Photo Credit: Inge Auerbacher
Inge Auerbacher with her parents and grandparents.

Inge Auerbacher is a retired chemist, lyricist, author of six books, lecturer, and the recipient of two honorary doctorates and two of the highest civilian awards in Germany.

Born on December 31, 1934, in Kippenheim – a village in southwestern Germany – Auerbacher grew up in an Orthodox, middle-class family. Her father served in the German army in World War I and was wounded and honored with the Iron Cross.

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On August 22, 1942, Auerbacher and her parents were deported with no money and only some personal belongings. They boarded a train with close to 2,000 other Jews. No one knew where they were headed.

Auerbacher, just seven at the time, tightly clutched her beloved doll, Marlene, which her grandmother had given her for her second birthday. When they got off the train in Bohusovice, Czechoslovakia, SS officers ordered them to march.

Auerbacher recalls, “The old people couldn’t march. They were on the train for two days already. People started falling by the wayside, and then they started to whip us, and my parents put me between them so that I shouldn’t get whipped. I was dragging along my little duffle bag and my doll in my arms.”

Auerbacher and her parents soon arrived at Terezin, a transit camp in Czechoslovakia. Among the inmates were highly-decorated war veterans, prominent musicians, doctors, and artists. Said Auerbacher, “They wanted to show the world that all these prominent people are being kept safely in one place and nothing’s going to happen to them.” Ultimately, 35,000 out of 140,000 inmates at Terezin died of starvation and disease.

Located in a bleak, broken-down army town, Terezin was a big fortress. Auerbacher describes it as “a horrible, horrible place,” adding, “If you stole a potato or did a drawing, or tried to smuggle a letter out, you were punished severely.” Auerbacher revisited Terezin many years later as a lecturer and said about her experience, “If you go back there, you feel like it’s filled up with ghosts of death.”

Auerbacher remembers going to sleep and waking up hungry. She describes celebrating one of her birthdays: “My mother made me a cake, a little crushed potato the size of my hand, with a hint of sugar. And that was a big deal. That was my birthday cake, and it was amazing. We went to the garbage dump, trying to find some potato peelings or some rotten turnips. You could always find a little piece.”

Auerbacher says, “Rats, mice, fleas and bed bugs. Those were our so-called companions.” Because of the close quarters, pestilence, and filthy conditions, diseases spread like wildfire. Auerbacher contracted scarlet fever and then tuberculosis, which took her years to recover from.

Auerbacher and her parents were liberated from Terezin on May 8, 1945 by the Soviet army. Auerbacher was 10 years old at the time. There were about 15,000 children under the age of 15 at the camp. Just a few survived. Two-thirds of the Jewish prisoners were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and other camps.

Auerbacher lost 20 relatives in the Holocaust.

* * * * *

Sami Steigmann

Sami Steigmann’s kind blue eyes twinkle with optimism, like he’s lit from within. You would never imagine the horrors he’s experienced or know he’s a Holocaust survivor.

Steigmann is a motivational speaker who describes himself as an eternal optimist. His motto is, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to be.”

Steigmann was born on December 21, 1939, in Czernovitz, Bukovina, which was given to Romania in 1940. When he was just a year and a half, he and his family were taken by force to the Mogilev-Podolsky labor camp in Transnistria. Steigmann says, “My parents not only had to fight to survive, but also to take care of me.”

A non-Jewish German woman who lived at a farm near the camp brought food to the SS guards. When she noticed that Steigmann was exhibiting physical signs of starvation, she gave him milk. Steigmann said, “People who saved strangers are called ‘The Righteous Among the Nations’ because we have to understand that not only did they risk their own lives, but they risked the lives of their entire family.

“I do not know the name of the person who saved me. However, six years ago, I was in Israel, and next to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, there is a garden honoring 27,000 Righteous Among the Nations, and I was extremely happy to see a marker honoring the unknown Righteous Among the Nations, so indirectly the woman who saved my life is honored.”

Steigmann has suffered from chronic head, neck, shoulder, and back pain throughout his life. He somberly discloses, “My parents told me that I was subjected to Nazi medical experimentation.”

The Mogilev-Podolsky camp was liberated by the Red Army in 1944.

Steigmann later moved to Israel and served in the Israeli Air Force. He started his career as an accountant and then moved to the U.S. in 1968 and then again in 1988 after returning to Israel for five years.

Today, Steigmann lectures at schools, synagogues, and other organizations. Before Covid-19, he used to do up to six presentations a day; now he lectures virtually. He is extremely passionate about educating students about the Holocaust and Israel.

He states, “As dangerous as Covid-19 is, there is a bigger virus that is much more dangerous. That’s the virus of bullying, anti-Semitism, hatred, bigotry and ideology. That virus can be dealt with only through education.”

A representative of the World Jewish Congress for the past three years, Steigmann reports, “Half of the world population does not know that the Holocaust happened. One third believe it’s exaggerated or a myth. … Young people are totally clueless about the evolution of the Holocaust.”

Steigmann also lectures about thinking positive thoughts, forgiving others and oneself, and standing up to lies.

Although Steigmann lives below the poverty line, he doesn’t take money for any his speeches. Donations go directly to his foundation, the Steigmann Peace and Education Tolerance Fund, to provide scholarships to outstanding students, honor his parents, remember Holocaust victims, and recognize the survivors.

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