Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

Share this article:

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it”. (Psalms 34)



A finger pointing to the left meant slave labour. To the right – immediate death.  

It was 1944. 14-year-old Zigi Shipper, who had survived the Lodz ghetto, arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was sent to the right – the gas chambers. But, inexplicably, he was pulled from his group and sent in the opposite direction, to be subjected to forced labour instead. Zigi had lost touch with his entire family but he went on to survive the horrors of Auschwitz and then the Stutthof concentration camp. He endured the torture of a Nazi death march and suffered with life-threatening typhus, before being liberated in 1945. 

Two years later, out of the blue, Zigi received a letter from a Polish, Jewish woman in England. She explained that she had survived the Holocaust. She was searching for her son and she was excited to find his name on a British Red Cross List. She asked Zigi to check if he had a scar on his left wrist, having been burnt when he was two. He did. And that’s how Zigi came to England, to be reunited with his mother. 

Zigi Shipper died last week on his 93rd birthday. Like numerous Holocaust survivors, Zigi was determined to be positive. He was a beacon of light with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. His wit and warmth were infectious. 

Zigi devoted his life to educating others and urging everyone to appreciate our common humanity. He conveyed the message that the Holocaust was unique in its origins, its scale and the depth of its evil perpetrated by cultured and sophisticated people. 

And yet, Zigi lived to see a worrying resurgence of global antisemitism and a time when the Holocaust is increasingly misappropriated as a tool to attract attention. Just in the last few weeks, a sitting MP claimed that the Covid Vaccine programme was ‘the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust and the Russian Foreign Minister accused the West of seeking “the final solution to the ‘Russian question.'” Not so long ago, a UK football manager described a player having a bad game as ‘having a Holocaust’. 

Zigi Shipper lived his life in the spirit of Psalm 34, the words of which are exceptionally relevant today: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

On a return visit to Auschwitz in 2016, Zigi asked, “Have we learnt?” And he answered, “I don’t know. But we must not give up!” 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Sadly, with each year that passes, there are fewer and fewer survivors, and we are now the ones who must never give up.