Holocaust survivor and educator Gena Turgel has passed away at the age of 95.
Born in Kraków, Poland on 1 February 1923, she survived Paszov, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen, where she met her husband, Norman Turgel, an English soldier who helped liberate the camp.
After liberation, she dedicated her life to educating about the Holocaust, telling her story of surviving Auschwitz’s gas chambers, and restarting her life in Britain.
Karen Pollock, 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.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: ‘We are terribly saddened to hear about the passing of Gena Turgel. Gena was truly remarkable – she dedicated so much of her time to ensuring that those who were murdered in the Holocaust will not be forgotten.
‘Gena regularly spoke to schools and at events across the country well into her 90s.
‘We are so grateful to Gena, and I have no doubt her impact will continue through the remarkable legacy she leaves behind.’
The Association of Jewish Refugees’ Chief Executive Michael Newman paid tribute, saying: “I had the privilege of knowing Gena. She was a wonderful lady who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and found the strength to tell her story over and over again, helping to keep the memory alive.”
Holocaust survivor group the 45 Aid Society, said it is “very sad to hear of the passing of such a great lady and we respect and admire the many hours that she gave throughout her life to talking to schools and organisations about her experiences during the Holocaust and helping to educate future generations, to prevent it happening again.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London said: “I was saddened to learn of the passing of Gena Turgel. Having met Gena at the Yom HaShoah Commemoration earlier this year I was deeply moved by her contribution to the event and inspired by her lifelong commitment to educating people about the horrors of the Holocaust.
“Despite the trauma of what she had witnessed Gena exuded warmth and grace. Her words ‘I beg you – don’t forget those who are less fortunate than yourselves’ will remain with me and should be a challenge to us all. She will be missed by everyone who knew her.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid wrote on Twitter: “Very saddened to learn that Gena Turgel has passed away. I was so privileged to meet her. One of the most inspirational people I have ever met. RIP”
Game of Thrones actress Laura Pradelska, who t this year’s Yom Hashoah recalled the stories of each of her four grandparents, who all survived the Holocaust, paid her respects to Gena. Speaking to Jewish News, she said: “I am so deeply saddened that Gena Turgel passed. She was someone I highly looked up to. A survivor who until the very end spoke and educated others. We have today lost a hero. But her legacy will live on. Baruch Dayan Ha’emet”
In April Gena spoke in London at the community’s Yom Hashoah event, marking Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. She told guests: “I beg you – don’t forget those who are less fortunate than yourselves”.
Chief Rabi Mirvis shared her speech from Yom Hashoah, and urged people to “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.”
Rabbi Lord Sacks told paid tribute, telling Jewish News: “Gena Turgel, who passed away last night, was one of the most remarkable Holocaust survivors I had the privilege to know.
“She was a blessing and inspiration to our community. Her work to educate generations about the horrors of the Holocaust was as powerful as it was tireless. Her emotional book which tells her story is called I Light a Candle.
“Throughout her life, she lit countless candles in the human heart and helped bring much light to the world. May her memory be for a blessing.”
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. pic.twitter.com/4hZBEKYSoO
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) June 8, 2018