Emotions were running high at The West Grantham Academy St Hugh’s yesterday as students received an important history lesson from a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Zigi Shipper, 88, told history students from Years 9, 10 and 11 about the horrors of World War Two that he and his family endured at the hands of the Nazis, during a special assembly yesterday afternoon.
The students listened in silence as Zigi revealed that he was sent to the infamous concentration camp when he was only 14-years-old after spending four years in a ghetto.
Zigi was born in Łódź, Poland, in 1930. When he was five-years-old his parents divorced but because they were orthodox Jews and divorce was frowned upon, he was told that his mother had died. He lived with his father and his grandparents until war broke out in 1939.
Zigi’s father escaped to the Soviet Union and in 1940 Zigi and his grandparents were forced to move into the Łódź Ghetto.
Zigi managed to get work in a metal factory until the ghetto’s liquidation in 1944 and everyone was put onto cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
On arrival, those from the metal factory were stripped, shaved and showered. Everyone else from the ghetto had to go through a selection, where a Nazi officer decided who was fit enough to work. Within an hour of the selection, those from Zigi’s transport who were not classed as fit for work had been killed in the gas chambers.
A few weeks after arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of the surviving workers from the metal factory were sent to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. Once there, Zigi volunteered to work at a railway yard, where he was able to get more food. With the Soviets advancing, Zigi and the rest of his group were sent on a death march, arriving in the German town of Neustadt just as the British commenced an air attack on the town and all the Nazis left. Zigi found himself surrounded by British troops and was liberated on May 3, 1945.
After spotting his name on a Red Cross list, Zigi’s mother, who Zigi believed was dead, asked him to come to live with her in Britain.
Zigi finally arrived in the UK in 1947, where he married and went on to have a family. He now has two daughters, four grandsons, two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren and regularly shares his testimony in schools across the country as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Some of the staff and students shed tears as Zigi relived his childhood and teenage years.
History teacher Carl Gregory, who organised the visit, said: “The holocaust is an atrocity that should never be forgotten. There is only so much that pupils can learn from reading textbooks. Actually being able to listen to a survivor in person makes it more realistic.”
In answer to one pupil’s question about why he shares his story, Zigi answered: “It is so important that young people know about what happened. They should be encouraged to ask questions and to learn not to hate. Hate is the worst thing in the world. We are all human beings.”
Head boy Bradley Raado was particulary moved by Zigi’s experience. He said: “Zigi is an inspiration. I could have listened to him all day. Hearing his story made me realise how lucky we are to have an education and to have family that love us.”