NEW YORK — Murray and Esther Redlitz fell for each other in the worst of circumstances.
The two Holocaust survivors met in Poland while trying to find missing family members after the Russian Army freed their concentration camps at the end of World War II.
"We didn't have nobody," says Esther, 85, recalling how Murray was her one constant as they made their way through Poland and Czechoslovakia before coming to the United States.
"He has a wonderful personality, he's always on the bright side," she said, holding her husband's hand. "I'm the pessimist, he's the optimist."
The couple, married 66 years, will celebrate their commitment to one another Thursday with 300 other couples at a Valentine's Day champagne party in Brooklyn that's become an annual celebration of enduring love. But everyone attending the event at the country club is part of a select group: All of them have been married at least half a century.
"The love we have for each other will be here till the day we die," said Murray, 86, who owned an emblem printing business in Manhattan and ran it with his wife for 26 years.
"To me it's the ultimate love story," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has organized the Valentine's Day party for the last 11 years. "In these days of high divorce rates, this shows that true love, commitment, communication and all that can make for a life-long marriage. That's what they've proven against the odds."
Markowitz and his wife, married a mere 13 years, will renew their vows Thursday and then he will make a ceremonial proclamation to the graying veterans of love.
"I say, 'I hereby declare you married forever.' Everyone kisses if they're able to and that's it."
David Shamrakov and his wife Faina will be there to celebrate their marriage of 58 years.
David, 82, said he hasn't forgotten the first time he saw the woman he would marry.
They were both young medical students in their native Ukraine. He spotted her from across their biology class and knew in an instant he had to introduce himself.
"Her eyes were like diamonds," he recalled.
"This man was very, very smart — and handsome," added his 83-year-old wife.
The Shamrakovs credit their mutual taste for the medical profession, music, reading and theater with keeping their bond strong decade after decade.
"I don't know what the secret is but when I met her for the first time, she was so nice I fell in love with her," said Shamrakov, who came to the U.S. with his wife in 1993. "I respect her. I know I can't do something if I know she's not going to respect it."
The borough's longest lasting love pair may be Fortunato and Maddalena Corso, who tied the knot in Italy as teenagers 72 years ago.
"I liked her and so I got married," says Fortunato, 89, a retired construction worker who still speaks Italian with his wife, who doesn't speak any English. "You've got to love each other and you've got to work at it together."
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Their daughter Madeline, one of the couple's seven children, lives with her parents in their Bensonhurst home. She said for years her mother has done everything for her father — cooking dinner, maintaining the home and even washing his shoulders in the bath.
"My family, we tease them, we say, 'Ma, you're married 70 years, if you get divorced you get more than half," said the daughter. "She tells everybody, 'Listen, you make sure you love them and you respect them, that's your best friend.'"