‘Zigi looked at his family picture on the wall every day to celebrate his survival’

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‘Zigi looked at his family picture on the wall every day to celebrate his survival’

Royal photographer Arthur Edwards, who took an extraordinary portrait of Zigi Shipper's family, says the survivor, who died last week, wanted the image to show Hitler: "I survived. I won."

Photographer Arthur Edwards with his portrait of Zigi Shipper's family
Photographer Arthur Edwards with his portrait of Zigi Shipper's family

Arthur Edwards has spent a remarkable 50 years as royal photographer for The Sun newspaper. Of countless images he has taken, one he is most proud of is an extraordinary portrait of Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper’s entire family, which now features in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Edwards spoke to Jewish News about working with Zigi, who died on his 93rd birthday on 18 January.

“He was such a wonderful man,” says Edwards. “I loved him. Zigi wanted all 19 members of his family in one photograph, because, he said, if I met Hitler now I’d show him what I’d produced, that I survived and I won.”

Zigi Shipper’s family portrait taken in stages and later pieced together by a graphic artist. Credit: Arthur Edwards

Taking the photograph was challenging, especially during Covid, because no more than six people could meet at any one time.

“His daughter Lou organised for six family members to meet at 20-minute intervals, so I could do all of them. She organised it so brilliantly. It worked out so well. I had to use just a head shot of one granddaughter in Spain, but I got all the pictures, a graphic artist stitched them all together and we made a beautiful photograph of them all in his garden.”

Edwards says Zigi was extremely proud of his family, “his nieces, nephews, grandchildren. He was just a hero. A tiny, little man. With the heart and strength of a lion. A kind man. I’m extremely proud of that picture. I know Zigi would look at his wonderful family on the wall every morning to remember that he survived.”

When the-then Duchess of Cambridge (now Princess of Wales) came to open the exhibition, Edwards says “she was full of praise” for the picture. “I was too, because it was an achievement under horrible Covid circumstances.”

Prince (now King) Charles was at its Royal opening and “to his credit,” says Edwards, “Zigi praised me to the King for doing a really great job. It was tricky to keep the light right, to get the right proportions but then I got a really lovely huge print done; panoramic, beautifully framed to give to Zigi, because I just got to admire this man. I really got to like him.

“Taking the portrait was a joy to do. I was so sad to hear Zigi passed. He lived a great life and had a wonderful family taking care of him. I was so pleased to do it. And then of course, I was made a fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society on the back of it.

“None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for Zigi. The whole thing was a great experience for me. I was so lucky. He was entertaining, interesting  and he’d been through hell; but he comes to this country and makes a beautiful life for himself. I’ve never forgotten his enthusiasm for this country and everything it stands for. He wore his British Empire medal with pride and my wife and I had tea with his family.”

Edwards accompanied the Prince and Princess of Wales on their historic trip to Stutthof concentration camp in 2017. It was there that Edwards also met fellow Holocaust survivor Manfred Goldberg, a lifelong friend of Zigi, who told him “about the death march when he saved Zigi’s life. What a hardship that he had for no other reason that he was a Jew. He told me he said: ‘Zigi if you fall down, they’ll shoot you. You’ve got to keep going.’ He looked after him and it was quite amazing.”

Edwards, who lost his beloved wife of 61-years recently, is clearly emotional in discussing Zigi’s death and the impact of the family portrait he took: “Perhaps”, he says, “I got more out of taking that photograph than maybe they did.”

*’Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors’ was created by the Imperial War Museum in partnership with Jewish News, the Royal Photographic Society, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Dangoor Education.

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