Prince William and Kate make sombre visit to former Nazi death camp

ReutersPrince William and Kate at the museum of former German Nazi concentration camp Stutthof in Poland.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today visited the site of the former Nazi German concentration camp in what is now Poland.

In a trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) Prince William and his wife Catherine met with survivors and heard about the harrowing history of life in Stutthof, where 28,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

The Duke and Duchess met with two British survivors of the concentration camp, Manfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper, both 87 and from North London.

Goldberg and Shipper, who dedicate their lives to sharing their stories with the next generation through the HET, met as young men in one of the sub-camps of Stutthof before being liberated in 1945. The pair eventually settled in Britain where they have lived and been friends ever since.

The visit marked an important point in the Duke and Duchess's five day tour.

Stutthof Concentration Camp was built by Nazi Germany in 1939 on territory that did not belong to Poland before World War II. Rather, Stutthof Concentration Camp was built on the territory of what was then the Free City of Danzig, a separate political entity from Poland. Only after the war did the area come under Polish control. What remains in Poland today is a memorial commemorating the victims of the Nazi German concentration camp. 

They were shown discarded shoes, clothing and other personal items, once belonging to the prisoners and taken from them on arrival at the camp, and they were also shown the gas chamber used to murder those who were too sick to work.

The royal couple paid their respects at the site by placing stones by the camps' Jewish memorial, accompanied by Shipper and Goldberg, who recited the El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish memorial prayer for those who have died.

The HET said that the placing of stones at a grave or memorial is an old Jewish custom dating back to medieval times, aimed at showing that the grave has been visited.

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the HET, said: 'Today has been an incredibly poignant and moving day. Their Royal Highnesses visit sends a powerful example to the world about the importance of remembering the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of our work to educate future generations.

'I have no doubt that this visit will leave an indelible mark – and meeting Zigi and Manfred, who endured such unimaginable horrors and had the strength and courage to return here today – is a moment they will never forget. We are deeply grateful to Their Royal Highnesses for shining a global spotlight on our cause today. More than anything, they will carry this with them for the rest of their lives.'

Goldberg and Shipper regularly visit schools across the UK to share their testimony, telling students about their personal experiences of the Holocaust and life at Stutthof.

Stutthof was originally created as a prison camp for Poles in 1939, and in 1944, as the Nazis retreated, tens of thousands of Jews were forced into labour at what became a brutal concentration camp.

Shipper, who survived four years in Lodz ghetto as well as deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, before being transported to Stutthof, recalled: 'I had no parents, no brothers or sisters. All I had were my friends – including Manfred. They were what kept me going. When we were on the death march, they encouraged me to keep walking when I wanted to give up. We supported each other physically and emotionally. We were all weak, but gave each other strength. It means so much to me that we were able to come back to the camp today, together.

'It was the place where I really thought I would die, but in fact, it saved my life. I thought the freezing weather there would kill me, especially wearing only the flimsy stripped pyjamas. But when they asked volunteers for labour on the railway, I was one of the 20 boys who was picked. I went to Stolp and that's where I met Manfred and his mother.'

On sharing his testimony, Shipper said: 'It is so important that young people know what happened. I will never give up speaking with the Holocaust Educational Trust - it's all to do with stopping racism and hatred. It gives me hope when I speak to young people, and see that they are so willing to listen. But there aren't many of us left. I hope today's visit will remind the world what happened. Everyone has heard of Auschwitz Birkenau but it's so important for people to hear about camps like Stutthof.'

Goldberg said: 'During the Holocaust, Jewish lives did not count. It wasn't in our power to do anything to survive – it was determined with a point to the left or to the right. We were on a starvation diet, and to receive our minimal rations we had to give our number – even our names had been taken. I still clearly remember mine, I was 56478. But throughout it all, I never lost my determination to survive.

'For me, returning to Stutthof is a seismic event. I have never been back to any of the places where I was imprisoned since I came to the UK in 1946. When I was first asked about visiting the camp, I hesitated. The mere thought of returning made me relive those years in my mind. But I decided I had to come and finally face the past.'