On Friday 13 July, the year 9 students of Alperton Community School had the privilege of meeting the Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper. The 88 year old survivor delivered an emotional and inspiring talk, describing his dreadful experiences of the Ghetto and Auschwitz.
Zigi was born in Poland and he was only 9 years old when the war broke out. His father tried to escape the war and ran to the Soviet Union, leaving Zigi with his grandparents – he never imagined the Nazis would also harm children and the elderly. In 1940, Zigi and his grandparents were forced to move into the Ghetto, where his grandfather died of starvation. During this time, Zigi’s father tried to come back to see his son but he couldn’t get into the Ghetto. Zigi has never seen his father since and doesn’t know what happened to him.
In 1942, all children were deported from the Ghetto, but Zigi managed to escape and remained in the Ghetto working in a metal factory until 1944, when the Ghetto was liquidated. After liquidation, all people from the Ghetto, including Zigi and his grandmother, were put in cattle trucks and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
When they arrived at Auschwitz, all Jewish people were lined up for selection – the ones fit for work went to the left, everyone else to the right. Those on the left were showered, changed into a stripy uniform and sent to barracks. The ones to the right – women, children, disabled people and the elderly – were sent to gas chambers and within one hour of their arrival they were all dead.
Luckily, Zigi and his grandmother survived the selection and Zigi was soon moved to a different labour camp working at a railway yard.
He was liberated from the Germans by the British army on 3 May 1945 and sent to a Displaced Persons’ Camp. Zigi finally arrived to the UK in 1947, where he married and started a family.
In 2015, Zigi returned to Auschwitz together with other survivors to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
Years after the war, Zigi managed to trace back his grandmother. After they were separated at Auschwitz, she was moved to another camp and died on the liberation day, not being able to enjoy the freedom.
Zigi now lives in Hertfordshire, has 2 daughters and 3 granddaughters and regularly shares his experiences in schools across the country.
His final message to the students and everyone else present was that in spite of what happened and in spite of all the falsely-perceived differences between people, nationalities and ethnicities, we should never hate each other: “Whatever you do, do not hate! All we are is human beings, nothing else” Zigi said.
Zigi was an inspiring presence to all of the students and teachers witnessing the talk. As a thank you, the students offered him a small piece of artwork in remembrance of his visit to our school.