On Thursday 6th July, Ambassadors, Regional Ambassadors and Sixth Form students from across the UK joined the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Ambassador Conference (AmCon).

AmCon is one the Trust’s biggest events of the year and is a highlight of the Ambassador Programme calendar. This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the programme and the conference celebrated this key milestone. It’s an event which educates, inspires and amplifies the Ambassador community and the vital work they do in supporting the Trust’s mission and ensuring that the Holocaust is not forgotten.

Ambassadors engaged with historical workshops exploring a variety of complex and nuanced themes and heard from esteemed keynote speakers such as Professor Robert Eaglestone, and Lord Daniel Finkelstein OBE.

However, it was perhaps the conversation with Michelle Richman, daughter of late Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper BEM, which resonated the most profoundly with the audience. For many Ambassadors, Zigi Shipper was a man that inspired them in the earliest steps of their Ambassador journey and whose testimony and message of ‘do not hate’ ignited a passion that continues to drive their commitment to the Trust. To learn about Zigi, his life, passions, and charisma through the voice of one of his daughters was both moving and illuminating, allowing us to think more deeply about Zigi the man, husband, and father, as well as Zigi as a Holocaust survivor.

The passing of Zigi Shipper earlier this year, was a moment which prompted many Ambassadors to reflect and look back on their work with the Trust. As a Regional Ambassador alumna and a member of staff at the Trust, I too found myself quietly remembering Zigi and his impact. The Ambassador Conference prompted me to consider this afresh and affirmed that, for me, my journey with Holocaust education started with Zigi Shipper and I share my reflections below.

It Started With … Zigi Shipper

It started with a voice.

Like everything, it began and existed in a specific space, in a specific moment in time and gathered momentum through the effort of communication.

It started with a face.

It started with a name.

It started with a man.

The words carried on the voice tinged with an accent from a long-departed motherland vibrated in our ears and touched our minds. It’s difficult to say whether they formed some understanding, as what was conveyed and lived, existed for us in a space of horror and incomprehension, of inaccessible experience. But what isn’t difficult to say is that his words entered our consciousness and settled on the lands of our souls, pitching a flag. I say, ‘ours’ but what I really mean, is ‘mine’.

Zigi Shipper sadly passed away on 18th January 2023 on his 93rd Birthday. His testimony was the first Holocaust survivor testimony I ever heard, and it is an experience that will never leave me. It’s an often-shared sentiment that hearing testimony is life changing. Upon reflection, I feel I should change this to life-forming. Hearing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and engaging in the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in my student years, in many ways, shaped me. It ignited a passion for remembrance, a commitment to Holocaust education and an unchanging belief in the innate value of life that we must preserve, protect and affirm always.

Zigi Shipper was a man of life. He endured the most unimaginable horrors in the Holocaust, suffered so much, and experienced unbearable loss. Yet, he lived his life with passion, with vibrancy, a sparky sense of humour and so much love. He emanated a joy for living, the essence of survival, which was infectious. He held within himself memories of unspeakable trauma, but when he shared his testimony, he carried these memories with words that did not shy away from the brutality of the events they conveyed, but also did not shy away from hope for the future.

Following the sad loss of Zigi, like many, I caught myself in tides of reflection. When I heard Zigi’s testimony for the first time, I knew about the Holocaust, but my understanding was founded in textbooks, classrooms, abstract themes and cold statistics. After hearing from Zigi, my understanding came from a man. A man who witnessed the worst in humanity but came to live with the spirit of the best of humanity. When I heard Zigi’s testimony, the history of the Holocaust ceased to be something I was interested in but disconnected from, kept at a safe distance by the passage of time. Instead, it became something I could hear in an accented voice, trace in an individual’s lifetime, and feel for in the emotion and silences in the telling of the experience. It was the moment I fully began to understand the humanity of the event and that the Holocaust happened to real people with real lives, and part of that humanity was standing before me, asking me to listen.

This experience inspired me to explore more testimonies and human experiences of the Holocaust, to look closer at the real people who were murdered. I went on to become an Ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, a Regional Ambassador and now a member of staff, having the unique privilege of working with Holocaust survivors every day, learning about their testimonies but also who they are as people.

Every experience with Holocaust survivors has affirmed my passion and commitment for Holocaust education anew. But my passion started at a particular time, in a particular place, with a particular voice. It started with Zigi Shipper BEM.

If you’d like to learn more about Zigi Shipper BEM and his life, please find his biography here.

By Annabel Pattle, Outreach Officer at the Holocaust Educational Trust