Auschwitz Survivor and Her Scottish Soldier Sweetheart Celebrate 71st Valentine's Day Together: 'It Was Love at First Sight'
It was "love at first sight" when John Mackay, 96, met his wife of 71 years, Eci Mackay, 91, at a displaced persons camp in Germany back in 1945
It was “love at first sight” when John Mackay, 96, met his wife of 71 years, Eci Mackay, 91, at a displaced persons camp in Germany back in 1945.
Eci and her mother, Edith, had miraculously survived six weeks at one of WWII’s most horrific extermination camps, Auschwitz, before they were liberated by a group of Russian soldiers. Their 39 immediate family members were murdered by Nazi soldiers. The lone survivors of their Jewish family, Eci and Edith sought temporary living arrangements at the displaced persons camp, where weekly dances were held.
It was at one of these gatherings that Eci, a shy and beautiful 19-year-old met John, a commando in the London Scottish 1st Battalion, who was deployed in Germany.
“It was love at first sight,” John tells PEOPLE. “It was her beautiful looks and smile that caught my eye.”
Adds Eci, “Yes, we will be together forever!”
The two got married in 1946 and moved to John’s native Scotland, where they raised two children. They now reside together in Balcarres Care Home in Dundee, where they will celebrate their 71st Valentine’s Day together.
“They have an amazing, great love story,” their daughter, Sharon Mackay, tells PEOPLE. “They’ve always been very close. They are so incredibly devoted to each other.”
Sharon, 62, describes her father as a “big character” — outgoing and bold. But, when he first met Eci in September 1945, the handsome Scottish soldier was “at a loss for words.”
“He was very intimidated!” she says. “He was bowled over by her beauty.”
John was so nervous that he asked his fellow soldier to approach Eci and ask if she’d dance with him.
“She told him that he had to come ask her himself!” says Sharon with a laugh. “So, he did. And the rest is history!”
Eci and John quickly became inseparable. The two got married in July 1946 in Germany. John decided it was best to try and bring Eci and her mother to Scotland, to avoid further possible persecution. With permission from the Scottish government, the family moved to Edinburgh, where John got a job as a hotel manager in 1947.
Two years later, the couple welcomed their first child, Peter. And six years later, Sharon was born. Eci and John, described by Sharon as “very good parents,” were very protective of their children.
“I knew very little about what happened to them,” Sharon says of her mother and grandmother’s past. “I was 15 when mom first gave me a book [on the Holocaust] and said, ‘This was my life.’ But it was a big secret, their past life. They never talked about it growing up, and neighbors never asked.
“She lived in fear her whole life, that someone would come back for her. But being with dad helped alleviate some of that fear.”
Sharon says that Eci was actually on a death march at the time that she and her mother were set free by the Russians.
“They were with 500 girls,” explains Sharon. “They were woken up because the [Nazi] soldiers had run off and they were liberated by Russians.”
John and Eci still prefer not to talk about their time during WWII (John’s story is chronicled in the book Friendship in a Time of War) — instead they focus on the positives in their life, like their children and their love for each other.
This Valentine’s Day, John is gifting Eci, who was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, gifts and a card. The two are still “very much in love,” according to Sharon who says her father was heartbroken when he suffered a stroke two years ago and was no longer able to care for Eci.
“That was the hardest thing for him to do, to not take care of her,” she says. “Sure, they’ve had their ups and downs like any other couple, and who knows about the future. But right now they have each other and that’s all that matters.”
Adds Eci, “Yes, together forever as that’s where we are meant to be.”
John says their trick to a long, happy life together has been to make every day as special as Valentine’s Day.
“We make our love work by loving each other and our beautiful family,” says John. “And we are romantic all the time, not just on special occasions!”