‘Nobody would have thought she’s a Duchess’: Holocaust survivor, 91, says ‘wonderful’ Kate Middleton is ‘a normal young lady’ and made him feel ‘like a friend’ during recent video call
- Auschwitz – Birkenau survivor Zigi Shipper spoke with the Duchess, 39, last week
- Zigi said Kate made him and friend Manfred Goldberg feel ‘very comfortable’
- Revealed he lost his wife Jeannette in July last year and spoke openly of his grief
Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper says he sees Kate Middleton as ‘a friend’ and claims she’s just ‘like a normal young lady’.
The Duchess of Cambridge, 39, joined Zigi, 91, and his friend Manfred Goldberg, 90, whom he met as a teenager at the Stutthof concentration camp, for a video call last week.
Kate, who is currently spending lockdown at Anmer Hall with Prince William, 38, and their three children, previously met the two men when she and the Duke visited Stutthof in Poland in 2017.
The trio reconnected during a virtual meeting last Wednesday to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Zigi, who lives in Hertfordshire, said the Duchess made him and Manfred feel ‘very, very comfortable’.
Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper says he sees Kate Middleton as ‘a friend’ and claims she’s just ‘like a normal young lady’
The Duchess of Cambridge, 39, joined Zigi, 91, and his friend Manfred Goldberg, 90, whom he met as a teenager at the Stutthof concentration camp, for a video call last week
‘She was so wonderful, she was like an ordinary, you wouldn’t… nobody would have thought that she’s a duchess. Like she was a friend,’ he said. ‘She was like a normal young lady, honestly.’
Zigi’s daughter Lu Lawrence, who joined him for the interview with Louise Minchin, added: ‘She made them feel very comfortable and very at ease.’
As young boys, Zigi and Manfred both spent time in ghettos and a number of forced labour and concentration camps, including Stutthof near Danzig (now Gdansk) where they met for the first time in 1944.
The past year has been particularly tough for Zigi, who lost his beloved wife Jeannette in July. The couple had been together for 71 years and married for 66.
The Duchess of Cambridge first met Manfred and Zigi while visiting the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland in 2017 alongside the Duke
Jeannette, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was rushed to hospital during the first lockdown and later moved to a care home when she became too unwell to remain at home.
‘Like every marriage, our 66 years, some are good, some are bad, but the last few years was unbelievable,’ Zigi explained.
‘She used to go to bed early, around 9 o’clock, and I’d look and a light was still on and I went in and said, “Why is the light still on?”… “Well I didn’t come to kiss you” [she said].’
Zigi’s daughter Michelle Richman recalled: ‘It was actually horrific, the day she had to go to a care home, because we couldn’t hug Dad, we couldn’t hug Mum, we couldn’t hug each other, we couldn’t look at the care home… I would say of all of it that was the worst part.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Zigi, who lives in Hertfordshire, said the Duchess made him and Manfred feel ‘very, very comfortable’
Zigi’s daughter Lu Lawrence, who joined him for the interview with Louise Minchin, added that Kate made the two men feel ‘very comfortable and very at ease’
‘I think people don’t really see that side of the virus very much, how it can affect families.’
Lu said the most distressing part of the ordeal was watching their father, who ‘couldn’t bear’ to see his wife in such a state.
‘Her hearing was really very poor towards the end,’ Lu explained. ‘She was inside the home, we were outside the home in a little makeshift marquee which was very noisy from the wind, so she couldn’t really see us, she couldn’t really hear us, we couldn’t touch her.
‘Dad would just cry and be in the most awful state afterwards and you kind of came away thinking, I’m not sure whether it was worth the effort of going to see Mum because I don’t think anybody benefited from the visits.’
The past year has been particularly tough for Zigi, who lost his beloved wife Jeannette in July. The couple had been together for 71 years and married for 66
Zigi said of his 66 years of marriage: ‘Some are good, some are bad, but the last few years was unbelievable’
Zigi, who has received his first Covid vaccination, admitted he’s struggled with loneliness during the pandemic, particularly when he’s unable to be with his daughters.
‘At home, and I’m alone and I look at the pictures, it makes me cry,’ he said. ‘When I walk around, when I’m in a car – I’m not driving anymore – but when I’m in a car and I pass by the [cemetery] I wave to her and I start crying.’
He said the thing he’s most looking forward to when life gets back to normal is visiting his new great-granddaughter, whom he hasn’t yet met. He is already a grandfather-of-six and has four great-grandsons.
‘I always pray that maybe I’ll be here to be able to speak to them, they will be able to call me Grandpa,’ he said.
Jeannette, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was rushed to hospital during the first lockdown and later moved to a care home when she became too unwell to remain at home
Lu said the most distressing part of the ordeal was watching their father, who ‘couldn’t bear’ to see his wife in such a state. Pictured: Jeannette in a care home
Last week Zigi joked he was only interested in speaking to Kate when Prince William didn’t appear on the video call.
Seeing the duchess appear on screen, he teased: ‘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.’
Born in January 1930, to a Jewish family in Łódź, Poland, Zigi’s 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.
Zigi, who has received his first Covid vaccination, admitted he’s struggled with loneliness during the pandemic, particularly when he’s unable to be with his daughters
In 1944, Zigi and his grandmother, whom he was brought up by, were taken to a train station and transported to Auschwitz.
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 10 months later he travelled to England to be reunited with his mother, whom 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’.
Zigi, who worked as a stationer in the UK, is keen to tell his story because he wanted young people to know about what happened during the Holocaust.
Kate Middleton and Prince William faced the horror of the Holocaust during 2017 visit to Poland
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge described their visit to a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 2017 as ‘shattering’, and said the site is a ‘terrible reminder of the cost of war’.
Kate and William visited the former Stutthof camp in northern Poland where 65,000 people died during Germany’s occupation in the Second World War from disease, malnutrition, physical exhaustion, exposure to the harsh climate and abuse from guards – as well as in the gas chamber used to murder those too sick to work, opposite a brick crematorium.
Both bowed their heads as they were shown inside the room, which was used to burn the bodies of thousands of victims and Prince William – who was visibly moved – was overheard apologising to the museum director for asking ‘so many questions’ as they exited they crematorium.
Surrounded by a wire fence and watchtowers, the stark wooden barrack blocks that housed inmates in cramped conditions still stand while personal possessions, from combs and children’s dolls have been turned into exhibits in memory of those who perished at the camp almost seven decades ago, alongside portraits drawn by artists incarcerated during the Holocaust.
The royals were shown discarded shoes and clothing seized from prisoners on arrival at the camp and the impact of the visit was clear from the heartfelt message the couple left in the visitors’ book before leaving.
‘This shattering visit has reminded us of the horrendous murder of six million Jews, drawn from across the whole of Europe, who died in the abominable Holocaust,’ they wrote. ‘All of us have an overwhelming responsibility to make sure that we learn the lessons and that the horror of what happened is never forgotten and never repeated.’
After a guided tour of the camp, 20 miles from Gdansk, they had an emotional meeting with Zigi and Manfred, who were both making their first return to the camp since moving to Britain after the war.
Zigi said William and Kate – who declared they were ‘honoured’ to have met the pair – were clearly ‘very moved’ by what they saw, adding: ‘You could see their faces. They were in pain.’
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