Ruth Ellen Nassberg (née Goldberg) passed away on April 13th, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was 92, a Holocaust survivor and one of the very few to have survived Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps.
Ellen, as she was called by family and friends, was born on February 14, 1929 in Cologne, Germany, to Arieh and Leah Goldberg. She had two older sisters, Miriam and Margot.
At the age of nine, following Kristallnacht, the family escaped from Germany, with tickets in hand and the intention of boarding a ship to the U.S. Travelling through the Netherlands, they were prevented from boarding, and took refuge in Amsterdam. They lived there for a short period, and Ruth Ellen attended the same Montessori school as Anne Frank. Later they were interned at Westerbork Transit camp where they lived for four years. In 1944 the family was transferred to Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp where they worked forced labor for nine months. At the end of 1944 Ruth Ellen, her sisters and mother were transported to Auschwitz/Birkenau, where her quick-thinking sisters were able to disguise her young age, thus saving her life. Her beloved mother Leah was murdered upon arrival. Ruth Ellen was 15 years old and this tragedy haunted her for the rest of her life.
In the waning months of the war the three sisters were moved to the Oederan camp, where they were put to forced work producing munitions. Ellen quickly learned how to sabotage the bullets she helped to manufacture, ensuring they couldn’t be fired. The nightmare finally ended on April 14th, 1945, when the camp was evacuated in the face of the advancing Soviet Army, soon followed by the surrender of the Nazis and the end of the war.
Ruth Ellen and her sisters reunited with their father in Amsterdam and lived there immediately after the war. Her father soon married a widowed Dutch Holocaust survivor, whose daughter was saved from death by a family that hid her through the war. Thus a stepmother and fourth daughter entered the family, establishing a Dutch branch of the family tree. That bond continues with the next generation to this day.
In July 1947 Ruth Ellen, alone, boarded the ma’apilim (blockade runner) boat the Akbel/Biria, and after a perilous voyage arrived in Haifa, in then British Palestine. The ship was intercepted, and its passengers held in the Atlit Detainee Camp. Shortly thereafter she was released and joined the Ben-Shemen Youth Village, in central Israel, where she had her first taste of freedom, sunshine, happiness, and Israeli chavruta (kinship). Here she was able to complete her basic education, interrupted by so many years of tragedy. Ben-Shemen would remain her reference for all that is good for the rest of her life.
Ruth Ellen served in the Israeli navy, during 1949-1951 and was proud to help defend her new homeland.
In 1952 Ruth Ellen met Jack (Yaakov) Nassberg, also a Holocaust survivor, while he was visiting in Haifa from New York. They were married in 1953 in Haifa, and shortly thereafter Ruth Ellen joined Jack in New York. They owned ladies’ wear stores in Queens, New York, expanding on a business started by Jack’s brother, Max and his wife, Rae. Called Macrae’s, Ellen was then destined to be known as Mrs Macrae for all the years the business existed. Ruth Ellen was talented in outfitting customers in the latest fashions, although she could hardly speak English in her early years in the US. Her charisma, charm and beauty substituted any necessary words. She later worked in the Saks 5th Avenue Bridal Department, where she quickly learned English and the art of sales. With her first paychecks she bought a small refrigerator for her father in Israel, the first in his neighborhood to own one.
Although the Holocaust halted her formal education in 7th grade, Ellen gained knowledge through voracious reading and learning from others. An intelligent and curious person, she mastered four languages in which she was fluent: German, English, Hebrew and Dutch.
In 1958 her son Barry David was born, and in 1960 her daughter Michèle Lee was born. Lee, in memory of Leah, her dear mother.
In 1970 Ruth Ellen and family moved to Israel and lived in Haifa for a time. Haifa would remain the home of her heart and soul, even after she returned to the U.S.
Over the years three grandchildren came: Ben-Ari, Maya Tani and Victoria Ellen. They were the love of her life; everyone else faded in comparison.
Ruth Ellen’s special talent was her famous apple pie, made with decadently delicious German streusel topping. Scrabble was her game of choice, CNN her form of entertainment, and Sanjay Gupta her health guru. She had the posture of a ballerina, till her final day.
Ruth Ellen loved to travel and instilled the travel bug in her children. Naturally, her three grandchildren received the passion through their genes.
In 2004, after Jack had a devastating stroke, they moved to Indianapolis to be near their daughter Michele and husband, Gadi, who both lovingly cared for Jack and Ruth Ellen during their last years.
Ruth Ellen moved into Marquette assisted living where she lived out her days, regaling staff with her life stories.
She is survived by her children, Barry (Nancy) and Michele (Gadi); and her grandchildren, Ben-Ari, Maya Tani, and Victoria Ellen.
The family will sit Shiva in private due to COVID safety, therefore phone calls are requested in lieu of in-person visits. Please use 317-257-3487 when calling.
Friends and family are welcome to leave a memory or message of condolence at www.arnmortuary.com
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