RFA: ‘The Past is Repeating Itself’

Sami Steigmann, 79, is a Holocaust survivor who was held at the Mogilev-Podolsky labor camp in the Ukraine between the ages of two and five with his parents, from 1941-1944. While he was too young to work at the camp, he was subjected to Nazi medical experiments and still suffers from side effects today. After the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army he and his family relocated to Transylvania, where they spent nearly 20 years before immigrating to Israel in 1961. Steigmann eventually moved to New York in 1988, and now campaigns against genocide and cultural eradication.

On April 6, 2019, he joined hundreds gathered in Washington in urging the Trump administration to sanction those responsible for human rights violations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). He recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service about why the international community must come together to end the kind of persecution now underway in the XUAR, where authorities have held an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of political “re-education camps” since April 2017.

RFA: Would you please tell us when you hear about the Uyghur situation, what does it remind you of?

Steigmann: One of the things that is happening in the world is that there is a lot of hatred. People have forgotten how to disagree in a civil way. In this day and age, we have not learned enough about what happened during the Holocaust—the darkest period in human history. There is no room for an individual or a group of people to suffer the discrimination, persecution, intimidation, and being forced to give up their heritage and their culture.

RFA: Why do you support the Uyghurs?

Steigmann: I support them because, as a Holocaust survivor, we suffered. Nobody can [bear] that by themselves. The problem that happened with the Holocaust is that the world stood by and nobody helped us. So I am a strong believer that we have to help each other, and the whole world is of one race—the human race. We are all people. The only difference is that we have different cultures and different opinions, but we have to learn to respect each other.

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