Katie Altenberg (born Katerina Engel) is the daughter of Ludwig Engel (b. 2/29/1900) and Greta Stoessler Engel (b. 11/29/1905). Katie was born in Vienna on October 13, 1936 and her younger brother Adolph (Adi) was born the following year. The family resided on an estate called Edmunshopf in the Austrian state of Burgenland bordering Hungary. Her father,an agronomist, leased land from the Holy Cross Order and raised cattle, sugar beets and fruit. Her mother, who grew up in an affluent family in Vienna, had reluctantly moved to the countryside. Greta's father, Gustav Stoessler, had served as the commercial advisor to the Emperor and had headed the dairy division.
Shortly after the annexation of Austria, the Gestapo arrested Katie's father. Her mother, using both perseverance and a lot of money, succeeded in obtaining his release from prison. However, Ludwig had to leave the country immediately. One of his workers brought him by hay wagon to Hungary where his family lived. A short time later, Greta and their two children joined Ludwig the estate of his older half-brother Vilmos. Ludwig worked with Vilmos on the estate for several years. As antisemitism worsened, the family tried to become invisible in the village but to no avail. One night, two members of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Gestapo) arrested them and took them to the national prison in Budapest. Eventually they were transferred to the Kistarcsa concentration camp outside Budapest. One day camp officials announced that young children who had relatives in Budapest could be sent to them, so the children were sent to their aunt Manci. With the children safely in Budapest, Katie's mother volunteered for a labor camp, in an attempt to receive more food. Some time later, she became sick. and by the winter of 1944 was hospitalized in Budapest. There she was protected by the hospital director, who she had known before the war.
While staying with her aunt in Budapest, Katie caught chicken pox and the mumps, and was sent to the hospital. Their father had arranged for the two children to go on a Kindertransport to Palestine, but Katie was too ill to go. Her aunt decided that if Katie could not go, her brother could not go either. She exposed him to Katie's illness, and he ended up in the hospital as well (possibly the Jewish Pediatric Hospital). From the hospital, the children were marched into the Budapest ghetto, which had opened in mid-1944. Katie's father, who had alternated between escaping Kistarcsa and being rearrested, commandeered them out of the ghetto and took them back to momentary safety at their aunt Manci's apartment. Her building was one of Raoul Wallenberg's "protected houses, and her sixth floor apartment overlooking St. Steven's Park eventually provided a crowded shelter for about 60 Jews. Katie recalls that air raids happened two or three times daily, obliging them to traverse seven flights of stairs to the basement and back each time. At one point, they decided not to go. That time, a bomb fell on the air shaft, killing everyone who had gone to the basement.
By the fall of 1944 the protection of the apartment was no longer helpful, and Katie, her father, brother, and aunt gathered in St. Steven's Park. Her father had managed to procure a push cart, which they loaded up with suitcases filled with legumes. Their aunt took a pot, a hotplate, and a coffee grinder.
After the Russians liberated Budapest in 1945, Katie and her family returned to her aunt's apartment. Her father immediately started searching for her mother, who they thought had been in a labor camp. Finally, in June the two ran into each other on a bridge, each traveling the opposite direction from the other. Her mother was being carried by two women and had lost so much weight that Katie's father was only able to recognize her by her voice. She spent the next three months in bed, recovering from typhus and cholera. When she was well enough, the family returned to the estate of Ludwig's half-brother, Vilmos, in Slovakia. They were joined by their cousin Victor, whose immediate family had all perished during the war. Even after the war's end, the family still suffered torments. The Soviet army bivouacked on the estate, and stole Katie's mother's watch. The local villagers had taken over the estate in the family's absence and resented their return, so tried to burn them out by torching haystacks. The house and church were not burned down, but villager's thatch roofs were damaged.
After these events, Ludwig decided to leave Moravia. Though HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society), the Engels were able to immigrate to the United States on an agricultural visa in November 1948. After a rough voyage across the Atlantic, they arrived in New York, where they were met by their aunt Erna. Some time later, Katie's father purchased a farm in New Berlin, New York, which he maintained for almost twenty years. Though Katie's immediate family survived, many members of her large extended family perished, including her maternal grandfather Gustav Stoessler, three of her mother's older sisters (Vali Lerner, Emma Adler, and Frieda Reiner), her father's half-brother Vilmos, and Vilmos' brother-in-law Jula Hertz.