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Hero soldier celebrates Valentine's Day for 71st time with woman he saved from concentration camp

Mirror logo Mirror 14/02/2017 Steve White

Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS John Mackay will celebrate Valentine’s Day for the 71st time with the prisoner he saved from a concentration camp... and then married.

During the Second World War John’s elite unit liberated Jewish female prisoners, among them his wife-to-be Edith -known as Eci - from a work unit the Nazis had marched East from the notorious Auschwitz camp.

Eci and her mother Edith survived six weeks at Auschwitz, at the time when the notorious Josef Mengele was still present and conducting experiments on inmates.

While Edith 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.

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and dying.

It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these, at least 1.1 million were murdered.

After finding the work party some distance from the camp in southern Poland, John and his unit tried to help the former concentration camp inmates as the Red Cross and army medics desperately tried to treat the huge number of liberated inmates.

As the fog of war began to clear, Allied soldiers organised a dance in the local village hall, where John first set eyes on the love of his life.

Even after John’s heroic exploits in the war, he claims he was too nervous to ask Eci to dance, and sent a friend over to ask on his behalf.

Eci, unimpressed, sent the friend back, and insisted John ask her to dance himself. He did, and his boldness soon led to the couple falling in love.

According to the couple’s daughter, Sharon Mackay, Eci and her mother who had been transported from Hungary were the only members of their family who survived the ghastly selection process at Auschwitz.

Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS While at the camp, Eci managed to make “keepsakes” she has kept with her ever since, including a comb and a poem book.

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 himself had an adventurous war becoming one of the first soldiers to be recruited from his Commando unit to join the then fledgling SAS,

John himself was captured at Tobruk in North Africa in the early part of the war.

Then a soldier with the London Scottish, he escaped an Italian prisoner of war camp with his friend dressed as Italian soldiers.

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

Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS John, originally from Glasgow, who managed to reach Allied lines and join the Commandos was also one of the first soldiers to be recruited by the SAS, said Sharon.

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

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.”

John, now 96, and Eci, 92, married in Scotland in July 1946, and have been “wholly dedicated” to one another ever since.

Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS After the war, the couple brought Eci’s mother to Scotland from her native Hungary, and had two children — daughter Sharon and son Peter.

This Valentine’s Day will be the couple’s 71st together, and they plan on having a “low key” celebration at the care home in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, where they now live.

The couple have a few tips on how to keep the spark alive after so many years together, and say the trick is to be romantic every day, not just on February 14.

John has bought his “sweetheart” several gifts and a card.

Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS Pamela Shaw, activity coordinator at Bupa’s Balcarres care home, said it was lovely to see John and Eci are still completely head over heels.

She 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.”

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