Gena Turgel survived the Krakow ghetto, a death march, and the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps

Gena Turgel (YouTube screen cap)

Gena Turgel, a Holocaust survivor who helped care for Anne Frank, has died at age 95.

Turgel was also known as the “Bride of Belsen” for wearing a dress made from a British army parachute on the day of her marriage to a soldier who took part in the liberation of Nazi death camps.

“Gena dedicated her life to sharing her testimony to hundreds of thousands in schools across the country,” Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, told the Guardian. “Her story was difficult to hear and difficult for her to tell, but no one who heard her speak will ever forget. A shining light has gone out today and will never be replaced.”

Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, said Turgel was “one of the most remarkable Holocaust survivors I had the privilege to know,” according to the Guardian. “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. Throughout her life, she lit countless candles in the human heart and helped bring much light to the world.”

Turgel, who was 16 when the Nazis occupied her home country of Poland in September 1939, survived many horrors during the Holocaust, including living in the Krakow ghetto, walking a death march, and internment in the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen death camps. Two of her siblings were shot dead by the Nazis, and two more were never heard from again after Turgel lost contact with them during the war.

The Bergen-Belsen DP camp as it looked in the late 1940s. (photo credit: courtesy of Jean Bloch Rosensaft)

After arriving at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, Turgel began working in the site’s hospital.

“When I arrived in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, I saw heaps of bodies lying around. Not just one or two but mountains as high as a tree in the garden,” she told the Sun in 2015. “You could not distinguish if they were men or women – bones, skeletons, children’s bodies. You can’t possibly imagine the state of the place, it was horrendous.”

Among other patients, Turgel also treated Anne Frank, who was dying of typhus. “She was delirious, terrible, burning up. I gave her cold water to wash her down,” Turgel said, according to the Guardian. “We did not know she was special, but she was a lovely girl. I can still see her lying there with her face, which was so red as she had a breakout. And then she died.”

Anne Frank, aged 12, at her school desk in Amsterdam, 1941. (Courtesy, Beyond the Story)

When the British army liberated Bergen–Belsen on April 15, 1945, Turgel met soldier Norman Turgel, and the two married half a year later, with the British press dubbing Gena the “Bride of Belsen.” Turgel’s wedding dress, which was made out of an army parachute, was later put on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

A British social worker treats survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp soon after liberation (Imperial War Museum)

Turgel’s remarkable memoir, titled “I Light a Candle,” was published in 1987.