Gena Turgel MBE

Gena Turgel

Gena was born in Kraków, Poland in 1923, the youngest of nine children. She was only 16 when the Nazis bombed her home city on 1st September 1939. The bombing lasted for two days. Gena’s family had relatives in Chicago and they had planned to leave for the States but their decision was too late, as the Germans had already closed all exit and entry points. Instead, Gena’s family moved to Borek, a town outside Kraków.

In autumn 1941 Gena had to move to the ghetto in Kraków, carrying a sack of potatoes, some flour and few other belongings. There she stayed with her mother and four siblings. Gena's brother was shot by the SS in the ghetto. A second brother, Janek, fled from the ghetto and was never seen again.

Gena and her surviving family were eventually sent to Płaszów labour camp on the edge of Kraków. Gena later discovered that her sister Miriam and her husband, who had married in the ghetto, had been shot  after the Nazis caught her trying to bring food into the camp. In the winter of 1944-45 the camp was liquidated and Gena and her family had to walk to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In January 1945 Gena and her mother were sent on a death march from Auschwitz, leaving behind Hela, Gena’s sister. They never saw her again. After several days they came to Włocławek (Leslau in German) where they were forced onto trucks. They travelled under terrible conditions for the next three to four weeks, eventually arriving in Buchenwald concentration camp. From there they were sent on cattle trucks to Bergen-Belsen, where they arrived in February 1945. Gena worked there in a hospital for the next two months and tried to support her mother as best as she could.

On 15th April 1945 the British army liberated Bergen–Belsen. Among the liberators was Norman Turgel, who would later become Gena’s husband just half a year later.

Gena lived in North London and shared her testimony for the Trust until she passed in 2018. Her testimony can be found in her book I Light a Candle.