Duchess of Cambridge moved by Auschwitz stories as she listens to Holocaust survivors

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5 min read

Watch: Kate praises ‘inspirational’ Holocaust survivors

The Duchess of Cambridge caught up with two Holocaust survivors whose stories she first heard in 2017, as the Royal Family marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

Kate, 39, held a video call with Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg, who both survived Nazi concentration camps, reflecting on what they went through and hearing about their lives since they were freed.

Shipper, who turned 91 earlier this month, managed to escape off the back of a lorry in 1942 when he and other Jewish children were rounded up from the ghetto where he lived.

But two years later, he was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where those who were not deemed fit to work were killed. A few weeks after, he was taken to Stutthof camp.

Goldberg, 90, was forced into the Riga ghetto in Latvia as a child and in 1943, was taken to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig (now Gdansk).

The men met at Stutthof in 1944, and “by chance” met again later. They now both live in the UK, with children and grandchildren each, and regularly share their stories in schools around the country.

The duchess caught up with two survivors who she met in 2017. (Kensington Palace)
The duchess caught up with two survivors who she met in 2017. (Kensington Palace)

Shipper is a widower, and Goldberg is married.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge previously met the men during their visit to Stutthof in 2017.

In a light-hearted moment, Shipper told the duchess he was pleased it was her who was on the call.

He said: “I was so happy, you know, I didn’t need your husband, you were the one that I wanted.”

Laughing, Kate replied: “Zigi I’ll tell him you miss him very much, and he sends his regards as well obviously.”

The two men recounted some of what happened to them in the camps, with Shipper explaining how he saw babies being shot as mothers refused to be separated from them.

Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at Lensterhof Convalescence Home in Germany, after liberation in 1945. (Holocaust Educational Trust)
Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at Lensterhof Convalescence Home in Germany, after liberation in 1945. (Holocaust Educational Trust)
Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019. (Graham Chweidan/Holocaust Educational Trust)
Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019. (Graham Chweidan/Holocaust Educational Trust)
Manfred Goldberg with his younger brother Herman before the war. (Holocaust Educational Trust)
Manfred Goldberg with his younger brother Herman before the war. (Holocaust Educational Trust)
Zigi Shipper and his family at his 90th birthday celebration. (Holocaust Educational Trust)
Zigi Shipper and his family at his 90th birthday celebration. (Holocaust Educational Trust)

Goldberg said he faced a “daily lottery to survive” and explained how a man telling him to lie about his age may have saved his life.

Recalling waiting to be assessed by an SS officer, on whether he would be sent to his death or be able to live another day, he 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 had 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.”

He said he has been told since that 17 was the age at which people were “valued as slave labour”.

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Shipper spoke of his regret as he remembered waiting for someone to die in the overcrowded cattle trucks which they were transported in so he could sit down.

He said: “You sat down, they sat on top of you. 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.”

He said he did not know what Auschwitz was on the day he arrived in a group.

Goldberg, who now has 12 grandchildren, said he was pleased he settled in the UK after the war.

But of those who deny the Holocaust, he said: “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.

“It just wasn’t thinkable while there were witnesses like me around.”

Manfred Goldberg, Zigi Shipper with the duchess. (Kensington Palace)
Manfred Goldberg, Zigi Shipper with the duchess. (Kensington Palace)
Manfred Goldberg, Zigi Shipper, Farah Ali, and Maxwell Horner on the call with the duchess. (Kensington Palace)
Manfred Goldberg, Zigi Shipper, Farah Ali, and Maxwell Horner on the call with the duchess. (Kensington Palace)

At the end of the call, the Duchess of Cambridge said: “The stories you both have shared with me again today, and your dedication in educating the younger generation about your experiences and the horrors of the Holocaust shows extreme strength and such bravery.

“It’s so important and so inspirational, so thank you so much once again for sharing your stories with me and for all the work you do in sharing your experiences.”

She also spoke to Holocaust Educational Trust (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.”

As well as the Duchess of Cambridge’s call, Prince Charles and Camilla are marking Holocaust Memorial Day by taking part in a special service on Wednesday evening.

Charles, 72, has recorded an address to open the service, urging people to be the light that means the darkness won’t return, while he and Camilla will take part in a candle lighting to remember the victims of genocide.

Watch: Prince Charles urges people to remember Holocaust