Edith '˜Eci' Mackay

A survivor who wed the soldier who rescued her from Auschwitz has died, aged 92.

John and Eci become Mr and Mrs Mackay in July 1946
John and Eci become Mr and Mrs Mackay in July 1946

Edith ‘Eci’ Mackay passed away in Balcarres Care Home in Broughty Ferry with her husband of more than seven decades, Second World War veteran John, sitting by her side.

The Holocaust survivor died on Monday, 26 June, following a bout of pneumonia.

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Born Edith Steiner in the Székesfehérvár region of Hungary, she lost 39 members of her family during the Holocaust.

Roughly six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.

Eci’s mother also survived the horrors of Auschwitz, where around a million people perished.

They were among the few who avoided death by being asked to work after arriving from a Hungarian ghetto in June 1944, and were resident there for six weeks.

Both Eci and her mother were captive in the camp whilst Nazi Josef Mengele was conducting experiments on inmates.

Eci made keepsakes during her time in the camp which she kept her whole life, including a comb and book of poems.

She only found out about one of her cousins, who had also survived the Holocaust and fled to Brazil, in February this year, after long-lost family members got in touch.

A commando in the London Scottish 1st Battalion, John Mackay helped rescue a group of Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz as they marched with Nazi guards to another concentration camp. Eci, was among them.

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At a dance organised in a village hall following the rescue by the British troops, John was too nervous to ask Eci for a dance, sending a friend across to ask in his stead.

Not impressed, Eci sent the pal back with orders that John should ask her to dance himself – which he did. The couple fell in love and “doted” on each other throughout their 71-year marriage.

John and Eci tied the knot in Scotland on 17 July, 1946 and referred to each other as “sweetheart” every day.

The story of her long, loving marriage to John captured the hearts of thousands of people earlier this year as the couple enjoyed their 71st Valentine’s Day as a married couple.

John, now 96, was born in Glasgow and raised in Brighton. John also served in North Africa, escaping an Italian prisoner of war camp in Tobruk, Libya.

The couple lived in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Gleneagles before settling in Pitlochry, where they ran the Atholl Arms Hotel. John also served as a local councillor for many years.

In 1997 they moved to Broughty Ferry. They have two children, Sharon MacKay and Peter Mackay, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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Sharon said: “My mum was an extremely private person, very, very kind and quiet.

“Mum was just a mum. She was a seamstress in her youth. She was very quiet, very reserved, very kind and very family orientated.”

She added that her mum “never spoke about” her time in Auschwitz, but that the story of her parents meeting each other was “amazing”.

“I think she had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and really struggled. She really had a lot of nightmares”, said Sharon.

“It was 39 members of their immediate family they lost (during the Holocaust), aunties and uncles.”

However she added that her father was “lost” without his beloved wife.

She said: “He is absolutely lost. Thankfully they got to spend the last year together. He cared for her.”

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Balcarres Care Home’s deputy manager, Vera Scrimgeour, said: “Sadly she passed away last week. It was natural causes.

“All her family was with her, John was with her as well. It was sad for them. He just totally doted on her and she doted on him, it was so sad.”

Eci will be laid to rest at Dundee Crematorium on 12 July.

John Jeffay