Holocaust survivor Sam Harris ’58 honored

April 12, 2021 — For Sam Harris ’58, watching news footage of the Russian attack on Ukraine has been terrifying. It takes him back to the day in September 1939 when Hitler’s Stuka dive bombers ripped apart the Polish village where Harris and his family lived, changing his life forever. He was just 4 years old. 

Sam Harris '58
   Sam Harris ’58

“It’s happening all over again,” Harris says.

Sam’s sister saved him that day by dragging him out of harm’s way. Harris would survive the Nazi death camps as well because of the tenacity and love of his sisters, Sara and Rosa. They hid him and stole food for him. If the war had gone on six months longer, Harris says, it could have been too long — he might not be here.

That would have been a great loss for the world. In the late 1970s, neo-Nazis threatened to march through Skokie, Ill., and Holocaust deniers were becoming more and more vocal. They inspired Harris to finally speak out about his experiences in the concentration camps. He wrote a book for children, Sammy: Child Survivor of the Holocaust, and he now speaks to many groups of all ages, bearing witness to what he had endured.

As a Grinnell graduate, Harris was well-equipped for a lifetime of contributing to the greater good in a complex world. He envisioned a museum that would rival the finest Holocaust museums in the world. With dedication and determination, he made his dream a reality, with the help of generous donors and many others who believed in his vision. Today, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center draws tens of thousands of visitors every year — many of them school-aged children — with the mission of preventing future genocides anywhere on Earth.

Jessica Kreamer, granddaughter of Sam Harris '58

Jessica Kreamer accepts the Survivor Legacy Award for her grandfather, Sam Harris ’58, during the Humanitarian Awards Dinner in Chicago.

“The museum is a beacon of hope where we, our children, and our grandchildren will learn from the past and make sure that this or any kind of Holocaust does not happen in the future,” Harris says. 

In March, Harris received the museum’s Survivor Legacy Award at the Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner, one of Chicago’s largest and most glittering fundraising events. More than 1,000 attended the event, including former President George W. Bush and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. 

“It’s a magnificent honor,” Harris says. Although he wasn’t able to attend in person because of COVID-19 concerns, his granddaughter Jessica Kreamer accepted the award in his place. 

“She wants to carry the torch,” Harris says. “This is what makes me happy.”

— by Jacqueline Hartling Stolze

For your information:

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is located in Skokie. Sam Harris is one of the featured survivor profiles.

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