Inge Elsas, teacher and community volunteer
INGE FRIEDLANDER ELSAS, the oldest surviving New Orleans area Holocaust survivor, a religious school teacher, social worker, nurse and community volunteer died at her home on April 25, Yom Hazikaron. She was 96. Accompanied by her youngest son Byron, Elsas was seen by hundreds only a few nights earlier at the JCC Yom Ha’Shoah Community Event, leading the line of survivors, each bearing a memorial candle.
A Temple Sinai Religious School instructor, Elsas was a very independent woman who volunteered for a number of community organizations including Touro Infirmary, the JCC, Jewish Federation, the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, Woldenberg Village, the Council on Aging, Uptown Shepherd Center, Citizens for Quality Nursing Homes, Poydras Home Auxillary, Temple Sinai Sisterhood, AARP and Citizens for Quality Nursing Homes.
Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1915, Elsas could sense the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Austria, where she lived with her family following the rise of the Nazis. A brilliant student, she wrote to a Switzerland nursing academy in 1933 begging for admission. Despite the fact she was only 17 (and below the minimum required age of 18), she was accepted and thus escaped the horrors of the Holocaust as a nurse living abroad. She only saw her mother once more, while still a teenager and through a fenced border. Once she became a nurse, she traveled to other locations in Europe and South America acting as a governess for the children of very wealthy and diplomatic families. She also formally studied to become a social worker. She lived in Great Britain during the outset of World War II and emigrated to work in Washington, D.C. at the start of hostilties as a governess for a diplomatic family stationed there. Because of her advocacy for children, Elsas was recruited in 1940 to be the supervisor of girls at the Jewish Children’s Home in New Orleans by then-executive director Harry Ginsburg. It was while working there that she met her future husband, Henry B. Elsas.
Elsas worked tirelessly as a community volunteer in and outside of the Jewish community. Her tenure at Temple Sinai Religious School numbered at 35 years, but her advocacy for Jewish children at risk and special needs children was well known in other circles as well, especially the Travelers Aid Society. Following the death of her husband in 1997, she continued to live in her home alone and oftentimes traveled to the nearby JCC to participate in programs for the elderly and calesthetics.
Aside Byron, Elsas is survived by her daughter Miriam (James) Cramdall of Drummond, Wisconsin and an older son Lloyd, three grandchildren and one great-grandson. A graveside service written by Elsas was carried out according to her wishes near sundown on May 1 at Hebrew Rest Cemetery No. 3 and conducted by Rabbi Ed Paul Cohn with assistance by Cantor Joel Colman. Donations to Temple Sinai, Jewish Children’s Regional Bureau or the charity of your choice are suggested.