FOREST HILLS, Queens (PIX11) — More than three-quarters of a century after it was written, a letter from a Holocaust survivor that let her remaining family know that she was still alive after the war is now in the possession of her family members. How it got to them is a story of perseverance, mystery-solving and kindness.
The letter was written by Ilse Loewenberg in 1945. She was 37 years old at the time, and wrote to let her sister know that she’d survived an incredible ordeal through the war.
In February 1943, Loewenberg was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp from her home in Berlin, Germany. On the way, she jumped out of the fast-moving train transport, and went into hiding. She worked for an underground anti-Nazi group until she was arrested again, in 1944. She was sent to a German prison where she was held, mostly in solitary confinement, until the facility was liberated by the Soviet Army that year.
In 1945, she thanked her liberators in a letter to her sister, Carla, who had fled to England before the war.
“I am able to give you a sign of life from me after so many years,” Loewenberg wrote to her sister.
She then went on to write about their parents, sisters and brother-in-law. Those family members did not survive.
“My pain is unspeakably big. My husband, whom I married three and a half years ago, was also taken from me, ” the letter said.
Somehow, the piece of history got lost; that is, until Chelsey Brown, a New York-based interior designer and antiques collector, found out about the letter through her extensive flea market contacts.
“I had to do what I had to do to get that letter,” Brown told PIX11 News. “It was a process.”
She ended up purchasing it herself, then doing the legwork to figure out where it needed to go. She used a website to trace the family and track them down.
The family is now two generations past Ilse Loewenberg. She ended up moving to Forest Hills, Queens, and remarrying. She never had children, but her new husband’s brother did. The children of Loewenberg’s brother-in-law are her closest surviving relatives.
Brown made it her mission to reach them. Jill Butler is the family’s main contact.
“She thought it was a scam at first,” Brown said. “But then, once I persuaded her that ‘no I’m a real person, and I’m not looking for money, and I just want to send these items to you,’ she was overjoyed.”
Butler issued a statement about the find, after receiving the letter 76 years after it was written.
“My whole family is truly in awe of all you have done for us,” she said. “Almost everyone’s first reaction of ‘Is this a scam?’ quickly transformed into bewilderment at your selfless dedication to reuniting heirlooms with families.
“We all loved our Great-Aunt Ilse,” the statement continued, “and are thrilled beyond words to read her thoughts in her own handwriting after she emerged from the depths of the European inferno.”
After the war, Ilse Loewenberg’s sister, Carla, also ended up moving to Forest Hills, and they enjoyed one another’s company for five decades. Loewenberg passed away, at 92 years old, on Sept. 11, 2001 — not from the terror attacks, but instead, according to her family, she could not stand any more grief.
The family also thanks Brown for what she calls heirloom detective work.
“May you receive many blessings in return for all you do for families like mine,” Butler’s statement concluded.
For her part, Brown said that she is compelled to connect people to their past. She said it “proves that there’s magic” behind the lives of average families.
“This is my soul’s purpose,” Brown said, “and I hope to find more Holocaust documentation and return it back to their rightful families.”