The Independent London Newspaper


On Holocaust Memorial Day, death camps survivor tells pupils: ‘The future is up to you’

Gena Turgel speaking at Islington Assembly Hall

Gena Turgel speaking at Islington Assembly Hall

Kaya Comer-Schwartz and Jeremy Corbyn

Kaya Comer-Schwartz and Jeremy Corbyn

Published: 6 February, 2017

A WOMAN who survived three Nazi concentration camps told Islington schoolchildren “it’s up to you” to avoid the horror she experienced ever happening again.

Gena Turgel, 94, who was speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day at Islington Assembly Hall, also spoke of her sadness at seeing the rise of the far-right across the West, and the war in Syria.

“It’s terrible,” she said on Friday. “People should be arrested for disturbing the lives of others. They want to destroy the peace we have built.

“I only wish that you and your children and the generations to come should never, never allow it to happen again. It’s up to you and your generation.”

Ms Turgel spoke of living in Krakow, Poland, when the Nazis began bombing in 1939. 

The youngest of nine children, she was incarcerated in three concentration camps, survived a gas chamber and was forced to march between camps in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. She also encountered infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who subjected camp prisoners to horrific experiments.

Ms Turgel saw members of her family killed in front of her, and only she and her mother survived the war.

They arrived in Bergen-Belsen in February 1945. Ms Turgel worked there in a hospital for the next two months and tried to support her mother as best as she could.

On April 15, 1945, the British army liberated the camp. Among them was Norman Turgel, who would become Ms Turgel’s husband just half a year later.

Norman died in 1995, and Ms Turgel lives in Stanmore, north-west London.

“It’s very painful, but it’s my duty to tell this story,” she said. 

“We must build bridges, regardless of religion or colour, to aim for peace.”

Pupils were joined by local residents, religious leaders and both Islington MPs, Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry. 

They also heard from documentary-maker Muzna Al-Naib who talked about the crisis in Syria, as well as Junction ward councillor Kaya Comer-Schwarz, whose grandfather survived the Holocaust.

“As someone whose family was profoundly shaped by the Holocaust, this day has special significance for me,” said Cllr Comer-Schwarz.

“My grandfather survived Dachau concentration camp and came to the UK as a refugee. I’ve always been aware my existence was predicated on people being brave and helping others. 

“The children who attended today are too young to remember atrocities like the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Bosnia. So it’s especially important we never forget these tragedies, that we teach them never to repeat the mistakes of the past and to treat everyone equally and with compassion.

“We must never be silent when confronted with racism and hatred – we must stamp it out, wherever we find it.”


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