Duchess of Cambridge tells Holocaust survivors their stories have stuck with her, in emotional reunion

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Victoria Ward
·5 min read
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The Duchess of Cambridge chats to Manfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper
The Duchess of Cambridge chats to Manfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper

When he was first asked to travel back to Germany to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Nazi concentration camp that had been his personal “hell on Earth” it was an agonising decision.

But Manfred Goldberg, 90, felt it was his duty to do so.

And in an emotional reunion this week, he told the Duchess that their intensely moving visit to Stutthof, Poland, in 2017, described by the royals as “shattering,” had prompted such a remarkable global reaction that he did not regret his decision for a second.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent,” he said.

Mr Goldberg and Zigi Shipper, 91, an old friend from the camp, caught up with the Duchess in an emotional video call organised to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, describing the horrors they had seen unfold at the camps in great detail and leaving her visibly moved.

The Duchess told them: “Manfred and Zigi, I never forgot the first time we met… and your stories have stuck with me since then.

“The stories that you have both shared with me 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. It’s so important and so inspirational.”

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

The Duchess added that “we all have a role to play, all generations have a role to play” in ensuring their stories live on and that the lessons learnt are not repeated.

Mr Goldberg, who was born in Kassel, central Germany, was 11 when sent to the Nazi camps with his mother and seven-year-old brother, Herman.

His father had escaped to England just two weeks previously.

Post war, they made contact and he applied for permission for them to come and join him but he told the Duchess it had been a “bitter sweet union” as Herman was murdered in the camps aged just nine.

“Instead of having four of us in the family, there were just three,” he said.

“The day he was taken was the day he disappeared off the face of the Earth.”

Manfred Goldberg with his younger brother Herman before the war
Manfred Goldberg with his younger brother Herman before the war

The family had initially been deported to the brutal Riga Ghetto in Latvia.

In 1943, Mr Goldberg was sent to a nearby labour camp where he was forced to lay railway tracks before being moved to Stutthof the following year, where he spent more than eight months as a slave worker.

Stutthof near Danzig (now Gdansk) was the first camp to be built outside German borders and one of the last camps liberated by the Allies in May 1945.

Mr Goldberg told the Duchess he owed his life to the man behind him in the line as they were stripped naked and shuffled forwards in single file towards the SS for selection. The man whispered to him, telling him to say he was 17, despite only being 14.

“I never saw him again. He was behind me, I don’t know which way he was sent,” he said.

“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.”

On the same occasion, Mr Goldberg’s mother also had a miraculous escape, having been sent to the condemned side.

Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019 - Graham Chweidan
Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg at a Holocaust Educational Trust event in 2019 - Graham Chweidan

He said that has soon as he reached his own side, a small group from the other side broke away and raced over, quickly mingling with his own group in a bid to disappear and save their lives.

“I suddenly spotted that my mother had been one of those who had run across and was hiding among our side and thank God she was not recognised by the guards and managed to save her life,” he added.

“This was nine months before we were liberated. If it hadn’t been for her initiative, she would have been murdered.”

After the call, Mr Goldberg described the moment he had been asked to return to Germany 72 years later to meet the Cambridges, saying: “It was an agonising request because I had not faced any of this for 70 years.

“I had been fortunate in being able to build myself a life, a positive life, a forward looking life. I had married a wonderful young lady. We had children, we had grandchildren. And now I was asked to visit this place which used to be hell on Earth. But eventually I felt it was my duty to do so.”

Mr Goldberg saved Mr Shipper’s life by supporting him on the final death march when they were both 15.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit the Stutthof camp in 2017 with Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg - JULIAN SIMMONDS
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit the Stutthof camp in 2017 with Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg - JULIAN SIMMONDS

Mr Shipper, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau before being sent to Stutthof, was raised by his father and grandmother in Łódź, Poland, after his parents divorced, 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 he never saw him again.

After the war, Mr Shipper got a letter from England written by a Polish woman who was searching for a son and had found his name on a British Red Cross List, asking to check if he had a scar on his left wrist.

He did and later travelled to England to be reunited with his mother, whom he barely knew. He married and has two daughters, six grandchildren and five great grand-children.

“What a life I have had,” he said. “I would never go anywhere to live.”

“Well I am glad you stayed here Zigi and It’s fantastic you made new friends and a life here,” the Duchess smiled.