Romeo and Juliet. Helen and Paris. Tristan and Isolde. There are love stories, and then there are incredible tales of love that blossoms in the most incredible scenarios of distress, like a desert rose refusing to be entrapped by adverse circumstance, patiently and warmly unfurling to the sun.
The story of Sigi and Hanka Siegriech is one of these stories.
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The Siegrieches met and fell in love in one of the most impossible situations imaginable: a Nazi concentration camp. While both are over age ninety now, they are still in love and over the moon for each other to this day, seventy plus years later.
Merely teens during one of the biggest and most complex, violent events in human history, Sigi and Hanka spotted each other while captive in German labor camp in occupied in occupied Czestochowa. Each remembers the moment crystal clear.
The year was 1944, the day: New Year’s Eve.
Sigi’s description of describing his soulmate is impassioned and touching. He said of the moment he saw the young Hanka:
“I lost my mind. When I saw her, the whole world was turning around me. I saw a pair of beautiful eyes, and I heard bells ringing.”
It surprised Sigi. How could he even think about love in a place like this, at a time like this? After all, he admits with the strength and brevity of one who’s seen far too much, “I had no interest in girls… I was a skeleton.”
Yet the Polish teen was transfixed.
“There was a pair of beautiful eyes looking at me, with a smile like I never saw in my life.”
Who knows where courage comes from? Who knows why we are given great opportunities? Sigi didn’t, but didn’t let that stop him. He pushed aside any doubts and approached the jewel-like eyes. It was gentle, innocent, and kind: they shared a simple conversation. But this left an impression on both.
Before the end of the night, he’d done what he’d never unexpected: he gave this mystery girl a kiss on the cheek.
Touching her face today as she told her side of the stor, 71 years later, Hanka was still entranced. She couldn’t forget that moment, saying simply, quietly, “I remember the first kiss.” She touched her face while saying this, echoing what she had done, 71 years prior. She had done it the first time because she wanted to hold onto it forever.
His biggest charm to her is no shock to those who have even read of the terrors of the age: “He was very gentle.”
While he was gentle to his love, he was a fighter as well.
Sigi made bullets. At least, he was supposed to. He spent his required activity sabotaging the Nazis, making his supply of bullets purposefully too small for their gun barrels to use properly. Officers of the Gestapo found out of his deception and came looking for the heroic teen. Sigi, running for his life, hid in a construction site. He put all his trust in new love Hanka, who in turn would save his life.
Hanka snuck to see Sigi in the night and brought necessities: smuggled pieces of her bread ration and a blanket she made just for him so he could withstand the below 15 degree chill as he tried to formulate his next move.
Then, on her second visit, a mere 18 days after the pair had met, she appeared again with the best of all possible news: the camp was liberated. The beautiful words escaped her throat: “They’re gone. We are free.”
The young couple, who had lived at the edge of desperation and survived through the hope of each other wasted no time. They were married the following day.
Today, they have one daughter, Evelyne, and while only a few of their classmates survived the horrific Holocaust events, they have lived to the golden ages of 91 and 93.
The couple, who cannot imagine being apart after all this time, already have their gravestones planned, side by side.
Hanka and Sigi.
It’s an impossible adventure, an incredible tale, and it proves love truly does conquer all.
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