The Remarkable Story of Gena Turgel, The Bride of Belsen (Concentration Camp)
The Remarkable Story of Gena Turgel, The  Bride of Belsen (Concentration Camp)

The Remarkable Story of Gena Turgel, The Bride of Belsen (Concentration Camp)

Natasha sheldon - July 21, 2018

The Remarkable Story of Gena Turgel, The  Bride of Belsen (Concentration Camp)
The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945. Wikimedia Commons. public Domain

“I light a Candle.”

On April 15, 1945, the British Intelligence Corps entered Belsen. Amongst them was Norman Turgel, a young Sergeant with 53 Field Security Section who had been assigned the task of rounding up the camp’s SS Commanders. It was Norman who arrested the notorious commandant of Belsen, Josef Kramer who was known as “The Beast of Belsen.” As Norman was locking Kramer up, he had the satisfaction of letting him know that he was being imprisoned by a Jew.

The first sights that greeted Norman must have seemed out of hell. Over 20,000 naked corpses lay about the camp unburied, the victims of starvation, and disease. Other bodies lay alongside the corpses, dying. Norman later discovered some of the camp’s inmates had been reduced to cannibalism. However, soon afterward Norman saw a different sight. He met Gena when she was asked to show him around the camp hospital, and although she was emaciated and bedraggled, for Norman it was love at first sight. He knew immediately he would marry her.

A few days later, Norman invited Gena to the officer’s mess. To her surprise, the tables were covered in white cloths and flowers. “I asked Norman whether he was expecting any special visitors, ” recalled Gena, “He said ‘This is our engagement party'”. Gena admitted she was terrified of committing so soon but was won round by Norman’s persistence. Six months later, on October 7, 1945, the couple were married in a Jewish synagogue that had only survived the war because it had used as a cattle shed. The bride wore a dress made from a British silk parachute. It is now preserved in London’s Imperial War Museum.

The Remarkable Story of Gena Turgel, The  Bride of Belsen (Concentration Camp)
Gena Turgel on a return visit to Auschwitz. Google Images.

The newlyweds returned to London with Gena’s mother and settled down. Gena and Norman became the proud parents of three children and grandparents to eight. However, for Gena, the pain of past events and the family she had lost remained buried inside. She wore a lot of perfume at all times as the stench of the camps never left her. Eventually, she decided that, as a survivor of so much horror and grief, she had to ensure that what had happened to her loved ones never happened to anyone else. So, in 1987, Gena Turgel wrote her account of her experiences “I Light a Candle.”

However, this was just the start. “Those people were real. They were mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, doctors and teachers, poets, wonderful people. Composers. And now they scream in silence,” said Gena of all those the Nazis had murdered. So she became their voice and took her story into British schools to ensure that future generations would remain aware of the dangers of mindless prejudice and thus ensure that events like the holocaust never happen again. In 2000, Gena Turgel was awarded an MBE for her work in 2000. The indomitable spirit which had kept her alive kept her campaigning- right up until her death in June 2018.

 

Where Do We Get this Stuff? Here are our Sources:

Gas Chamber Survivor found love, The Telegraph, January 26, 2005

Gena Turgel, Holocaust Survivor, known as Bride of Belsen, dies, Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, June 8, 2018

Auschwitz Survivor Gena Turgel Walked Out of Gas Chamber Alive, NBC News January 26, 2015.

From out of the Horror, A love story, Angela Lambert, The Independent, April 13, 1995

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