Judith Isaacson, an Auschwitz survivor from Auburn, waited four decades for information about her family and friends killed in the Holocaust.

Here are 27 names. Please send anything you can find.

For decades, this was Judith Isaacson’s repeated plea, in letter after letter to the Red Cross and other agencies with access to Holocaust records. The names were of her father, uncles, relatives and friends, all victims of the Nazi genocide Isaacson survived by the slimmest of chances.

“I submitted 27 names and whatever information I had about some of them,” she says. “For close family members, I had everything and anything they could possibly want. Even my best friends, I had the year they were born, and so on. I heard nothing.”

Forty years would pass before she received an answer.

In 1993, a package arrived at the Red Cross office in Auburn, the town where Isaacson lives. Inside were scraps of answers to her questions – names, dates of birth, hometowns, and date and place of death – and then only about the men she inquired about, specifically her father and uncles.

Information on the females, friends and family members remain a mystery.

“My family lost men, basically. And two grandmothers and one aunt I asked about, and they didn’t reply, but I knew they were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz,” she says. “But nothing on my girlfriends, who were ages 17 to 20. No explanation, no excuses. Just nothing came on the women.”

“I did not want to give up, so I wrote to them that a lot of young women were taken to the Russian front, where they were raped and killed,” she adds. “They just didn’t answer.”

This month, the International Committee of the Red Cross is unsealing a 50-million-page archive of Holocaust documents contained in a six-building campus in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The Red Cross has kept the archive closed from public scrutiny for 50 years, out of respect for victim confidentiality.

Survivors like Isaacson, who have requested files from the administration that manages the archive – the International Tracing Service – have only been provided the barest details, according to the Associated Press, which has exclusive access to the 16 miles of archival documents.

Inside these pages could be the information Isaacson, 81, has wondered about for a half-century.

The fate of the females, especially her childhood playmates from her hometown of Kaposvar, Hungary, still tugs at her today. Chief among them is Ilona Pogany, the daughter of her mother’s best friend. “My favorite girlfriend since the time I can remember anything,” she says, recalling her friend. “She was blond, with blue-green eyes. And pretty.”

Twenty-year-old Ilona and her 17-year-old sister, Eva, died in Auschwitz in July 1944. This is all Isaacson knows. “Ilona was killed, we don’t know how or why,” she says. “She might have been gassed because, some people say, she and her sister caught scarlet fever.”

Isaacson was different, because she was immune after contracting scarlet fever as a child. “I escaped that by chance,” she says. “It’s one of the at least a hundred chances that I just happened to escape sure death.”

Yet the investigation into Ilona’s death is more than simply honoring a friend. Ilona has appeared in Isaacson’s dreams as a welcoming vision, and reminder their fates, absent those chances that saved her, could have intertwined.

Searching for Ilona, Isaacson says, is also an investigation into herself.

“In general, I (also) want to know what could have happened to me,” she said. “If you knew that you escaped by just a hair, wouldn’t you want to know why?

Most information Isaacson received from the Red Cross and elsewhere about her family and friends came after she began writing “Seed of Sarah,” her acclaimed Holocaust memoir. Until then, thoughts about her friends were, like Bad Arolsen files, securely locked away.

“By the time I started to write, it was all repressed. I was a happy wife, happy mother of three children, a new American,” she says. “I didn’t have nightmares, only very rarely.”

Isaacson has not been shy about her Holocaust memories. “Seed of Sarah” has been translated into her native Hungarian, and documentary filmmakers followed Isaacson on a later-life trip back to Auschwitz. She’s speaks frankly about her memories, despite the darkness they dredge.

“When I was writing, I had more nightmares,” she says. “And I’ve written some of them down; I’m planning a sequel to ‘Seed of Sarah,’ and one of those nightmares is part of the sequel.”

Perhaps, for this sequel, the archive in Bad Arolsen will reveal the information that’s eluded her, as everyone who asks her about the Holocaust wants to know about her time in the camps. Her lifelong search for answers, she says, is something “nobody has ever asked me about.”

“What happened to my family is most important,” she says.


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