Fresh from his new-found celebrity status as one of the seven Holocaust survivors selected by HRH Prince Charles to have his portrait painted for display in Buckingham Palace and for permanent inclusion in the Royal Collection, 92-year-old Zigi Shipper enthralled a sizeable audience with the story of his life, told on Zoom, with the help of his daughter, Lu Lawrence, to members and friends of St Albans Synagogue shortly after Holocaust Memorial Day.
It’s a life which has taken him from his birthplace in Lodz, Poland, in 1930, to working as a 10-year-old slave labourer in a metal factory in the ghetto; thence to Auschwitz; from there to Stutthof concentration camp; liberation after surviving a death march; a post-war reunion in England in 1947 with the mother he had long thought dead; and eventually, to marriage, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in his adopted homeland. Latterly, his role in Holocaust education has brought him the award of a British Empire Medal, and to meetings with several Prime Ministers as well as the Royal Family – not just the Prince of Wales but also the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, whom he accompanied on their visit to Stutthof in 2017.
Though it took Zigi many years to open up and recount his experiences, said his daughter – despite them remaining to this day the first thing he thinks about on waking up in the morning, and occupying his last thoughts before sleep at night – it is only relatively recently that Zigi has taken to travelling the length and breadth of the UK to tell his story to groups of adults and more especially, to thousands of young people in schools. Now age and infirmity is preventing him from being as active as he would like to be, he is still committed to sharing his incredible story and teaching the dangers of hatred. “Don’t hate, be kind” has become his mantra – one he repeated several times when responding to audience questions.
To hear again – or for the first time – the full extent of his harrowing yet inspirational story, including his recollections of the invading German army’s arrival in Lodz; his separation from his family; the horrific and appalling conditions in which he lived and worked in the ghetto; his miraculous escape from a truck taking him and others on the first stage of their journey to deportation; his arrival in Auschwitz; the cruelty of his captors; and the remarkable tale of how he managed to survive all of that to become the life-affirming positive person he remains today, you can view a recording of the evening’s presentation, introduced by our own Rabbi Daniel, by clicking here.