Survivor Profiles: Eleanor (Ellie) Merar
One is not alone; you can’t be indifferent to other people, can’t be indifferent to your family, you can’t be indifferent to anyone. You have to realize that we’re all in this as a human family ,so we have to be there for each other.
Eleanor (Ellie) Merar
Eleanor (Ellie) Merar (nee Loeb) was born in 1926 in Lauterechen, Germany. Her father, Albert Loeb, was a cattle dealer and owned a cigar shop in their small town, which the family lived above. Eleanor’s mother was strictly Orthodox and kept an observant home. The Loeb family was the only young Jewish family in their town, and Eleanor and her sister were the only Jewish children. There was no synagogue in town, and this led to a private practice of Judaism within the family. They prayed and celebrated all Jewish holidays in their home.
Ellie remembers a fairly quiet, uneventful life until 1935 when she reached the third grade. She recalls: “a new teacher came in who was a Nazi, who came in with a doctrine of how one handles Jewish children, how one talks about the Jews with his preconceived notions.” She began to be treated differently in the classroom, which caused her non-Jewish friends to stop associating with her. Several times, Ellie’s classmates threw rocks at her as she walked home from school. She remembers returning home from school everyday: “I came home every night crying. I can’t go to school anymore, they don’t call on me. They call me dumb, they call me ‘stupid Jew’.” While Ellie was being treated unfairly at school, her father’s business also began to suffer. The Nazis placed a soldier outside of his store to deter people from entering.
Ellie’s parents decided to send her to live with her aunt in France and go to school there. She spoke no French and remembers not knowing anything that was going on within the classroom, so she learned close to nothing during her time in France. Although Ellie felt fairly safe in France, she missed her family dearly. After six months, her aunt and uncle had a feeling that something bad was going to happen in their region of France. They felt they could not be responsible for a child who was not theirs, so Ellie’s aunt and uncle sent her back to Germany. She was in the fifth grade. She recalls: “By then things got even more intense, much more intense. It was total isolation, no one wanted to be part of my life anymore. No one wanted to be with me and I just sort of was left alone.”
Eventually, it became impossible for Ellie’s father to keep his store open, and the family had to decide among three options: 1) Send Ellie and her sister to Britain on the Kindertransport, 2) Move to Palestine, 3) Move to the United States. The family decided to write to Ellie’s aunt in Terre Haute, Indiana, and ask her to sponsor their family to come to the United States. After months of waiting, her aunt agreed.
When their shipped arrived in New York in July 1937, Ellie’s uncle, who was supposed to meet them, did not show up and the family was not allowed to disembark until they had someone to vouch for them. He finally showed up the next morning, and they all boarded a train to Terre Haute. As soon as they arrived, Ellie felt incredibly welcomed by the whole family. Her aunt told Ellie and her sister to speak English all the time. They learned English at school and by reading. Ellie recalls: “I read a lot. I listened to the radio a lot. To learn English, I spent time with other children a lot, who were English-speaking children.”
Ellie’s father found work as a Shamas at a local synagogue, and her mother sold baked goods. Her father eventually had to move to Cleveland, Ohio, to take a job in a mattress factory. This job did not last long – Ellie’s father quickly took another job in Chicago and sent for the family several months later. They moved to Chicago in 1942, and a few years later, the family opened a grocery store/deli in Rogers Park.
Ellie attended Wright Junior College and then got a degree in education from Roosevelt University. She taught in Forest Park and Chicago before raising her family with her husband Sam. She has 1 son, 2 daughters, and 5 grandchildren.
Learn More:Stories of Survival Stories of Survival at Navy Pier Visit with Ida Crown Jewish Academy United Hebrew Congregation
Photo credits: John Pregulman