April 15 is always an emotional day for Gena Turgel, but this year it will be more heartfelt than ever,
The date marks the liberation by British troops of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in 1945.
As an inmate in the camp, Mrs Turgel remembers the day well, and recalling events in the run-up to next week’s 70th anniversary, she found it hard to hold back the tears.
“It is the most important day in my calendar every year but this year it all feels almost too much,” she said. “It is 70 years ago and we must remember.”
For Mrs Turgel, memories of the place where 50,000 Jews were murdered, including Anne Frank, are a mix of horror and unlikely happiness.
The camp was where she met Norman Turgel, a soldier in the 11th British Armoured Division, who she married six months later.
“I will forever be grateful to the British troops who liberated us and remember it as the day I met my husband and the start of a happy life we created,” she said.
“When they arrived that day I cried. I was so happy but I was terrified someone would see me because the Nazis were still armed.
“Norman was one of the first soldiers I saw. He was so kind to people. Some days later he sent someone to me and told me I was invited to the officers’ mess for dinner.
“I was confused. I had no idea why and when I arrived I was shocked to see the tables were all laid out beautifully. When I asked why, he said: ‘It is for you. It is our engagement party.’ He knew from the moment he saw me he wanted to marry me. He had to work a bit harder after that, but he did and we had the happiest life.”
Mrs Turgel and her mother were sent to Bergen-Belsen, where she worked in a hospital for several months as a nurse, in February 1945. She was 21.
She said: “When we arrived there I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were huge barracks, bare floors and bitter cold temperatures. We found a corner and fell asleep from exhaustion. There were heaps of bodies — you could not tell if they were men or women.
“I said to myself then I won’t die like that.”
Mrs Turgel, who gives talks and has written about her experience, will be part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s delegation which will take part in the international commemoration at the site of the camp in Germany on April 26.
She said: “When my husband was alive he would send me flowers and fill our living room every year to say happy liberation and happy anniversary.
“Now my children do it. It was the happiest and most terrible time in my life.”