A holocaust survivor who lived through four concentration camps before marrying one of her liberators has died aged 95. Gena Turgel became known as the Bride of Belsen after she fell for a British soldier at the end of the war. During her time in captivity she nursed a dying Anne Frank and would later dedicate herself to teaching schoolchildren about the horrors of the holocaust.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, called Mrs Turgel ‘beautiful, elegant, poised and an inspiration.’ She added: ‘Gena dedicated her life to sharing her testimony to hundreds of thousands in schools across the country. ‘Her story was difficult to hear and difficult for her to tell, but no one who heard her speak will ever forget. A shining light has gone out today and will never be replaced.’
Mrs Turgel was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1923, the youngest of nine children. She was 16 when the Nazis invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, triggering the Second World War. She was moved into Krakow’s ghetto with her mother and four siblings and they had just a sack of potatoes, some flour and a few personal belongings. One brother was shot by the SS, a second fled and was never seen again. A sister and her husband were shot after being caught trying to smuggle food into the Płaszów labour camp.
Mrs Turgel, her mother and a sister were eventually sent to Płaszów in the winter of 1944. Later she and her mother were forced to join a death march to Auschwitz-Birkenau leaving behind the sister. They never saw her again. In January 1945, Mrs Turgel and her mother spent four weeks on a ‘death march’ to another concentration camp, Buchenwald, before being taken by cattle train to Bergen-Belsen. Mrs Turgel said when she arrived: ‘I saw heaps of bodies lying around. Not just one or two but mountains as high as a tree in the garden.” She worked in the hospital there which is where she nursed Anne Frank, whose diaries subsequently found international fame, as the 15-year-old was dying from typhus.
In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Turgel said no-one knew at that time she was so special. ‘She was delirious, terrible, burning up. ‘I washed her face, gave her water to drink and I can still see that face, her hair and how she looked.’ Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British army on 15th April 1945.