Duchess of Cambridge pays tribute to 'inspirational' holocaust survivors

27 January 2021, 16:36

The Duchess of Cambridge during a video call with Manfred Goldberg (right) and Zigi Shipper
The Duchess of Cambridge during a video call with Manfred Goldberg (right) and Zigi Shipper. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Duchess of Cambridge has paid tribute to "inspirational" Holocaust survivors who have educated future generations about the "horrors" of the Nazi regime.

Kate was left visibly moved after hearing the stories of Zigi Shipper, 91, and Manfred Goldberg, 90, who met as boys while in a Nazi concentration camp.

At the end of a video call, she said: "The stories that you have both shared with me again today and your dedication in educating the next generation, the younger generations, about your experiences and the horrors of the Holocaust shows extreme strength and such bravery in doing so, it's so important and so inspirational."

READ MORE: Prince Charles urges remembrance on Holocaust Memorial Day

Mr Shipper had told the duchess he witnessed babies being shot at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp when their mothers refused to be separated from them.

His life-long friend Mr Goldberg said it was a "daily lottery to survive".

He said he believes his life was probably saved by a man who told him to lie about his age when Nazi officers were deciding who was fit for work and those who would die.

The pair started new lives in the UK after being liberated towards the end of the Second World War.

Manfred Goldberg (left) and Zigi Shipper during a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019
Mr Goldberg (left) and Mr Shipper during a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019. Picture: PA

The duchess first talked to them in 2017 when the Cambridges visited Stutthof, the former Nazi Germany concentration camp built in occupied Poland near Gdansk, where they met in 1944.

The video-call reunion was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and also featured HET Ambassadors Farah Ali and Maxwell Horner, both aged 18.

Kate added: "We all have a role to play, all generations have a role to play in making sure the stories that we have heard from Zigi and Manfred today live on and ensure that the lessons that we have learnt are not repeated in history for future generations."

Kate during a video call with Holocaust survivors and youth ambassadors
Kate during a video call with Holocaust survivors and youth ambassadors. Picture: PA

Mr Shipper, a widower and retired stationer born who was in Poland and has five great-grandchildren, told the duchess he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in animal trucks with his grandmother, who raised him.

He candidly spoke about the regret he feels to this day at wanting someone to die in the overcrowded cattle wagons so he could sit down.

"You sat down, they sat on top of you," he said. "I was praying that maybe - I was so bad, I was - that I said to myself 'I hope someone would die, so I would have somewhere to sit down'.

"Every morning they used to take out the dead bodies, so eventually I had somewhere to sit down. I can't get rid of it, you know. Even today, how could I think a thing like that? To want someone to die so I could sit down. That's what they made me do."

Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at Lensterhof Convalescence Home in Germany, after liberation in 1945
Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at Lensterhof Convalescence Home in Germany, after liberation in 1945. Picture: PA

When the train arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau the people were put into different groups with some selected to be killed immediately and mothers ordered to leave their babies.

He said: "There (were) women with children and they were holding the baby and the German officers came over and said 'put the baby down and go to the other side'. They wouldn't do it. Eventually they shot the baby and sometimes the woman as well."

Mr Shipper was later moved to Stutthof and was finally liberated by British troops a month before the end of the war.

Mr Goldberg, along with his mother and younger brother, were sent from their German home to the Riga ghetto in Latvia and he was later transported to Stutthof and worked in a number of camps.

He described how in one camp he was helped by someone as he approached an SS officer picking out workers, with those who were not selected destined to be killed.

Zigi Shipper and his family at his 90th birthday celebration
Mr Shipper and his family at his 90th birthday celebration. Picture: PA

Mr Goldberg said: "As I shuffled forwards the man behind me whispered to me 'if they ask you your age say you are 17'. In fact I had just passed my 14th birthday. But as he primed me and he did ask me that question and I said 17.

"I never saw him again. He was behind me, I don't know which way he was sent. He's in my thoughts, as my angel who primed me. I don't think I would have had the resource myself to say 17. But possibly that helped save my life."

The 90-year-old, who is married and has 12 grandchildren, said it has taken him many years to speak about his experiences.

He said about his life in the UK: "I experienced nothing but kindness and tolerance. My feeling for British people is unchanged, they are a uniquely tolerant people.

"I know it's not the country I entered in 1946. Unfortunately there is a section of people in this country who seem to have lost their moral compass. When I arrived in this country I never dreamed I would see Holocaust denial in my lifetime.”

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