steinmann, was killed shortly after arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 10 Jews were alive in the camp in January 1943, some two months later.
Samuel Steinmann said that he survived the torture and inhumanity there due to a good deal of luck. He would go on to work at the camp hospital, where working indoors meant that he was less vulnerable to the cold and torture, less exposed to hard physical labor.
In January 1945, the Red Army moved into Poland; Auschwitz was forcibly abandoned. Around 66,000 Jewish prisoners, including Steinmann, were sent out on one of the Nazis’ death marches, forced marches involving columns of prisoners under guard. Prisoners were brutally mistreated and killed.
Steinmann would survive. He and his Jewish compatriots were not liberated until April 11, though, by the Americans. They had survived by taking numbered clothes from dead, non-Jewish prisoners, hiding their identity.
Steinmann has retold his stories to adults and pupils alike in order to educate them about the atrocities that took place under WWII. He was awarded the King’s Medal of Merit in 2012, and has now been laid to rest in Oslo’s Helsfyr Gravlund.
“Sadly, the number of Holocaust survivors still living among us is diminishing day by day, and with their passing the last of those who can give first-hand testimony of what happened in Europe during the years 1939-1945 are vanishing,” stated President of Israel Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin in his letter of condolence to Norway’s King Harald V.
“I am extremely concerned by the fact that in parallel to the departure from our world of such figures as Samuel Steinmann, we are witnessing the ugly revival and rise in Europe of anti-Semitism in Europe,” President Rivlin also wrote.
Additional source: The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, Oslo
It also appeared in the May 22, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.