75-year-old post-Holocaust letter detailing family's death found at NY flea market

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A letter written more than 75 years ago at the end of the Holocaust has resurfaced at a New York flea market and been returned to a family descendant.

Ilse Loewenberg jumped out of a moving train to the Auschwitz concentration camp and escaped to Berlin for nine months, but she was recaptured and taken to a prison in Berlin.

She lost her mother, father, two sisters and a husband, but despite all the odds, she survived the Holocaust and moved to New York, where she remarried and started a new life.

RELATED | World remembers Holocaust as antisemitism rises in pandemic
EMBED More News Videos

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2005 establishing the annual commemoration, and chose Jan. 27 - the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.

Chelsey Brown, 28, is an interior designer and heirloom detective, and her interesting hobby has been getting a lot of interest lately.

She scours thrift stores and antique fairs and flea markets in New York City and returns items to family descendants, and she recently found a letter sent from Berlin in 1945 addressed from Ilse to her sister Carla -- her only family member to also survive the Holocaust.

"Unfortunately, these Holocaust documents, mementos, artifacts, they are sold either underground or at auction for really high prices," Brown said. "Even though I couldn't understand the translation because it was written in German; I can't speak German, she signed her name 'Ilse,' so I knew this was written by her."

The letter informed Carla of some harrowing news.

"Through the kindness of our liberators, I am able to give you a sign of life from me after so many years," she wrote in the letter, dated July 18, 1945. "Dad, Mom, Grete, Lottchen and Hermann: no one is alive anymore. My pain is unspeakably big. My husband, whom I married 3.5 years ago, was also taken from me!...When there will be a regular mail connection, I will tell you everything in detail."

Brown discovered that Carla and her husband Siegfried never had children, but Seigfried's brother, Ludwig, did.

Jill Butler, Ludwig's granddaughter, was extremely close with Loewenberg, and thanks to historical records Brown managed to find using the global family history platform MyHeritage.com, she was able to reach out to Butler -- who lives in Passaic, New Jersey -- and return the letter.

"I'll be honest, I'm not so up on Facebook messenger, and I saw this and was like, 'What is this?'" Butler said.

Butler said she was skeptical at first but then realized that Brown only wanted to return a family memento.

"The fact that it's in her writing and that she's letting them know that their family is gone, if you put yourself back what it was like in the post-war period and the mayhem, and nobody knew if anyone was still alive or not, it really, really is touching," Butler said. "She was an absolutely brilliant woman."

ALSO READ | Long Island police officer reunites with mom, baby he helped deliver
EMBED More News Videos

A mother and her new son reunited with a Suffolk County officer who helped deliver and save the baby born on Christmas Eve. Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager has the latest.

Butler grew up with Ilse and Carla, who were like grandmothers to her, and the letter keeps their memories alive, not just for Butler's family, but for Brown.

"Now every time I do a return, I think of her and I think of her incredible story," she said. "Ilse really is the proven definition of doing good in a world that isn't so kind."

After the war, Carla and Ilse reunited in New York, where they spent the rest of their lives. Sadly, Ilse passed away on 9/11, unrelated to the terrorist attack. Her close friends believe it was because she couldn't possibly witness any more tragedy.

"My whole family is truly in awe of all you have done for us," Butler said. "We all loved our Great-Aunt Ilse and are thrilled beyond words to read her thoughts in her own handwriting after she emerged from the depths of the European inferno. May God bless your noble work and may you receive many blessings in return for all you do for families like mine."

* Get Eyewitness News Delivered
* More New York City news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip
Copyright © 2022 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.