"It tugged her heartstrings," Holocaust survivor Manfred Goldberg says of Kate Middleton's visit to the Stutthof concentration camp in 2017

By Simon Perry
January 27, 2020 03:24 PM
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Credit: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty

Kate Middleton and Prince William had a special reunion at the Holocaust Memorial Day service in London on Monday. The royal couple reunited with a Holocaust survivor they first met two years ago during their poignant tour of a concentration camp in Poland.

In July 2017, William and Kate visited the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland, and survivor Manfred Goldberg, 89, along with another survivor, Zigi Shipper, chaperoned them for the day.

Goldberg had not been there for 72 years, he tells PEOPLE after the Holocaust Memorial Day service in London on Monday.

“It was a traumatic decision to make, but I felt I had to face it. In retrospect, I feel proud to have had the opportunity of enlightening the royal couple. It was their first glimpse of a concentration camp,” he tells PEOPLE.

“I recall Princess Kate telling me that once they had decided to visit the camp, they had done a lot of Holocaust-related reading, but she said, ‘Nevertheless, we were not prepared for what we saw and what we heard from you two.’”

“Although it had been sanitized, it was still, for innocents like they were, a fairly traumatic experience. Princess Kate wiped her eyes several times.”

“Having the royal couple participating today gave it an impact and made it very special,” he says of the ceremony on Monday.

Manfred Goldberg and Prince William at the U.K. Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

The couple’s involvement in helping keep the story of the Holocaust relevant today is “priceless,” he says.

“This young royal couple are held in such esteem worldwide,” he adds. “People use them as their standard on how to behave and the example they are showing is priceless. Long may they will continue – and I’m sure they will.”

Goldberg was born in Kassel, Germany, and was deported in 1941 with his mother and younger brother to the Riga Ghetto in Latvia. He was sent to a labor camp to work for some of his time in the ghetto. His younger brother was taken away, and he still doesn’t know what happened to him, but he is presumed to have been murdered.

Goldberg was then sent to Stutthof, and he stayed there before he was liberated. One of the heart-rending exhibits in the concentration camp today is a scene recreating a pile of shoes that signified the vast numbers of people who had been sent to their deaths in the gas chamber.

“There were tens of thousands of pairs of shoes and they have reproduced it on a smaller scale,” he tells PEOPLE. “For Princess Kate, visualizing each pair meant one human being who had to walk into the gas chamber — it tugged her heartstrings. I saw her wiping her eyes.”

Kate Middleton and Manfred Goldberg in 2017
| Credit: Bruce Adams-Pool/Getty

Today, he says, “they remembered my name – Princess Kate came up and said, ‘Oh, hello Manfred!’”

The trio reminisced about the visit and Goldberg told William about how a message that he wrote in the visitors’ book that day and is shared widely when he tells of his experiences across the U.K.

The message urged people to never ignore injustice and to respond and react to it, as it is everyone’s duties to ensure this atrocity is never forgotten by ongoing generations.

“I told them that since then, his message has been passed on to thousands of youngsters by me when I speak in schools. At the end of the talk, I put the image on the screen and I implore them to read the message and take it to heart.”

William told him, “You are doing wonderful work. As long as you have the strength, keep on doing it.”

Goldberg adds, “I don’t need much convincing – I get feedback. The students I speak to tell me that hearing it in the first person from a survivor is an unforgettable experience. I have messages saying, ‘You have changed my life today and I have resolved to not remain silent when I witness injustice.’”

He lit one of the six candles on the stage at the ceremony that represent the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

“It was extraordinarily emotional moment for me,” he says. “I didn’t pull a paper hanky out of my pocket, but I did close my eyes and wiped away a tear. As I stood there looking at the six lights, I couldn’t help seeing all my family who were lost during the war.”

Kate Middleton lights a candle during the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

He lost everyone apart from his mother, Rosa, who narrowly escaped death.

Goldberg – who was 14 years old at the time and prompted by an unknown ally in the crowd around him – had told an SS guard that he was 17 and was spared in order to work.

His mother wasn’t as lucky. She was given the order to walk in the opposite direction – “those who were destined to die that day.”

They left by separate doors and, outside, two groups assembled: the spared and the condemned.

“Extraordinarily, the group from the condemned side raced across and mingled with us to try to save themselves,” he recalls. “It was difficult for the guards to recognize who was who as we were all naked and they dragged some people out. Fortunately my mother was not spotted. This happened in August 1944 and we were liberated in May 1945. She managed to survive.”