Heartbreak for Kate: Auschwitz survivor Zigi Shipper, who dedicated his life to educating on the horrors of the Holocaust – and called the Princess of Wales ‘a friend’ – dies on his 93rd birthday

  • Holocaust survivor and educator Zigi Shipper died today on his 93rd birthday 
  • As a child, Zigi was taken to Auschwitz with his grandmother before being transferred to Stutthof concentration camp as a teenager
  • Two years ago in lockdown, Zigi, then 91, and his friend Manfred Goldberg, then 90, whom he met at Stutthof concentration camp, had a video call with Kate
  • Tributes were paid in Westminster this afternoon, with Prime Minster Rishi Sunak calling Zigi a man with wonderful, wonderful energy and humanity

Zigi Shipper, who survived being imprisoned in two concentration camps during the Second World War before dedicating his life to educating others on the horrors of the Holocaust, has died on his 93rd birthday, it has been announced. 

In the House of Commons this afternoon, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid tribute to ‘a man with wonderful, wonderful energy and humanity’. 

In 1944, Zigi and his grandmother, whom he was brought up by after his parents divorced, were taken to a train station and transported to Auschwitz. He would later, as a teenager, also spend time in Stutthof concentration camp. 

In 2017, Zigi accompanied the Prince and Princess of Wales on a royal visit to Stutthof, near Gdansk in Poland, where Zigi had met his lifelong friend and fellow prisoner Manfred Goldberg, and, during lockdown, participated in a lockdown conversation. 

Speaking about the camaraderie the pair had with the Princess of Wales, Zigi said she’d treated him ‘like a friend.’ 

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The Princess of Wales and Zigi Shipper, second from left, during the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to Stutthof, the former Nazi German concentration camp near Gdansk, Poland in 2017 (Also pictured: third from left, Manfred Goldberg, far right, Prince William)

In 2022, King Charles commissioned a portrait of Zigi, which hangs in Buckingham Palace. 

Born in January 1930, to a Jewish family in Łódź, Poland, Zigi Shipper’s, 91, parents divorced when he was five and he was brought up by his grandmother and father, having been told his mother had died.

In 1939 his father escaped to the Soviet Union, believing that it was only young Jewish men who were at risk, and not children or the elderly, and Zigi never saw him again. His grandmother tragically died the day of the liberation.

Speaking to the Duchess in 2021 on a video call, he revealed: ‘Of course in 1940 every Jew had to be in a certain place, which was the ghetto. In the ghetto I was working there for four years. If you couldn’t work you were useless and you didn’t get any food. But I was working until about 1944.

Zigi, left, and Manfred Goldberg, met one another at the concentration camp and are pictured at Lensterhoff, Germany in 1945 after surviving Stutthoff in Poland


Zigi said of his 66 years of marriage: ‘Some are good, some are bad, but the last few years was unbelievable’

The past year has been particularly tough for Zigi, who lost his beloved wife Jeannette in 2021 . The couple had been together for 71 years and married for 66

‘In 1944 they said, “We’ve got to get rid of everybody because the Russians are very near”.‘

In 1944, Zigi and his grandmother, whom he was brought up by, were taken to a train station and transported to Auschwitz.  

Built in 1939, Stutthof was the first camp to be built outside German borders and was one of the last camps liberated by the Allies in May 1945. Of the 110,000 men, women and children who were imprisoned in the camp during the Holocaust, as many as 65,000 lost their lives – including 28,000 Jews. 

Zigi, who worked as a stationer in the UK and went to marry and have two daughters, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren (pictured, at his 90th birthday celebration with his family) 

The Princess of Wales joined Zigi, then 91, and his friend Manfred Goldberg, then 90, whom he met as a teenager at the Stutthof concentration camp, for a video call in 2021.

Speaking to Kate, he said: ‘So after a few days we came to the station, I said to my grandmother “I can’t see any trains”.

‘She said, “They are standing in front of you”. I said, “That’s not for us, that’s for animals. It is not for me”. Anyway they opened the doors and they started putting people in.

After meeting in the concentration camps, Manfred and Zigi have remained friends for years and have continued to share their stories to educate younger people about the Holocaust 

The then Duchess of Cambridge, joined Zigi, then 91, and his friend Manfred Goldberg, then 90, whom he met as a teenager at the Stutthof concentration camp, for a video call last week

‘There was nowhere you could sit down. If 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 use 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 continued: ‘Eventually we arrived one early morning, they opened the door and we didn’t know where we were and somebody said, “oh, we [are at] Auschwitz”. I didn’t have a clue what Auschwitz was.

‘They told us to leave everything. They took us to washing and cleaning. It happened that other people that went with the group, they had to go for a selection – and 90 per cent of them were killed straight away.

‘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.

The Queen Consort pictured with Zigi Shipper, left, and Manfred Goldberg at an exhibition of Seven Portraits: Surviving the Holocaust on January 24, 2022

‘Us, we didn’t know what was going to happen. They took us, we washed. We didn’t get a number on our arms but I had a number, 84,303. I always remember. How can I forget that number. I can’t forget it. I want to get rid of it.

He said Kate was ‘a friend’ and claims she’s just ‘like a normal young lady’.

‘Eventually some officers came and they told us, “We need 20 boys to go to a working camp”. This was the camp where Manfred was.

‘It was a very small camp and we went there, I was three months in hospital. Then I went to a place, then I went to another place.’ 

Shipper pictured standing besides his portrait in an exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace in 2022

After he was freed in May 1945, he got a letter from England – a country he had never visited – which was written by a Polish woman.

She explained that she was searching for her son and had found his name on a British Red Cross List.

She asked him to check if he had a scar on his left wrist that he suffered after burning himself as a two-year-old. He did.

At first he refused to leave as his friends, including Manfred, were the only family he had. But ten months later, he travelled to England to be reunited with his mother, who he had barely met.

Zigi said his first six months in the UK ‘were hell’ because he missed his friends so much but that he went on to have a ‘wonderful, wonderful life’.

Widower Zigi, who worked as a stationer in the UK and went to marry and have two daughters, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, said he wanted to tell his story because he wanted young people to know about what happened during the Holocaust. 

In 2017, he met Kate and Prince William alongside his close friend Manfred Goldberg during a visit to Stutthof, in Poland.

They would on to meet again in 2021, with Zigi playfully telling the then Duchess:  ‘I was so happy, you know. I didn’t need your husband. You are the one that I wanted.’

Kate laughed: ‘Well Zigi I will tell him you miss him very much. And he sends his regards as well, obviously….it’s lovely to see you again. ‘ 

 

Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive, of the Holocaust Educational Trust paid tribute this afternoon, saying: ‘How do I describe Zigi? He was the most energetic, charismatic, charming and brilliant person to have around. A man full of spirit with a devastating story to tell about his past, yet always sharing a message of hope and love.’

She said that he’d educated schoolchildren about the Holocaust ‘week in and week out, determined to teach the next generation about the difficult lessons of the past, to make a better future.’ 

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