Bergen-Belsen memorial 75 years after liberation 150420 CREDIT PA
WWII

Holocaust Survivor Recalls Friendship With British Soldier Who Saved Her

Mady Gerrard was taken to both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen during the Second World War.

Bergen-Belsen memorial 75 years after liberation 150420 CREDIT PA

A Holocaust survivor has paid tribute to the "remarkable" British soldier who came to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp 75 years ago.

Mady Gerrard, 90, has a picture of Lieutenant John Randall – with whom she became friends decades later – on display at her home in Cardiff today.

Lt Randall and his driver, Cpl Brown, were the first men to enter the camp after stumbling upon it during a reconnaissance mission.

They found 60,000 prisoners suffering from disease, starvation, neglect and torture, as well as the bodies of thousands of those who had already died.

Ms Gerrard was 14 when she was taken to Auschwitz in July 1944, after her home country of Hungary was invaded.

She was forced to walk in freezing conditions for 10 days in winter and arrived at Bergen-Belsen, which she described as "the worst of everything", in January 1945.

The burning of Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany, 21 May 1945
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp being burned down in May 1945 (Picture: National Army Museum).

On April 15 1945, Ms Gerrard was looking through the filthy window of the hut she had been kept in when she saw a Jeep coming.

"I saw a man in uniform, he came to our door and opened it. It was full of girls like me, the same age and size – skeletons, most sat on the floor unable to stand," she said.

"I later found out it was John Randall. He couldn’t believe what he saw. We spoke to him in German, saying we couldn’t speak English but we were terribly grateful.

"We knew it was liberation, and we thought it was wonderful, because we knew we only had a few days left to live.

"It must’ve been the best day of my life. The conditions were impossible to imagine, to be there, I don’t wish it on anybody.”

Ms Gerrard was later transferred to the town of Belsen, before being taken to Sweden to recuperate.

At the age of 16, she moved back to Hungary, where she got married and had a daughter, before divorcing and illegally fleeing the country with her child when revolution broke out.

They went to Cardiff, with Ms Gerrard gaining British citizenship five years later.

British soldier looks at sign of Bergen-Belsen 1945 CREDIT ROYAL NAVY.jpg
A British soldier at the concentration camp after its liberation in 1945 (Picture: Royal Navy).

On April 10 2005, Ms Gerrard saw an article in a national newspaper featuring Lt Randall to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation.

"I knew he was the man and I screamed so loud my dog thought I had gone mad," she said.

"I always thought I would remember him if I saw him in the street, but how would that be possible?

"He would have aged like I have. But I saw the picture of him from those years before and knew he was the man who gave me back my life."

She wrote to the newspaper and received a call from Lt Randall the following Monday, with the pair arranging to meet in London.

"We became very good friends for 11 years until he died, visiting as often as we could. He was a remarkable man,” she said.

"He was a friend, but he was also my hero. I was lucky it was him and not anyone else who walked through the gates, and the fact I found him all those years later makes the story even more remarkable.

"If he hadn’t have come in, more of us would’ve died. I think about him. I miss him terribly."

Lt Randall, who died in 2016, is one of the British troops being thanked by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, for their part in the liberation.

Cover image: PA.