May 1st, 2012
On Wednesday, April 25, Inge Friedlander Elsas, of New Orleans, age 96, quietly died in her sleep. Inge’s sudden death surprised all of her countless friends, colleagues, admirers, and family members. In the few days prior to her death, she had actively taken part in a number of community activities and had even been exercising at the Uptown Jewish Community Center. We are all not only deeply shocked and saddened by the loss but also cruelly reminded that even the most active, upbeat, caring, and competent among us are still mortal. Inge lived every day to the fullest, including her last.
Inge was a native of Austria. By her early 20’s, she had become a governess for the rich and famous of Western Europe and cared for the children of diplomatic families in Italy, North Africa and Scandinavia. On the eve of World War II, a European family brought her to the United States Capital as a governess for their children. While living in the Washington DC Area, the director of the former Jewish Children’s Home of New Orleans, Harry Ginsburg, recruited Inge to move to New Orleans and become the supervisor of girl residents. While at the home, she met her future husband, Henry Elsas, and together they cared for the children until the Home closed in 1946 and until they each transported the children back to their own families or new residences.
Professionally, Inge was known best as a long-time social worker for the Traveler’s Aid Society, but for decades she was a tireless volunteer for, and active participant in, the programming of countless Jewish and civic organizations across New Orleans. She belonged to Temple Sinai. She advocated for special needs children. Whenever she saw JCRS executive director, Ned Goldberg, she would stop him and ask him about what became of her wards or fill him in on which ones she had recently heard from.
Twenty years ago, one of those children from the former Jewish Children’s Home, cared for by Miss Elsas, Jennie Ogden Schneider, referred to Inge as her “real-life version” of “Sister Maria,” the role played by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. In reality, Inge was much shorter than Andrews but actually was the one with the authentic Germanic accent. Andrews, for all her acting ability, could never portray a more caring or loving person than Inge exemplified in real- life.
All of us at JCRS join with her children, Lloyd, Byron, and Miriam, in mourning her loss. She will be remembered by so many in countless and wonderful ways.