Saturday, November 22, 2014 Heshvan 29, 5775

The World's Oldest Married Couple, Recognized at Last for Longevity

July 28, 2005 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
Posted In 
Comment0
Enlarge Image »
Herbert Brown, 105, with wife Magda, 100, after being confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest living couple
Magda Brown is 100, and at her age, a normal day is pretty light: visits from her daughter, watching some television and spending time with her husband, Herbert, who is 105.

But over the course of several days recently, she found herself posing in front of photographers and TV cameras, and answering question after question about her long life.

All the normalcy she once knew has been suddenly transformed now that the Guinness Book of Records has confirmed that the Browns are the oldest living married couple in the world. As of June 9, when the record officially took effect, the Browns had collectively aged 205 years and 293 days, respectively.

Philadelphians long suspected that the local pair were world-record material - Mayor John Street even honored them at a luncheon in May, as reported in the Jewish Exponent - but national media attention descended on the Browns following the announcement by Guinness.

"I am a celebrity," said Magda Brown, who enunciated each word in a thick Austrian accent. She then admitted: "It's a little bit too much already. I'm looking forward to settling down."

But all the hoopla pales in comparison to what the Browns endured back in war-torn Europe more than 60 years ago. Together, they withstood the Nazi onslaught, which came about in 1939 in their small Austrian town of Hermagor, where German forces began arresting Jews.

Herbert Brown, who owned two successful retail clothing stores, was apparently so well-respected in that region that his arresting officer took him into custody only at the threat of losing his job.

"He was a very beloved man," said Magda of her husband.

He was taken to Dachau, but freed after the family sold their belongings and turned their entire life savings over to the Nazis.

"Money talks," declared Magda. "I sold all my furniture - every piece."

Her husband was then sent to the Kitchener Camp, a facility for Jewish refugees in England. Magda and the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Trudie, arrived in Britain shortly thereafter, on Aug. 28, 1939.

"We came three days before the war, [on] Thursday night," said Trudie Solarz, the couple's daughter. "Sunday morning, the sirens blew, and war had started. At that time, we wouldn't have been able to get out anymore."

England was not exactly a refuge for the Browns. With Herbert in a holding camp, Magda was taken in as a companion to a wealthy woman while young Trudie lived with another family on a farm.

"All three of us were separated," explained Magda. "I hardly spoke English. I had a very hard time in the beginning."

'A Very Close Call'
After nearly a year, the family was brought back together again - ready for their scheduled boat ride to America.

"Two days before, my father got a call that there was a ship leaving 24 hours earlier than the one we were supposed to be on," recalled Solarz. "The ship had two planes flying overhead and ships all around; we were a convoy of ships because, of course, it was dangerous to cross the ocean."

With the added protection, leaving Europe one day early proved to be the right move for the Browns.

"We found out later when we were here [in the United States] that the ship we were supposed to have been on was torpedoed, and nobody was saved," said Solarz. "We had a very close call."

After a brief stay in New York, the family settled at Fifth and Spruce streets in Philadelphia. Magda worked as a seamstress; Herbert sewed shoulder seams on tuxedos.

"In my life, I never had a thread and needle in my hand," said Magda, who back in Austria had a maid for herself, as well as a nursemaid for her daughter.

The couple eventually got used to their new jobs, and after several years scraped together enough to buy a house in West Oak Lane. Referring to the purchasing of her home, Magda said she finally felt like she was "in seventh heaven."

Today, the Browns - 74 years into their marriage - have two grandchildren and six great-grandsons.

"We have a happy marriage; we never fight," revealed Magda. "We have discussions, but we never fight."

"Memory has been kind to her," Trudie interjected with a laugh. "Why don't you say that your discussions always ended with your winning?"

Sharing in the moment, Magda agreed: "Well, I was the stronger one."

Comments on this Article

Advertisement