On their first day in Germany, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the memorial to the Holocaust. They toured Berlin’s memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe yesterday.
Located in the centre of the capital is a sculpture of a graveyard with an underground museum. The Cambridges walked through the memorial after receiving a tour of the underground museum that depicts the progression of the extermination of six million Jews. They studied displays of Jews being sent to ghettos, to labour camps, concentration camps and then to death marches.
The memorial was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman. It opened in May of 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II; the memorial site is 4.7 acres. It is covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” in rows. Each piece is 7ft 10 in long, and they vary in height from 7.9 in to 15ft 5in.
The royal couple met and chatted with Leon Schwarzbaum, a survivor of Auschwitz, one of the worst concentration camps where 1.1 million souls were murdered.
Mr Schwarzbaum, now 96, showed the Duke and Duchess photos of his family and parents. His mother and father died at the camp. He told the Express: “That’s me at four-years-old with my family and my mother and father, all dead. Killed at Auschwitz.”
Mr Schwarzbaum was born in Hamburg but emigrated to Poland before the war broke out. He spent two years in Auschwitz working as a runner for the camp commander. At just 21-years-old, it was, perhaps, his strength and pace that saved his life.
William and Catherine asked Mr Schwarzbaum numerous questions about his time at the concentration camp, and Schwarzbaum showed the royal couple photos of the bunks that the Nazi’s crammed in to each hut.
The Duchess asked: “How many people slept in each bunk?”
“Six, six, and six,” he replied, pointing to a row of three beds.
They were then shown a photo of the camp’s chimney. “This was the chimney,” Schwarzbaum said. “You could smell the chimney throughout the whole camp. It was a terrible smell.”
The frail survivor is strong in spirit. He was liberated by American forces while on a death march near Berlin. He lived in the United States for a time, but then moved back to Germany. Mr Schwarzbaum could not talk about his experiences in the concentration camp for decades.
It was not until ten years ago when he started to talk about what he went through. “I didn’t speak for a long time after the war,” he said. “Ten years ago. Very late.”
“That’s a very brave thing to do,” Catherine told him.”Did it feel good to talk about your experience?” the Duchess asked.
“I see that young people want to know what was done at that time,” he said.
William asked him about his thoughts on the Nazis now after all these years.
“They destroyed my life. I wanted to study, but I couldn’t study because the universities had been closed and the schools had closed. They took my jewellery and everything, my family.”
The Duke and Duchess thanked their guide for sharing his experiences with them and admitted to him that their visit to Stutthof concentration camp in Poland had been particularly “shattering.” They appeared equally affected by their time with Mr Schwarzbaum.