Auschwitz survivor and Scots war hero who saved her celebrating 71st Valentine’s day

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A SURVIVOR of Auschwitz and the Scots commando who helped save her will mark their 71st Valentine’s Day together tomorrow.

John Mackay, 96, rescued a column of Jewish prisoners from their Nazi guards as they marched from Auschwitz to another concentration camp in the closing months of the Second World War.

Among the rescued prisoners was a young Hungarian Jew called Edith, now 92.

John and Edith MacKay, 96 an 94 celebrating their 91st Valentines day together.

John and Edith met at dance organised by troops shortly afterwards at a village hall. They married, moved to Scotland, had a family and now live together in a care home in Dundee.

The devoted couple, who first celebrated Valentine’s Day in 1946, still refer to each other as “sweetheart” every day and will mark tomorrow’s big day with a party.

John and Edith MacKay, aged 20 and 23 in 1945

Their advice to couples is to be romatic all year round – and not just on February 14.

Edith Steiner – known as Eci – and her mother survived the horrors of Auschwitz and were being marched by the Nazis to another camp further from the rapidly-advancing Allied armies.

Weak through lack of food and vulnerable to disease, the pair also faced the ever-present threat of summary execution. Their chances of surviving to the end of the war were slim.

The happy couple on their wedding day in 1946

But John and his unit ran into the column and took care of the prisoners in a displacement camp.

John, whose own wartime exploits included escaping from an Italian prisoner of war camp, spotted Eci at the dance but was too shy to approach her.

He sent a over a pal to ask her if she would dance with him, but Edith insisted that if he wanted a dance them he must ask her himself.

They married on the 17th of July 1946 and had two children, Sharon Mackay and Peter Mackay.

According to the couple’s daughter, Sharon, Eci and her mother survived six weeks in Auschwitz in June 1944, at the time when the notorious Josef Mengele was still present and conducting experiments on inmates.

Having come from the Székesfehérvár region of Hungary, Eci and her mother were the only members of their family who survived the ghastly selection process at Auschwitz.

Edith’s prisoner of war number from Auschwitz

While Eci and her mother were set to one side to work – itself usually a slow and lingering death – the other members of the family were sent straight to the gas chamber.

While at Auschwitz, Eci managed to make “keep sakes” she has kept with her ever since, including a comb and a poem book.

The comb Edith managed to make in the brutal concentration camp

Speaking about her mothers time in Auschwitz, Sharon said: “When my mum and grandmother with taken from the ghetto Hungary they were put on the train to Auschwitz.
“When they got off the train Dr Mengele was there. It was only because they were looking for volunteers that they were sent away from Auschwitz.”

As the war drew to a close, and the Soviets advanced rapidly from the east, the Nazis marched camp inmates towards Germany to help tackle the desperate shortage of workers in factories and mines.

John and Edith with their children Sharon and Peter

John himself was captured at Tobruk in North Africa in the early part of the war. A soldier with the London Scottish 1st Battalion , he escaped an Italian prisoner of war camp with his friend dressed as Italian solidiers.

The pair had to keep moving for 18 months however, to avoid wolves and evade capture.

John, originally from Glasgow, was also one of the first soldiers to be recruited by the Special Operations Executive, later to become the SAS, said Sharon.

Sharon said: “It would have been around 1942 they spent around 18 months running from wolves and evading capture, but they had some very close calls.

“He was also a member of the first group of SAS soldiers who trained on the Isle of Arran under David Stirling. They were looking for soldiers to volunteer.”

After returning to Scotland Eci and John owned the Atholl Arms Hotel in Pitclochry, before retiring and moving to Dundee.

John and Edith MacKay, 96 an 94 celebrating their 91st Valentines day together.

Eci and John have seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, some of whom work within the film and TV industry.

Sharon said: “Whatever has happened, the family were wiped out and is beginning to grow out of the family.”

Pamela Shaw, activity coordinator at Bupa Balcarres Care Home, where the pair now live, said: “John is a true gentleman. He is always checking in to make sure Eci is happy and the pair still refer to each other as ‘sweetheart’ on a daily basis.

“Their devotion to one another is clear to anyone who spends even a short time in their company.

“John came to join us a year after Eci moved in, so it’s wonderful that they are both near one another again. Our main aim now is to ensure that they continue to enjoy a happy life together.

“We’re having a little party for all our residents this Valentine’s Day, so it’s lovely to have such a real example of true love with us at the home.”

Their advice to couples is to be romantic all year round – and not just on February 14.

 

Hungary was late to join in the Second World War, but it became widely known for its barbaric treatment of Jewish prisoners of war.

In March 1944, German solidiers occupied Hungary with their prime minister Miklós Kállay removed, mass deportations of Jews to German death camps began.

Between May and July 1944, Hungarian authorities deported around 437,000 Jews with all but 15,000 of these prisoners being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, with 90% of those were killed immediately.

 
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