Born May 18, 1929, in Regensburg, Germany
Ellen Zweig was born on May 18, 1929 in Regensburg, Germany to Julius and Rose Seligman. Ellen’s mother had grown up there and her parents, Leo and Marie Hirschfeld, owned a chain of department stores. After Ellen’s parents were married in 1928, her father opened one of the stores in the suburbs of Regensburg. A second daughter, named Margit, was born on February 18, 1933.
In 1936, legislation was issued by the Nazi Party forbidding Jewish children to attend public schools. Therefore, Ellen went to a Jewish school that had been established because of this law. Ellen became increasingly aware of the restrictions that were being imposed on her because she was Jewish. One of her earliest memories was being taken to the movie theater by her father’s Catholic secretary since laws prohibited her parents from doing so. Ellen and her family were still able to attend Jewish communal outings in the suburbs. These events provided opportunities to participate in activities that were forbidden in Regensburg.
From November 9th to 10th, 1938, Kristallnacht took place throughout Germany and Austria. Ellen’s family’s department stores were broken into and looted, the local synagogue was burned down, and Nazis arrested Julius Seligman. He was imprisoned and released a week later because Ellen’s maternal grandmother told the Nazis that her son-in-law was needed to complete a ten-person group in order to say memorial prayers for several men that had died. By August 1939, Ellen, her parents, and sister prepared to leave Germany for the United States. Julius’s brother, who had been living there since 1926, provided affidavits that allowed Ellen’s family to obtain visas from the American Consulate in Stuttgart, Germany. When the war began that September, they were not allowed to leave the country and instead moved in with Ellen’s grandparents. When bombs fell, the family took protection in the Hirschfeld’s cellar. Ellen’s parents and grandparents did not want her or Margit to be frightened when this happened so they were continually finding ways to distract them.
On Margit’s seventh birthday, Ellen and her family were able to leave Germany. They boarded a train in Munich that took them to Genoa, Italy. After a few days, the Seligmans got on a ship bound for the United States. Although Ellen was sick throughout this journey, she was able to see the Statue of Liberty as the ship arrived in New York. After staying there with relatives for a short time, Ellen and her family took a train to Washington, D.C. and stayed with Ellen’s uncle and his family for four months. Ellen’s paternal grandmother was able to emigrate during this time and moved in with her sons and their families. The Seligmans joined the Washington Hebrew Congregation and found themselves among others who emigrated from Germany. Her father found work through synagogue members as a door-to-door salesman and eventually got a job at the local supermarket chain, Giant Foods, whose owner was providing jobs for Jewish immigrants. Ellen and Margit attended Sunday school at the Washington Hebrew Congregation and also went to public school and summer camp. Ellen’s maternal grandparents arrived in the United States in May 1940 and lived with the Seligmans in their apartment.
After the war ended, Ellen learned that a paternal aunt and her husband died in Auschwitz. On her mother’s side, Ellen’s aunt Gerda was married to a Catholic man named Fritz. Despite laws imposed by the Nazi Party forbidding Jews to marry non-Jews, he would not divorce his wife and was sent to a labor camp. Gerda and their two sons went to live with Fritz’s parents in Regensburg. Gerda, Fritz, and their sons survived.
In the years after the war ended, Ellen studied at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and held a government position at the Pentagon. She married Steve Zweig in 1951 and together they owned and operated a photography studio for forty years. Ellen has three sons and six grandchildren. She is currently a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.