Holocaust victim shares his story of survival with East Devon students

Zigi Shipper has never forgotten the horrors, but says he won’t let them ruin his life. The students, together with Midweek Herald reporter Katy Griffin, are today visiting Auschwitz.

ONE of the few remaining holocaust survivors has inspired young people from across East Devon with the story of his fight for life.

Students from Honiton Community College, The Woodroofe School and Axe Valley Community College were given a talk by 81-year-old Zygmunt (Zigi) Shipper in preparation for an educational visit to Auschwitz Birkenau, which is taking place today (Wednesday).

The trip is being run by the Holocaust Educational Trust as part of its Lessons from Auschwitz Project, where students will visit the infamous concentration camps to learn what impact racism and prejudice can have.

Zigi was born in Lodz, Poland, where he lived with his father, grandmother and grandfather until his life changed forever when war broke out in 1939.

Under German occupation, the Jews were forced to leave their homes to live in specially designated areas and, between 1939 and 1940, they were moved into ghettos.

Concentration camps were the last stop for many in Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, after the ghettos were shut down.

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Mr Shipper described how he was loaded into an overcrowded cattle truck, with no food or water, before arriving at Auschwitz.

“I never knew the extermination was going on, or what was happening,” he told The Midweek Herald.

“In the camp, we did absolutely nothing. If we had worked, the time would have gone quicker - but there was nothing to do, we would just stand there.”

He added: “It was five years of starvation. We found out what it meant to be hungry.”

The struggle for survival was aided by friends who shared scraps of food.

Mr Shipper was later transferred to a labour camp.

He was not liberated until May 3, 1945, and spent months recovering from typhus.

However, despite the horrific things he witnessed during his time in the concentration camps, Mr Shipper admits he has not let it define his life.

“I don’t live the holocaust; it won’t bring back my family.

“I have never forgotten it, but I do not live the holocaust.

“I have moved on, but it is always there.

“The experience has made me appreciate life much more than other people.

“Sometimes, I feel sad about what happened to members of my family - but being miserable won’t bring them back,” he said.

After the liberation, Mr Shipper moved to London where he was reunited with his mother, whom he had not seen since he was five.

During the persecution of the Jews, Zigi lost both his grandfather and grandmother. To this day, he has never found out what happened to his father.