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The Bride of Belsen: A love story born amidst the horror

Gena Turgel went on to marry the British soldier who liberated her from Bergen-Belsen. Credit: ITV News

She doesn’t know why she was spared when all around her other were dying - but Gena Turgel hasn’t wasted any of the days she’s lived since her liberation from Belsen.

She tells me life is beautiful with the conviction of someone who knows the value of every minute of it.

Elegant, poised and surrounded by the photographs of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at her north London home, Gena’ s story is the triumph of love over evil.

Not only did she survive the war, she went on to fall in love and marry one of the soldiers who liberated her from Belsen.

She is very proud of that man; Norman Turgel, who was present at the arrest of the camp commandant of Belsen and who told him as he locked him up, “I am a Jew.“

Norman and Gena went on to have three children, and their love story born amidst the horror of the Holocaust produced grandchildren and great grandchildren too.

Norman and Gena Turgel on their wedding day. Credit: ITV News

But she is now a widow, and despite her optimism and courage the loss of her husband and liberator is clearly a matter of great sadness.

“I stay cheerful because life is a blessing,” she told me. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I am alive. When I remember all the suffering I ask myself, did I really survive that?”

She spends as much time as she can talking to school children about her experiences in the camps. She knows that as the Holocaust moves from living memory into history, first-hand testimony will be lost.

Norman Turgel wrote a letter to a newspaper in 1957 explaining their love story. Credit: ITV News

“Never ever forget,” I watched her tell a classroom of sixth formers as she explained how two young brothers and two sisters had been murdered by the Nazis.

“They were people like you and they were murdered for no reason. So please tell everyone what I have told you today. And don’t let it happen again”

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