Jewish family’s wartime tale

Fran Elson with her sister Sonia and the book Escape to Auschwitz.
Fran Elson with her sister Sonia and the book Escape to Auschwitz.

North Northumberland may seem removed from the Holocaust, but the experiences of a Rothbury woman’s ancestors are the subject of a new book.

In February, the Gazette reported that the dress worn by Linda Milburn, from Coquetdale Amateur Dramatics Society, during a performance of The Sound of Music, was the very same that Fran Elson’s mother wore.

Ilse Frankenbusch had it on when, in 1938, she fled over the Alps into Switzerland, then to Holland to be reunited with her sister Anita, who lived there, and eventually on to England where she settled.

Now, Fran’s sister Sonia Waterfall has used a collection of letters written by their mother and grandmother for a book entitled Escape to Auschwitz.

Fran said: “It tells the story of three generations of women, my mother Ilse, her mother Hulda and her grandmother Gisella.

“The story, told through letters written to each other tell of the hope, fears, true love, laughter and loss of those three women torn apart by the Nazis’ hatred of all things Jewish.

“This story only came to light in 2004 when my father died (my mum died 10 years earlier). My brother John and I found a cache of over 250 letters, documents and papers that my mother must have collected and saved up.”

Fran explained that up to that point she and her siblings didn’t really know much of their mother’s background.

“All we knew was that she was born in Czechoslovakia, grew up in Vienna and had to escape the war by travelling overland to Holland,” she said. “We never questioned any more than that.”

Due to the outbreak of war in Europe and the fact that they were Jewish, all three women ended up in different countries.

“The letters, mostly written between Ilse and Hulda, told of the never-ending struggles Hulda had to go through simply to survive, but what comes through is the over-riding hope for the future when the three women would be re-united,” Fran added.