THE first letter written on the Titanic by an excited visitor before the doomed liner left Southampton has surfaced 104 years later.

Paul Danby got off the ill-fated ship after a quick look round, but not before he took the chance to write a letter home on Titanic-headed notepaper.

While he was thankful he was not still on board when the ship struck an iceberg and sank with the loss of 1,522 lives four days later, Mr Danby's good fortune did not last.

As a German living in England at the time of the First World War, he was imprisoned here and kept apart from his wife Rose and young daughter Margaret throughout the conflict.

And being Jewish and living in Holland during the Second World War, he and his family were persecuted by the Germans. He, his wife and mother Clara were rounded up by the SS and sent to a death camp where they were murdered.

His youngest daughter Ellen, who was 21 at the time, was spared execution and ended up in a concentration camp. Margaret also survived the war and became a doctor in Amsterdam.

Ellen and her husband Jan Burka emigrated to Canada after the war and she triumphed over the family tragedy to become a legendary ice skating coach whose daughter, Petra Burka, went on to became a world champion.

The unique one-page Titanic letter written by her father was kept safe in a shoebox in the attic of Margaret's home until her death in 1990.

Ellen, who is now aged 95, now owns it and her children, Petra and Astra, have decided to sell in at auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts, for an estimated £15,000.

The letter, that is in German, was written on April 10, 1912 in Southampton.

On that day, Mr Danby accompanied his uncle Adolphe Saalfeld on board Titanic. Mr Saalfeld was a London-based perfumier and had a first class ticket to travel to New York where he planned to show his wares.

Some visitors with first class passengers were allowed on the ship for a look round during a two hour window before the ship left Southampton.

In his letter to his wife Rose, who he called Goll, in Manchester, Mr Danby wrote: "We are the first who write a letter from the ship, it is wonderfully appointed.

"Uncle has a very large cabin nearly a living room with sofa and an electric ventilator. I will tell you all in detail later. I embrace you and kiss you dearly. Your very loving Paul. Love from Uncle."

Mr Saalfeld was in the smoking lounge at the time Titanic struck the iceberg. He returned to his cabin for his coat and boarded lifeboat three. Although he survived and returned to London, the tragedy haunted him for the rest of his life.

When the wreck of the Titanic was discovered in 1985, the submersible craft searching for artefacts located and recovered Mr Saalfeld's leather satchel containing 65 glass vials of essential oils.

Astra Burka said: "As children, my sister and I were always told about our relative who survived the Titanic. "During WWII, some personal possessions belonging to the Danby family were hidden in a warehouse in Amsterdam. Included was the Titanic letter.

"It was not until Dr Margaret Danby's death in 1990, that the Titanic letter was discovered hidden in a shoebox in Margaret's attic.

"My mother Ellen Burka-Danby remembers visiting 'Uncle Adolphe' who lived in a large house opposite Kew Gardens.

"With her parents, Paul and Rose Danby, my mother remembered visiting and looking for chocolate Easter eggs in Adolphe's garden. It was a very sunny day and the chocolate eggs had melted."

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: "This letter is exceptional for several reasons but principally due to the author writing that it is the first to be sent from on board.

"Paul Danby would have only been on the Titanic for a short period but he managed to find the time to visit his uncle's state room to write the letter on headed-notepaper.

"The letter comes with a photograph of Mr Danby and his wife Rose, who was the recipient of the letter.

"It is a poignant photograph when you think about what was to happen to the in the future.

"After the First World War Paul was given a job as manager of a restaurant in Amsterdam where they were living at the outbreak of the Second World War.

"Their oldest daughter Margaret, who would have been aged in her 30s, was hidden by a Catholic family but her parents, sister and grandmother were captured by the Nazis.

"Ellen was sent to a work camp but the other three were sent to Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, and they were murdered alongside a quarter of a million other victims of the holocaust."

After Ellen's camp in Czechoslovakia was liberated, she walked to Holland then emigrated to Canada.

She became an internationally-renowned figure skating coach and choreiorapher and attended the Winter Olympics seven times.

In 1978 she was given Canada's highest honour and made a Member of the Order of Canada for her work in skating.

Daughter Petra, who is now aged 69, became a world champion figure skater in 1965 and won bronze at the 1964 Olympics at Innsbruck.

The letter is being sold on April 23.