I started obsessing about the fate of Leon and Elly almost immediately. It was obvious from the letters themselves, addressed first to Elly Garfinkle and later to Elly Rosenberg, that they had married. The box they were in also contained family photos, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, and even report cards that made it clear Leon had survived World War II and come home to become a family man. But what had become of them after that? How had papers from a family in Cleveland, Ohio, ended up in a storage locker in Oakland, California? Why were they abandoned and auctioned off to a flea market vendor? Did the family know the letters existed? Did the family still even exist?
Equipped only with deep curiosity and a few sketchy clues, I decided to track down the Rosenbergs of Cleveland and see if I could return their family papers to them
I expected the search to take months. It was over in days.
Several papers in the box suggested that Leon and Elly’s daughter had been an undergrad at the University of California in Berkeley. I called the university’s alumni office and asked for help finding a former student. Five minutes later, I learned that the university had her married name and current address. Although I couldn’t get that information without permission, I could write a letter and send it to the alumni office in a stamped, sealed envelope. The university would forward it on to her, and she could decide for herself whether she wanted to respond.
Three weeks later, I got a phone call from the daughter. It turned out Elly had died in 1998, presumably never having told anyone that she’d placed a number of things in a storage unit. The very existence of the letters was news to her children — and their survival was news to Leon.
Yes, to my astonished delight, he was still alive. Better yet, he was living just a few miles from me, and he wanted to meet me. And so in February 2003, I walked into a restaurant in Berkeley and returned the love letters to the man who had written them decades before.