To take heart from a visit to a concentration camp is a strange concept, yet that was exactly the effect of Prince William and Princess Kate’s visit to Stutthof in Poland this week: the Jewish community took heart from the fact that the future king was shining a very public light on humanity’s darkest moment.
It was the Royal couple’s first official visit to a camp, and it was of note that the choice of camp was not an obvious one. Most would have toured Auschwitz-Birkenau or Bergen-Belsen. Stutthof, by contrast, is much less well-known. That may be the point. The Holocaust stretched far and wide. It was not confined to two or three sites.
The visit was also an emotional first return for two brave Holocaust survivors – Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg – who met when forced to work on a railway nearby.
By returning for the first time since 1946, by revisiting that time and those conditions, and by explaining the reality of the Holocaust, as they are uniquely able to do, Zigi and Manfred will have left an indelible mark on the young couple, and that in turn will serve the country well. The Royal family, first and foremost, leads by example.
As William did so, striding silently and respectfully around the camp – the first created outside German territory – he followed in the footsteps of his father, Prince Charles, who has long endeared himself to the Jewish community for championing its causes, and who has put a lifetime’s work into Holocaust remembrance.
In a speech earlier this year, Charles said the lessons of the Holocaust were “in danger of being forgotten”. With every visit like that made by William and Kate this week, carrying as they do a scrum of world media, that danger is lessened.