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NY woman helps reunite families with lost memorabilia. Her latest mission involved a handwritten letter from the Holocaust

<i>Courtesy Dr. Jill Butler</i><br/>Carla
Courtesy Dr. Jill Butler

By Sara Smart, CNN

On July 18, 1945, Ilse Loewenberg wrote a letter to her sister, Carla, after surviving as a Jewish woman during the Holocaust.

“I am able to give you a sign of life from me after so many years,” part of the letter — originally in German — reads. “Dad, Mom, Grete, Lottchen and Hermann: no one is alive anymore.”

Seven decades later, that letter has been returned to a family descendant after resurfacing at a flea market in New York.

Chelsey Brown, 28, an author and heirloom investigator, purchased the letter in October 2021 from a vendor with the intent of finding Loewenberg’s family, she told CNN on Monday.

As a part-time interior decorator, Brown often finds herself at thrift shops and flea markets full of old family relics.

“It would break my heart every time I passed a box of family heirlooms because with the background I have, I know those items should be with their rightful families.”

The letter was written in German, so Brown got some help from her Instagram followers to translate it.

Though it wasn’t Brown’s first time reconnecting families with long-lost memorabilia, getting the letter to Loewenberg’s family was a little trickier than past items, she said.

Holocaust memorabilia can be resold for hundreds or thousands of dollars. “These items should go back to their rightful families,” Brown said. “We should not be profiting off these families.”

Brown was able to obtain the letter, birth certificate and another descriptive document from a vendor she frequents. She wishes not to disclose the amount she paid.

After days of researching, Brown was able to get in contact with Loewenberg’s great niece, Jill Butler. She gave Butler the documents a few days before Thanksgiving.

Loewenberg fought for her life during the Holocaust years, Brown learned.

She jumped from a moving train bound for Auschwitz, hid in Berlin for nine months and lost her entire family during that time, according to records later written by her sister.

Those documents note that their two other sisters and mother died in Auschwitz. Their father died of starvation in camp, and Loewenberg’s husband was shot by the Gestapo.

Loewenberg’s family is among the 6 million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust — one-third of the world’s Jewish population at the time.

Carla and Ilse Loewenberg were the only two survivors of their family. Loewenberg eventually moved to New York and died on 9/11, unrelated to the terrorist attacks.

Butler told CNN in a written statement that her family was in awe of receiving the letter and at first, they thought it was a scam.

“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,” Butler said.

Brown says she learned so much about the pair’s relationship. Butler told her they were very close and even traveled to Germany together.

Brown was able to make that connection even stronger through her find.

“From the documents that I had, I was able to tell Jill more than she knew of Ilse’s experience,” Brown said.

A woman’s mission

Brown has been purchasing old family relics since July 2021. She’s stopped keeping track of how many items she has returned to families, but said that three months after she began, the total was well over 200.

With a genealogist father, Brown knew how important reuniting families with these items could be. She uses the site to help with her research in tracking down family members.

Brown said she doesn’t make an income with this hobby, but practices it full time.

Her favorite pieces to find are old love letters because sometimes she returns them to people who weren’t even expecting them.

Ilse’s letter to Carla is now one of her favorites.

“My goal is that I want to get as many of these Holocaust documents off the market and get them back to their rightful families.” Brown said.

January 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, as it marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The United Nations enacted this day and it has been commemorated since 2005, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

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