Following the passing of Holocaust survivor and educator Gena Turgel last week, tributes have poured in from across the community. 

On Sunday during her funeral, Gena’s oldest grandchild, Adam Tash, reflects on the life of his nana:

Rabbonim, Mum, Bernice, Harris, family, all friends.

At the best of times public speaking isn’t my forte, please bear with me as I say a few words as the oldest Grandchild, on behalf of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about the queen of our family, a friend and educator of thousands and thousands of people around the world.

Nana, was born in Kraków, Poland, in 1923, the youngest of nine children – 5 boys and 4 girls. They lived in central Krakow, a short walk from the main square. They were a very respectable, affluent family. Nana’s parents, Samuel and Estera Goldfinger, ran a textile business.

Her mother was a highly capable person… she carried out the business successfully after Nana’s father died in 1932.

Her father was in the Austrian Army during World War 1, he had a high ranking position in communications and before he died could see ahead to the catastrophic effect that Hitler would have on the world.

When she was 14, she went together with her siblings to a Protestant ‘evangelical’ grammar school. They also practiced German at home which became a great asset later in the concentration camps. 

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After school in the winter, she would often go skating with her sister Miriam and friends. She was very close to Miriam, people used to think they were twins.

She was brought up in a traditional Jewish home and her parents were both religious and forward thinking. They lived in a mixed community with lots of non-Jewish friends. On Purim, her father would sit at the top of the table in their dining room, the front door was left wide open and all the beggars in the neighbourhood would come in and queue up at the table while her father gave them gifts of money. Her mother used to give lessons in literacy to people living locally who could not read or write.

Her childhood was unfortunately broken short by the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Listen to Gena Turgel’s story in her own words – when she spoke on the Jewish Views podcast in 2015:

Nana was confined to the ghetto, she spent 3 years going from camp to camp, finally ending up in Belsen.  She spent an hour and a half in a gas chamber in Auschwitz that fortunately didn’t work. She was then liberated by our Zeida (grandfather) Norman Turgel ztl, a sergeant in the British Intelligence Corp, her liberator, and spent 2 months short of 50 happy years married, bringing up a family, my mum Hilary, aunt and uncle Bernice and Harris and now 8 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.  She then went on to speak about how she witnessed the mass murder and systematic destruction of a civilisation – tell me this was not the guiding hand of God.

I light a candle, the name of her book, a candle that has now gone out, a candle that she can no longer light for those 6 million men women and children that were murdered by the Nazis, the light that she was, as the Matriarch of our family. The light that she lit every time she told her experiences, the light that she will meet again waiting for her at the gates of  Heaven, together with my Zeida (grandfather), her family, the loved ones she never said goodbye to and the 6 million she was the mouth piece and messenger for.

Gena Turgel

Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser in his book Something to Say, writes – When a truly righteous person, one with great wisdom, kindness and integrity lives in an area, his presence is felt and reflected throughout that place. The influence of a great person is not bounded by the four walls of his home.  It shines forth and permeates his community.  This is Gena Turgel

She has touched so many lives throughout her life, she has brought unity in so many different ways, with us as a family, as a community, outside the community, young, old, men, women and children alike and politicians and teachers; those that are less fortunate and those that need our love and charity.

Through her work with the Holocaust Educational Trust Led by an amazing Karen Pollock and her team, Stanmore Wizo that Nana was the chairwomen for so many years to name but 2, all bringing people together for the good of mankind.

In concluding, Rosh Hashanah will never be the same for the Stanmore community where for years and year Nana would invite so many people to Kiddush on the first day yom tov, it will not be the same and her apple strudel and cheese cake will be sadly missed especially as no one could leave the house without having a piece.

Gena Turgel speaking at Yom Hashoah 2018

Nana would be so touched and honoured to have so many people here today, along with distinguished dignitaries and guests.  Social media, twitter, newspapers around the world are filled with articles.  Tweets from the Chief Rabbi, Home Secretary, Mayor of London, celebrities and so many more.

If you have any memories you would like to share with the family please email rememberingGena@gmail.com.

We are committed to continuing Nana and Zeida’s legacy regarding Holocaust education and plan to establish an appropriate vehicle with which to do so.

Nana, we love you so much and that you on behalf of everyone for everything you have done in your 95 years in this world.  You are now at peace in a better world where you will be bound up in everlasting life in the arms of God, we pray the moshiach will come speedily in our days when we will be together again.

Watch Gena Turgel address Yom Hashoah 2018:

Gena Turgel z"l

Watch: “I beg you – don’t forget those who are less fortunate than yourselves”. Please find a few minutes to listen to the moving words of Gena Turgel z”l, a truly remarkable Holocaust Survivor who sadly passed away last night. Her legacy is our responsibility now.

Posted by Chief Rabbi Mirvis on Friday, 8 June 2018