Gena Turgel 1923-2018

The Holocaust Educational Trust is deeply saddened to learn of the loss of our friend Gena Turgel.

Gena Turgel

Gena was born in Kraków, Poland, on the 1st February 1923, the youngest of nine children. She was 16 when the Nazis bombed her home city on 1st September 1939 and the 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. She 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. 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. In 1987, Gena published her story in I light a candle. She continued to tirelessly share her story into her 90s, working to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

“Known as the ‘Bride of Belsen’, Gena survived the Krakow ghetto, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen, ultimately marrying her British liberator Norman Turgel. In 1987 she published her testimony, ‘I light a candle’, to tell her extraordinary story and as a memorial to her family and the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis.

“The Gena Turgel we knew was the most beautiful, elegant and poised lady. Her strength, determination and resilience were unwavering, her powerful and wise words an inspiration.

“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.

“We feel so lucky to have known Gena. She was proud of our work at the Trust and was a huge source of encouragement and motivation to us all. We will continue to educate future generations in her name, ensuring her story and those of millions of others is never forgotten.

“A shining light has gone out today and will never be replaced.”

VideoGena Turgel on Newsround