Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate on Tuesday visited the site of a former Nazi concentration camp at Stutthof in Poland, where they met with two British survivors of the facility where 28,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi Germany set up the camp in 1939 in what was then the free city of Danzig and is now the Polish city of Gdansk.
The royal couple are currently on a goodwill tour of Poland and Germany aimed at underscoring Britain’s intention to maintain friendly relations with the European Union after it leaves the bloc.
On Wednesday, the two flew from Warsaw to Gdansk, to tour the camp and meet with Manfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper, both 87, according to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which arranged for the meeting and tour.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge saw displays of discarded shoes, clothing and other personal items that were taken from prisoners after their arrival. They were also shown a gas chamber where prisoners too sick to work were murdered.
“This shattering visit has reminded us of the horrendous murder of six million Jews, drawn from across the whole of Europe, who died in the abominable Holocaust,” they wrote in the guest book at the camp, according to the Daily Mail. “All of us have an overwhelming responsibility to make sure that we learn the lessons and that the horror of what happened is never forgotten and never repeated.”
The royal couple also placed stones at the camp’s Jewish memorial, a Jewish custom dating back to medieval times. Shipper and Goldberg recited the “El Maleh Rahamim” memorial prayer.
Karen Pollock, who heads the Holocaust Educational Trust, said that the royal couple’s visit helped highlight the necessity for the world to remember the Holocaust.
“Their Royal Highnesses visit sends a powerful example to the world about the importance of remembering the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of our work to educate future generations,” she said in a statement.
“I have no doubt that this visit will leave an indelible mark – and meeting Zigi and Manfred, who endured such unimaginable horrors and had the strength and courage to return here today – is a moment they will never forget. We are deeply grateful to Their Royal Highnesses for shining a global spotlight on our cause today,” she added.
Shipper told Daily Mail that the royal couple were “very moved” by the tour of the camp, saying “You could see their faces. They were in pain.”
He also said that he likely would not have visited Stutthof Tuesday for the first time since being imprisoned there if not for the royal couple’s presence.
“I asked myself many times ‘why don’t I want to go to Stutthof?’ I don’t know. But when I came I realized how important it was,” he told the Mail.
Goldberg, who was also returning to the camp for the first time, said that he hoped the royal visit would help bring additional visitors to the site and greater attention to the horrors that occurred there.
“When a royal goes and it’s put on the television or in the paper, people say ‘why don’t we go?.’ And that’s what we want,” he told the Mail.
“People should know that it wasn’t just Auschwitch-Birkenau, it wasn’t just Bergen-Belsen, look at all the other camps,” he added.
Goldberg and Shipper met at a Stutthof sub-camp before eventually being liberated in 1945, HET said in a statement. They moved to Britain in 1946 and have remained friends ever since.
Stutthof was set up in 1939 as a prison camp for Poles. In 1944, tens of thousands of Jews were forced to work at the camp.
Shipper survived four years in Lodz ghetto and was also sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau for several weeks before being transported to Stutthof.
“It is so important that young people know what happened,” Shipper said. “I hope today’s visit will remind the world what happened. Everyone has heard of Auschwitz-Birkenau but it’s so important for people to hear about camps like Stutthof.”
Goldberg noted the emotional impact of returning to the camp where he was held prisoner.
“For me, returning to Stutthof is a seismic event. I have never been back to any of the places where I was imprisoned since I came to the UK in 1946. When I was first asked about visiting the camp, I hesitated. The mere thought of returning made me relive those years in my mind. But I decided I had to come and finally face the past.”
As guests of President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata, the royal couple toured the Warsaw Uprising Museum on Monday.
While in Gdansk, Kate and William are also slated to visit the European Solidarity Center museum, which tells the story of the Soviet bloc’s only free trade union.
They will also meet freedom icon Lech Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize as the leader of the Solidarity trade union and later became Poland’s first democratically elected president after negotiating a bloodless end to communism for the country in 1989.
AFP contributed to this report.