The Duchess of Cambridge has paid tribute to “inspirational” Holocaust survivors for educating the next generation 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 but started new lives in the UK after being liberated towards the end of the Second World War.
Mr Shipper told the duchess that after being transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp he witnessed babies being shot when their mothers refused to be separated from their infants.
While his life-long friend Mr Goldberg said it was a “daily lottery to survive” and believes his life was probably saved by a man who advised him to lie about his age when Nazi officers were deciding who was fit for work and those who would die.
At the end of the video call, made last Tuesday, Kate 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.”
The duchess first chatted to the elderly men from Jewish families in 2017 when the Cambridges visited Stutthof, the former Nazi Germany concentration camp built in occupied Poland near Gdansk at the start of the war, where the friends 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.”
Mr Shipper, a widower and retired stationer born in Poland who has five great-grandchildren, told the duchess he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau with his grandmother, who brought him up, in animal trucks.
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.”
When the train arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau the people were put into different groups with some selected to be killed immediately while mothers were 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 after being sent on a death march to the German naval town of Neustadt.
Mr Goldberg’s father had fled to England just before the war began but his family were unable to join him and the 90-year-old, along with his mother and younger brother, were sent from their German home to the Riga ghetto in Latvia and later he was 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 remaining destined to be killed.
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.”
Mr Goldberg, who is married and has 12 grandchildren, was eventually reunited with his father in Britain after the war but said it has taken him many years to speak about his experiences.
After chatting to Kate, 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.
“It just wasn’t thinkable while there were witnesses like me around.”