June 11, 20184:32 pm
A Holocaust survivor and nurse who cared for Anne Frank has passed away at the age of 95.
Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom, announced last week the passing of Gena Turgel, also known as "The Bride of Belsen," the Washington Post reports.
The "remarkable" Turgel, as described by Mirvis, spent much of her life teaching British schoolchildren about the horrors of the Holocaust.
"Her legacy is our responsibility now," Mirvis said.
Turgel was from Poland and in 1941 was forced along with her mother and four of her siblings into the Krakow ghetto. While there, two of Turgels siblings were shot and killed while a brother escaped but was never found. In December 1944, Turgel and what was left of her family went to Auschwitz-Birkenau after a forced death march.
"The temperature was about 20 degrees below freezing," Turgel wrote. "I had to go exactly as I was, the clothes I was standing in: dress, coat, boots, a thin pair of knickers and stockings. The snow was deep and thick. … Sometimes we were made to walk overnight. We kept wondering: ‘When will it end? How much further?’"
Turgel and those she was grouped with upon arriving at Auschwitz went into a room where they believed they would have a shower. In fact, it was a gas chamber, but the poison gas never came.
"Don’t you know where you’ve been? You’ve been in a gas chamber," a group of women said as they emerged from the room, Turgel recounted in April. Turgel did not know why her group was not gassed but said she believed "God must have saved my life and so many others with me."
The survivor was ultimately sent to Bergen-Belsen where she went to work in a hospital as a nurse. It was there she cared for Frank, who was dying from typhus.
"I washed her face, gave her water to drink, and I can still see that face, her hair and how she looked," Turgel once recounted.
British troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. Loudspeakers demanded Nazis drop their weapons and report to headquarters. A British sergeant who liberated the camp asked Turgel to marry him just three days after the camps liberation.
A British Army rabbi married her and Norman Turgel months later, and her wedding dress, made of parachute silk, is now on display at the Imperial War Museum in London. The wedding – a "symbol of hope after so much death" as the rabbi called it – is what earned Turgel her "Bride of Belsen" nickname.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said no one who heard Turgel speak "will ever forget" her story.
"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," Pollock said in a statement. "Her story was difficult to hear — and difficult for her to tell, but no one who heard her speak will ever forget."
Turgel is survived by her three children as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.