Once a year, every year, stores are covered in red and full of candy and hearts and flowers and all the other symbols we attach to love. We also get to celebrate romantic love and hear some incredibly sweet, heartwarming love stories from lovers all around the world, regardless of age or race or sex or any of the ridiculous divisions we’ve come up with to divide ourselves.
One story that resonates deeply with me, no matter how many times I hear it, is the tale of a Hungarian Jew, her struggles in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and how she was rescued by a Scottish soldier and the brave, beautiful love that grew between the two of them. In just a week’s time, this star crossed couple will be celebrating their 72nd Valentine’s Day together.
Edith Steiner, fondly known as Eci to all those who love her, had to spend a month and a half in a concentration camp in 1944, just a year before World War II ended. Belonging to a family of Hungarian Jews, Edith, along with her mom, was forced to be part of the group of workers in the hell-hole that was Auschwitz.
But this ended up saving her life because the rest of her family who were not selected to be part of the work crews was sentenced to death in the infamous gas chambers. When the allied powers slowly began to gain ground over Hitler’s armies, Edith and her mother were taken to a different camp, Bergen-Belsen, where they were freed by allied soldiers.
John Mackay is also a survivor of the horrors of war. He was taken prisoner by the Italians and managed to escape their prisoners’ camp thanks to the help of a friend who managed to procure some of the uniforms used by Italian soldiers to use as disguises. It took them over a year and a half of running and dodging the Axis armies at every step to reach safety. Even then, Mackay did not give up and returned to the frontlines. He was part of the team of commandoes who entered Bergen-Belsen to free the Jews imprisoned there.
When all of the prisoners were brought to a safe place, a party was thrown to rejoice over their newfound freedom and the victory over the Germans. This is where John first became attracted to Edith. But he was a bashful young man and so he could not work up the courage to ask her to dance with him. He got a fellow soldier to ask her on his behalf but Edith was adamant that she would not agree till John was brave enough to approach her on his own.
Like a real life fairytale, the two soon feel deeply in love and when the war ended, John brought Edith and her mother back to Scotland with him and there they got married on July 17th, 1946. Now they have two children, seven grandchildren and five-great grandchildren to love and cherish. They set up the Atholl Arms Hotel in Pitclochry, Scotland and managed it successfully till retirement.
When they became old, they shifted into a home together and they still celebrate Valentine’s Day every year. John is turning 97 and Edith is turning 93 this year and on their 72nd Valentine’s Day, they love each other just as much as they did back when they first got married.
Pamela Shaw, an employee at the home, told us that John still checks up on Edith all time just to make sure that she’s doing fine. They still use endearing terms for each other every day.