(TORONTO) — An elderly Toronto couple’s unlikely love story continues to prove that the strongest of romances can be forged even in the darkest of times.
Howard and Nancy Kleinberg, now both in their 80s, have been happily married for over 60 years and have four children, 11 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. But the two will likely never forget when and where they first met.
Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp in what is today the German state of Lower Saxony, was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. Between 1941 and 1945, approximately 70,000 inmates died there.
“You had to find a spot between corpses in order to lie down.” Mr. Kleinberg told ABC News, referencing the nearly 13,000 corpses that lay strewn about the camp unburied. Kleinberg had been ordered by the fleeing Germans to carry the bodies into pits.
“I felt I had to lie down in order to meet my maker,” said Mr. Kleinberg as he lay down exhausted among the bodies. “I don’t recall how much time went by, but suddenly I heard voices from women checking and I could hear the voice of a young girl,” he said.
“He’s still alive,” said Howard’s future wife Nancy. “He’s still alive and we should save him.”
Nancy told ABC News she was able to recognize Howard because she had previously seen him while visiting her older brother in his barracks during their captivity. She spent most of the next two weeks helping to nurse Howard back to health.
“I really found him in a bad condition,” said Nancy. “He was very sick, but I felt I wanted to do a good deed because I was looking for my family, perhaps if I saved this boy, somebody would find my family,” she said. Nancy was the only one in her family to survive the Holocaust.
“The first week I was in the bunk sleeping most of the time,” said Howard. “The second week, I opened my eyes and I see this young girl near me.” Kleinberg said he asked Nancy to find him a doctor but she was unable to find one with the war still going on.
The following week, Howard crawled from his bunk and out the door onto a nearby road, where he was picked up by a military vehicle, taken to a military hospital and treated. He attempted to locate Nancy at Bergen-Belsen after being discharged, but was unable to find her.
At the end of 1945, Mr. Kleinberg was brought to Toronto to live with relatives. A month after arriving, he learned Nancy was also in Toronto.
“At that point I knew you had to be a gentlemen,” said Howard. “I bought flowers and went to meet the girl who saved my life, I went over and this beautiful lady opens the door.” When he asked Nancy if she remembered him, she replied simply, “I do.” Three years later, she repeated those words and the couple was married.
Nancy and Howard Kleinberg will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary this March, and are calling their marriage “blessed.”
“We came out from this experience and we were blessed with this marriage. Many people turn their backs on relationships feeling that they don’t want to bring children into the world, we appreciate everything, the world is good, life is so beautiful to live, respect and love,” said Howard.
“Thank God we have a very good marriage, he has always treated me like a princess,” said Nancy, adding that her marriage to her husband was due to fate.
“I really wanted to go to Israel, but I was meant to meet this boy,” she said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Lauren del Valle, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN