Wednesday, April 30, 2008

RIP: Ilse Meyer

Louisville lost another survivor of the Shoah this past week and we take the time to mourn the passing of Ilse Meyer, whose death comes in the week leading up to Yom HaShoah. We mourn with her family at this time and offer our condolences.
Meyer died Saturday in Milwaukee, near the home of her son, Dr. Loren Meyer. She had moved there from Louisville just last week to recover from a recent stroke, said Rabbi Robert B. Slosberg of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, where Meyer was an active member.

"She was a giant," Slosberg said. "She had the unique ability to transfer the pain and heartache of her early years into a life of endless giving."

Meyer was buried yesterday at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in Louisville. She moved to Louisville in 1986 with her husband, Mike, who died in 1998. His family was killed a year later than hers in the same concentration camp.

"She is probably the most popular person in the Jewish community," Slosberg said, not only for her willingness to share her experience with the Holocaust, but for her energy and thoughtfulness -- often remembered in association with her culinary skills.

"I've never met anyone like her," Slosberg said. "... In my 27 years as a rabbi, I've never had people come to the synagogue and hear of a death and just start crying" as they did Saturday when news of Meyer's passing started to spread.

He said her life story was "remarkable, in that she never became bitter."

"Despite losing most of her family in the Holocaust, she took that pain and transformed it into love," Slosberg said.

Eleven million people perished in the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews.

Meyer was about 14 on Kristallnacht, or "the night of broken glass," during which Jewish homes in her village were ransacked, the men were arrested and the synagogue was burned down.

She frequently described the experience to groups as "like a bad dream."

"When that happened, you knew there was no way out," she said.

But Meyer did escape, moving to the United States with her older brother when she was 15, staying with relatives in Wisconsin. Yet her parents and younger sister had to stay behind.

After leaving Germany in 1939, "I never saw them again," Meyer said. She did not return to Germany until 1983, as a visitor.[...]

"When you don't know, you can imagine," Meyer told The Courier-Journal in 2005. "I kept thinking, maybe my sister got away. She was a little girl, she didn't look Jewish, maybe she could hide some place. Then you wonder, were they together? Which one died first? Did they suffer? Where they hungry? Were they cold?

"Now, knowing this, I know they didn't suffer. I know they were uncomfortable in the boxcar, but once they got there, that was it," Meyer said.

Last April, she told a group gathered at Temple Shalom for Yom HaShoah, the Jewish commemoration of the Holocaust: "Wherever I go, I see the faces of those who didn't survive and I hear them say, 'I wanted to live too.' "

Meyer was a tutor for more than two decades at Eliahu Academy until last month, when she became too ill. The school had thrown her a party for her 85th birthday on Feb. 24.
Her life as well as that of Ernie Marx, who left us in the last year, were remembered this past Monday night at the Jewish community's annual Yom HaShoah service.
More than 500 people took part in the city's annual Holocaust memorial service last night, which took on a particularly poignant cast as it came just hours after the funeral for one of Louisville's most prominent Holocaust survivors and educators.

The Yom HaShoah service paid tribute to Ilse Meyer, who died at age 85 on Saturday, as well as to Ernie Marx, who died last July and also was remembered for his efforts to educate young people about the Holocaust by telling his story.

"Most of us do not realize the toll it takes on survivors of the Holocaust to continually tell their stories, and by doing so relive those terrible years, to time after time be asked to recall their suffering and their loss," said Keiron O'Connell, chair of the Yom HaShoah committee.

"I remember Ilse saying to me earlier this year, 'Keiron, I can't do this anymore,' " only to show up at the committee's next meeting to plan more such activities, O'Connell said.

The service was sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation's Community Relations Council, but had an extensive interfaith element. It was hosted by Bellarmine University, a Catholic institution, and music was provided by the choir of Christ Church United Methodist.

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