On this date in 1930, Eleonore Winkel was born in Mannheim, Germany, and grew up during the chaotic times of World War II. Eleonore’s pediatrician, who had taken care of her since she was a baby and a friend of the family, was taken away. He was Jewish and was sent to a death camp.
As the war went on and Allied bombing of the major cities increased, Eleonore was sent to relative safety, with her grandparents in Schwetzingen. When the war ended, she was able to go back home, but safety wasn’t assured. One night, she and her mother were trapped in their basement, unable to leave because of the night curfew. They were threatened by some very drunk Russian men, but were rescued by a mysterious American soldier who stayed and protected them until morning.
Later, when the occupying forces moved into Germany to restore order, Eleonore worked as a nanny, taking care of the two young sons of an American major. While working for the major, she got to know and started dating Sergeant Ellis Nell of Ellendale, North Dakota. After a three-year courtship they received permission from US officials to marry. Eleonore and Ellis were wed on April 26, 1952, at Kassel, Germany. Tragically, however, Ellis soon developed acute leukemia and passed away that July.
Eleonore accompanied her husband’s body back to North Dakota for burial in Ellendale. She had a three-month visa and stayed with Ellis’s parents, but at the insistence of Ellis’s mother, she over-stayed her visa. This landed Eleonore in hot water with the U.S. State Department and faced immediate deportation.
A letter-writing campaign was started, and thanks to the intervention of Senators Milton Young and William Langer, she was allowed to stay. After a two-year negotiation, a bill was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower to make her a citizen of the United States.
Eleonore went to Ellendale State Teachers College and met Edgar Bollinger of Monango, North Dakota. They married in 1955 and had two children, Dwight and Mary.
Eleonore Bollinger continued her education and received her Bachelor of Science degree. She taught in North Dakota for 33 years and earned entry into “Who’s Who Among American Teachers.”
Eleonore lost her second husband, Edgar, in 1991 and she herself passed away in 2017.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Phone interview with Eleonore, 2009.
Eleonore Bollinger obituary, Eastgate Funeral Home