January 24, 2015


Auschwitz 70th anniversary: one survivor goes back to the camp (Darren Richman, 23 Jan 2015, The Telegraph)

It starts with a number and that number is 84303.

My grandfather, Zigi Shipper, often uses the word "lucky" in relation to his life; an interesting attitude towards enduring the hell on earth that was Auschwitz. However, one way in which he is fortunate is that he does not have the number tattooed on his person, unlike so many who were interned in the concentration camp; for reasons he still doesn't quite understand.

I once asked him how he can remember the number, a lifetime after these things occurred.

He said: "The question should not be how can I remember but how can I forget?" He explained that, more often than not, he will think 84303 is his PIN, and begin to type it into the card machine when paying for his shopping at a supermarket. He usually ends up having to call my grandmother for a reminder.

The horrors he witnessed remain his first thought when he wakes, his last before falling asleep.

Zigi was born in 1930 in Lodz, Poland. He was 13 when he arrived in Auschwitz, in 1944. After years in the ghetto, he was so hungry that when he arrived and saw smoke rising from the chimneys, he instantly assumed fresh bread was being baked. It is a memory that will never leave him.

Nevertheless, at the end of last year, my grandfather, now 85, went back to Auschwitz. I went with him, along with several other members of my family. After the horrors he witnessed there, it would be understandable if he never wanted to set foot in the place again. But instead, this man, who spends his days talking about his experiences in schools for the sole purpose of educating and inspiring young people, wanted to go, and encouraged us to join him.

I had been to the camps before, as a teenager, a day that I spent quoting TV shows with a friend in a bid to shield ourselves from it all. This trip was very different, and its intensity never let up. My overwhelming sensation, for most of the day, was a desire to hold someone.

Posted by at January 24, 2015 8:18 AM

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