Manfred Goldberg BEM and Zigi Shipper BEM both survived the Nazi death camps. They are both 92 years old — and have been friends for 78 years.
Manfred on Zigi:
I met Zigi at Stolp concentration camp in 1944, where we were slave labourers on the railways. Because Zigi and I were the only youngsters — we were 14 —we became friends. I was a German speaker and Zigi was a Polish speaker, but we had Yiddish in common.
We were together for four or five months, but became separated when I was sent back to Stutthof concentration camp at the end of 1944. I had no idea if Zigi was still alive.
One morning, at the end of April, 1945, several thousand of us were each given a chunk of bread and under the watch of armed SS guards, were marched out of Stutthof. This was the beginning of the death march. My mother had been in the women’s camp in Stutthof and now the women were marching with the men. I began winding my way through the long column, searching for my mother and it was then that I met Zigi again, who had also been sent back to Stutthof. I’d had no idea.
During the march, Zigi was in a pretty awful state and kept saying: “I must sit down. I can’t walk another step.” I said: “Zigi, if you sit down, you’re dead” because the moment anyone traipsed behind, the guards would put a bullet in their head. I, my mother, whom I had found, and a few other people dragged Zigi along. The one friend I had made in all those years was Zigi and I was determined that if I could possibly assist him in saving himself, then I would do so.
As we were marching, a column of British tanks came towards us and the SS guards ran for their lives. In the turmoil of being liberated, Zigi and I lost each other again.
After being in hospital with typhus and tuberculosis, I was sent with my mother to a convalescent home in Lensterhoff. Who did I meet there? Zigi.
My father, who was already living in the UK, applied for me and my mother to join him and we reached England in September, 1946. I didn’t want to lose touch with Zigi again, so once there, I wrote to him and when he came to London in November, 1946, he contacted us.
We were an observant family, so on Shabbat, Zigi would come to our home in Stamford Hill, and during the week, I would go to his home on Tottenham Court Road.
For some time, we were both busy with our families and I moved to Manchester for a while, but the remarkable thing is that we didn’t become strangers by not being in touch regularly.
When I moved back to London, we started meeting every Wednesday at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre.
There is a very, very special bond between us because we were both at death’s door. If we don’t see each other for a couple of years and we then meet, we grab each other and hug each other.
Zigi on Manfred:
I was one of a group of about 20 boys who had come from Stutthof concentration camp to Stolp, which was where I first met Manfred. Later, when we were on the death march, we knew that if we fell down, [the Nazis] would kill us. I couldn’t walk, but I had some friends, including Manfred, who helped me. If not, I wouldn’t have survived.
After the liberation, we were staying in army barracks in Neustadt. The British doctors and nurses came round every morning, asking who wanted to go to hospital. I wouldn’t go. I was afraid because I knew what had happened in Auschwitz. After three days, I managed to raise my hand and was taken to hospital. I was there for three months.
When I came out of hospital, I was sent to a convalescent home in Lensterhoff. I was scared of going to a place like that, but was told: “You can go in and you can go out. You’re free.”
Later on, Manfred also came to the home and there were about ten of us youngsters who became friends.
One day, I received a letter from a woman who said she was looking for a Zigmund Shipper, who was her son. She had found out through the Red Cross that there was a Zigmund Shipper in Lensterhoff. The letter said: “I don’t know whether you’re my son, but look at your left wrist and see if you have a scar.” I looked at my wrist, and, sure enough, I had a scar. This was how my mother, who had left my father when I was three, found me and, of course, she wanted me to come and join her in England. But I didn’t want to go to England. I didn’t know England; I didn’t know the language. I wanted to go to Israel, to Palestine. I didn’t want to be separated from the friends I had made in the home because they were now my family. I didn’t want to meet a stranger, but everyone said to me: “You must go to England.”
When I moved to London, I got in touch with Manfred, who was already there. I used to go to his home for lunch on Saturdays.
Unlike Manfred, I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to school. That was the only bad decision I made. I started an apprenticeship with a tailor and Manfred started going to school, so we weren’t together as much as before. But it doesn’t matter if we see each other every day or once a year. When we are together, it’s like no time has passed. It’s a wonderful friendship.
Manfred is kind, funny and incredibly loyal. I didn’t have anybody else [during the war]. Manfred was the only friend I had. When Princess Kate and Prince William went to Stutthof in 2017, Manfred and I were asked to show them around. I said to them: “If it wasn’t for Manfred, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
To find out more about Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre, call Jewish Care Direct helpline on 020-8922 2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.