Broughty Ferry couple’s incredible 1944 Auschwitz love story inspires new novel

An incredible love story which saw a Tayside woman rescued from Auschwitz in the Second World War by her soon-to-be husband has inspired a new novel.

John Mackay helped save a group of Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz as they marched with Nazi guards to another concentration camp. Edith “Eci” Mackay was among them and the pair ended up happily married for 71 years, settling in Broughty Ferry in later life. Eci died in 2017 aged 92 and John passed away in 2019 aged 98.

John and Edith Mackay, in 1944. Image: Wullie Marr/HPR.

Historical fiction author Amanda Lees, from Hong Kong, stumbled across the obituary of John and was instantly hooked by the tale. Her novel, The Midwife’s Child, is a blend of historical fact and fiction inspired by the couple’s story and is out with Bookouture on May 16.

New novel inspired by amazing story

Set against the backdrop of the fiercest fighting, The Midwife’s Child centres on Maggie, a midwife and courier for the Resistance. Captured by the Germans and sent off to Auschwitz, she uses her skills to try and help her fellow women prisoners.

But when they’re forced to leave the camp on a death march and walk in the midst of winter to an unknown destination, she must take care of an orphaned baby, all while trying to escape. Eventually, she is rescued by a Scottish soldier on an undercover SAS mission who falls in love with her at first sight.

Lees said: “As I delved more into their story, I especially loved the account of their meeting at a dance held for the residents of the displaced persons camp where Eci was staying.

“Initially John was too shy to ask her to dance and asked a friend to approach her.

“She sent him back insisting he ask her himself, which he did. This is included in Maggie and Jamie’s story.”

How did Eci and John meet and fall in love?

The couple’s real-life story began as the war was finally coming to an end. Eci and her mother had arrived at the holocaust camp in Auschwitz in 1944. They were both captive in the camp for six weeks whilst Nazi Josef Mengele was conducting experiments on inmates.

Mengele was a member of the team of doctors who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers. He was also one of the doctors who administered the gas. Around a million people were killed during the holocaust, including 39 members of Eci’s immediate family.

Auschwitz. Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

However, Eci and her mother were among the few who managed to survive by being asked to work. Little did John know his future wife, a beautiful young Hungarian girl by the name of Eci Steiner, was among the column of prisoners he saved while they were being marched to Bergen Belsen.

Following the heroic rescue, Eci and her mother took up residence in a displaced persons’ facility. And later the troops organised a dance at a village hall where Eci caught the eye of John, who was a Commando.

After the effects of the war, Eci was now stateless and had no passport. However, the couple overcame every obstacle that came their way.

The couple’s relationship quickly blossomed and they married after the war in 1946. Having settled in Scotland, they welcomed two children to the world, Peter and Sharon.

The Mackay family. Image: Wullie Marr/HPR.

John, who was born in Glasgow and raised in Brighton, later built a successful career as a hotelier in Scotland.

Mackay’s father had bought the Atholl Arms Hotel at Blair Atholl, which the couple managed for 30 years. In retirement he became a Conservative councillor.

In 2000 he was made an MBE for services to the town.

They moved to Broughty Ferry in 1997 and spent their last years at Balcarres Care Home where they lived until their deaths two years apart.


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