When Ziggy Shipper was 13, the Nazis forced him onto a train in the Lodz Jewish Ghetto bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau. In hideously camped, cold, dehydrated conditions, Ziggy’s journey was made even more uncomfortable by a fully grown man who was crushing him. Only when the train stopped did Ziggy become aware that it was a corpse. His first emotion, however, when the body was thrown off the train, was not one of horror that the man had died, but of relief – of joy, even – that he could breathe again.
It was an experience that has haunted Ziggy ever since: incredulity and horror at how his own humanity had been broken down to such an extent.
This story, and many, many others, formed the backbone of Ziggy’s testimony for decades as he travelled the country in which he had settled after the war, Britain, giving his personal testimony in schools.
However, Ziggy’s very personal mission to provide vital first-person evidence to teenagers as they learned about the horror of the Holocaust came to a very sudden stop at the beginning of last year because of Covid-19. That was the case for the other survivors who undertake such valuable work.
We can hope that this hiatus will be ended as soon as the country begins to get back to normal. But the fact of the matter is that the day is not too far away when in-person visits such as Ziggy’s become a thing of the past, pandemic or no pandemic.
This sad inevitability will change forever how we approach Holocaust education, but in equal measure it cannot change the importance of testimony to the work that we do. As the Holocaust drifts into history, we cannot allow it to become subject to the same kind of debate, speculation and supposition as other events that are no longer part of lived memory.