Boy meets girl. They fall in love, they marry, have a family and live happily ever after. The age-old fairy-tale, but what happens when that initial meeting is only made possible because of unimaginable horror?
Ibi Davidovits was born in 1924 in Hungary. She had a happy family life with her mother, father and three sisters. Until 1944 the family remained relatively untouched by the war. However, when the Nazis occupied Hungary this quickly changed. Within a few weeks, the family were forced into a ghetto and just two weeks later they were ordered to prepare for deportation.
Ibi and her family, along with thousands of others, were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, there were separated into two columns – men and women. Ibi, her mother and sisters then faced selection – those able to work sent one way and others were sent straight to the gas chambers. Ibi and her sister Judith were chosen to work, her mother and two little sisters were sent to their deaths.
Ibi and Judith made a promise to never separate from one another. They spent three months in Birkenau. Ibi recalls there were no birds flying in the skies above them. She thought to herself, ‘This must be hell.’ In 1945, the sisters were taken to a labour camp in Germany before being forced on a death march to Dachau concentration camp. . They were liberated by American forces on 1st May 1945. Liberation brought Ibi freedom, but little did she know it would bring her love too.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, Waldemar Ginsburg was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. Val dreamt of becoming a pilot as a child but had enrolled on an architecture course, this however was disrupted in 1940 by the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Shortly after, the Nazis also invaded, and his family had to make a difficult decision: remain under Nazi rule or flee East and live under Communist rule. They decided to remain, feeling they had a better chance of survival under Nazism. In 1941 Val, his family and the Jewish population were forced into a ghetto where there was little food and little living space. These conditions were particularly harsh for forced labourers, such as Val. He also witnessed the ‘Children’s Action’ in 1944, when all the children in the ghetto were taken away and murdered. After witnessing this, Val lost his faith in humanity, especially as many of the perpetrators of this massacre were civilians who had once been friends and neighbours.
In 1944, the German army retreated and Val was forced into an overcrowded cattle wagon for three days until he arrived at a concentration camp near Munich. He had arrived at Dachau.
Val arrived in Dachau on 15th July 1944 and just sixteen days later, on 1st August 1944, Ibi arrived at the camp. However, they did not meet until after liberation. In Dachau they were both subjected to forced labour and starvation rations.
Liberation came for Val and Ibi on 1st May 1945 when American forces entered the camp. Liberation for Ibi and her sister, Judith, meant freedom and hopefully locating their father (with whom they reunited after the end of the war). For Val, the initial euphoric feeling of freedom quickly dissipated into a deep depression when he realised his family, home and culture had all been destroyed.
But the chaos of liberation and the severe malnutrition meant many inmates could not immediately leave the camps. Near Dachau, Ibi began working in a hospital looking after fellow prisoners, which is when she met Val. Ibi remembered that the first thing she noticed about Val was his big brown eyes looking at her from his hospital bed. A few weeks later they spoke for the first time and, shortly after, they were a couple. Val described their meeting as ‘therapeutic’ and gave him hope for the future. They married a few months later in August 1945. Their meeting, some people may call it fate, was remarkable given that they only found each other after surviving a gruesome ordeal.
Building a new life – together
Once married, Val and Ibi began to plan for their future. Ibi didn’t want to return to Hungary and Val had no family remaining in Lithuania. So, in 1948, they moved to Britain at the invitation of Val’s cousin, Margaret Kagan, herself a Holocaust survivor. Ibi and Val both worked in the textile industry in a company owned by the Kagan’s until their retirement. A highlight of their careers was being involved with the production of cushion covers for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.
They quickly bought their own home and started a family. They had two daughters, Pauline and Mandy, who both have children of their own. Each member of their family, created from a love story out of the darkness, is a legacy that the Nazis didn’t win.
Ibi and Val remained a devoted couple for over 60 years until Ibi’s death in 2010 and Val’s in 2011. They are both greatly missed by all who knew them.
Out of the shadows of the Holocaust, some of the darkest moments of human history, love found a way to flourish – in the camps, in the ghettos, in hiding and in resistance, but also in the shared history that only those who experienced it can truly understand. Despite the horrors and heartbreak, many couples may not have met and created new families. These acts of love are ultimately the most powerful form of resistance towards the Nazis and their ideology.
After all, love always persists.
Hannah May Randall