War on Gaza: British man fighting for Israel wore shawl of Holocaust survivor who said ‘do not hate’
A Jewish prayer shawl worn by Levi Simon, a British man fighting for the Israeli army in Gaza who filmed himself rummaging through women’s underwear in an abandoned Palestinian home, belonged to a celebrated Holocaust survivor who warned of the dangers of hatred and racism.
Social media footage posted in November shows Simon wearing the shawl, known as a tallit, in a building in Gaza.
“This tallit I am wearing belonged to a Holocaust survivor by the name of Zigi. I am right now inside of Gaza writing ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again,” Simon says in the clip, drawing a Star of David and writing the Hebrew phrase meaning “the people of Israel live” on the wall.
According to the accompanying text, the tallit was donated by the family of Zigi Shipper, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi camps from Lodz, Poland, who moved to the UK after the Second World War and died last January aged 93.
But a close friend and fellow survivor told Middle East Eye he believed Shipper would have been "astounded and upset" to learn of the way in which his tallit had been used in Gaza.
“He would have been as heartbroken as I am because neither of us imagined anything like that would be witnessed by us,” Manfred Goldberg, who met Shipper in 1944 when both were working as slave labourers at a camp in modern-day Poland, told MEE.
Asked whether he would have been concerned by the conduct of Israeli forces, Goldberg added: “How can you ask such a question? Who is not upset? Zigi was a very outspoken person. He made a lot more noise than I did. He would have been beside himself.”
'[Zigi] would have been as heartbroken as I am because neither of us imagined anything like that would be witnessed by us'
- Manfred Goldberg, Holocaust survivor
Goldberg, now 93, and Shipper were both 14 when they first met at Stolp, a subcamp of the Stutthof concentration camp, where they were forced to work repairing railway lines damaged by bombing raids.
"We were the youngest people in the group so we drifted towards each other," Goldberg recalled.
"Initially we had difficulty because Zigi's native language was Polish and I spoke German. Very soon we found my father had spoken Yiddish to me and Zigi's grandfather spoke Yiddish to him, so that was our common language."
The two boys found themselves together again on a "death march" from Stutthof in April 1945, and then as they both recovered from typhoid in a convalescence home at the end of the war. Both moved to the UK in 1946 and remained lifelong friends.
“Zigi and I had an unbreakable bond because of our experience in the camps. I know him better than I know more or less any person on earth,” said Goldberg.
In his later life, Shipper was renowned for his decades of work promoting awareness of the Holocaust in countless talks to schoolchildren and through media interviews. In 2017, he was among 112 Holocaust survivors whose testimonies were recorded as part of a United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial project.
“I want young people to know, especially young people, what happened because of racism and most importantly, hatred,” Shipper has been quoted as saying by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Holocaust Memorial Day, on Saturday 27 January, commemorates the six million Jews and millions of others killed by Nazi Germany, and the victims of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan’s Darfur region.
In an interview with the Holocaust Educational Trust in 2013 Shipper said: “We should be nice to one another irrespective of race, nationality, religion, or colour.”
And, speaking to the BBC in 2020, he said: “Whatever you do you must not hate. Hate is the worst thing that can happen to you. You’ll hate everybody including yourself. We are all different but we’re all human beings, nothing else.”
'A brave active soldier'
The footage of Simon wearing Shipper’s tallit was posted on the Instagram page of House of Lancry, a Jewish women’s fashion boutique in north London, which since October has been a hub for donations to the Israeli military from the local community.
“We felt the great responsibility to send this holy Talit to a brave active soldier who would do true justice to Zigi,” the post reads.
“For the past three weeks Levi has been wearing and carrying the Holy Talit with him in Gaza.”
The tallit was passed to Simon via the Cave Club in Jerusalem. MEE revealed on Wednesday that the Cave Club is a project run by the Boys Clubhouse, a London youth club for vulnerable Jewish boys, which helps some of those it supports to join the Israeli army.
The Boys Clubhouse is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission after it last week invited Simon, who has recently returned to London, to speak to boys who had been excluded from school.
Footage posted from Gaza posted by Simon on his own Instagram account – which is no longer available - has been controversial because of concerns in the UK over British nationals fighting for an army accused of war crimes by international humanitarian and human rights organisations.
Pro-Palestinian legal campaigners have called on the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes unit to investigate British nationals fighting for Israel in Gaza.
In one clip, Simon waves an Israeli flag in a school where, he says, “they teach terrorism”, adding: “We’re here, we’re here to stay, we’re not going to take your terror, and they’re going to start teaching Hebrew in this school soon."
In another clip, he says he is going through “terrorist houses” looking for guns and explosives and then opens a drawer and starts pulling out and displaying women’s underwear, which he describes as "exotic lingerie".
Simon had not responded to MEE’s requests for comment at the time of publication. MEE also sought to contact members of Zigi Shipper’s family but has not received a response.
More than 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 16,000 women and children, and more than 64,000 have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Israel’s assault on Gaza followed the Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel on 7 October in which about 1,140 people were killed.
Those killed included a Holocaust survivor, Moshe Ridler, 91, who was shot by Palestinian gunmen in his home in Kibbutz Holit.
Another Holocaust survivor, Yaffa Adar, 85, was among hundreds of hostages taken into Gaza. Adar was among the first hostages released by Hamas.
Israel is home to approximately 120,000 Holocaust survivors, about half of the total number of survivors worldwide.
Organisations representing Holocaust survivors in the UK have expressed support for Israel since the Hamas attacks.
In October, more than 30 Holocaust refugees and survivors attended a vigil in support of Israel organised by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR).
“The brutal terrorist attacks in the Middle East remind us that protecting Jewish people from violent racism is as urgent a task today as it has ever been. The AJR stands with Israel at this very difficult time,” it said in a statement.
The AJR declined to comment when contacted by MEE. Neither the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust nor the Holocaust Educational Trust, which both worked closely with Zigi Shipper, wanted to comment on this story.
'Cheapening memory' of Holocaust
But Simon’s conduct in Gaza was described as “disgraceful” by another Holocaust survivor living in the UK since the 1950s.
“I protest against any use of the memory of the European Holocaust in justification of a genocide and a pretence that somehow that experience justifies such behaviour,” Stephen Kapos, 86, a child survivor from Hungary, told MEE.
'I protest against any use of the memory of the European Holocaust in justification of a genocide '
- Stephen Kapos, Holocaust survivor
“The cheapening of that memory and exploiting it for this extremely nefarious purpose just disgusts me, actually."
Israel is currently contesting a complaint of genocide brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice.
On Friday, the ICJ ruled that South Africa had made a plausible case that Palestinians in Gaza should be protected from acts of genocide, and imposed preliminary measures requiring Israel to "take all measures within its power" to prevent acts of genocide and Gaza, and to "prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide".