Kate, 39, was left visibly moved after hearing the stories of Zigi Shipper, 91, and Manfred Goldberg, 90, who met as boys in a concentration camp. They started new lives in the UK after being liberated towards the end of the Second World War. Zigi told Kate that he saw babies being shot when their mothers refused to be separated from them at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
While Manfred 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 Kate said: “The stories that you have shared with me and your dedication in educating the next generation about your experiences and the
horrors of the Holocaust shows extreme strength and such bravery.
“It’s so important and so inspirational.”
The Duchess first met the men, who are from Jewish families, in 2017 when she and husband William visited Stutthof, the former concentration camp built in occupied Poland at the start of the war, where Zigi and Manfred became friends.
Last Tuesday’s call was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust to mark Holocaust Memorial Day yesterday. It also featured trust ambassadors Farah Ali and Maxwell Horner, who are both 18.
Kate said: “We all have a role to play in making sure the stories that we have heard from Zigi and Manfred live on and ensure that the lessons that we have learnt are not repeated in history for future generations.”
Zigi, a widower and retired stationer from Poland, told Kate he was transported in an animal truck to Auschwitz with his grandmother, who brought him up. He spoke about the regret he feels to this day at wanting someone to die so he could sit down.
“I was praying that maybe – I was so bad – that I said to myself, ‘I hope someone would die, so I have somewhere to sit down.’
“Every morning they used to take out the dead bodies, so eventually I had somewhere to sit. I can’t get rid of it, you know. Even today, how could I think a thing like that? That’s what they made me do.”
When the train arrived at Auschwitz, the people on board were put into different groups.
Some were selected to be killed immediately while mothers were ordered to leave their babies.
Zigi said: “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.”
He was moved to Stutthof and was liberated by British troops a month before the end of the war, after being sent on a death march to the German town of Neustadt. He now has five great-grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Manfred’s father fled to England just before the war but his family were unable to join him. So Manfred, his mother and younger brother were sent from their German home to the Riga ghetto in Latvia.
Manfred was later transported to Stutthof and worked in several camps.
In one camp he was helped by a man as they approached an SS officer picking out workers, with those remaining destined to be killed.
Manfred 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 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.”
Manfred, who is married and has 12 grandchildren, was reunited with his father in Britain after the war.
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.
“Unfortunately there is a section of people 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.”