The sophomore English honors students at John F. Kennedy High School are silent as Asia Shindelman, 89, shares her story of survival.
“June 22, 1941, was a wonderful day in Lithuania, a small country in the Baltic Sea, until the Nazis came. They made all the Jews wear a yellow star on the front and the back. They took away our houses and belongings. They put us in a ghetto. We were three families in one room. We had very little food to eat. I was hungry all day,” says the Siena Village resident, who was 13 at that time and put to work first in a military airport and then a shoe factory.
“On July 1, 1944, the world changed. My mother, father, brother, and I were taken on cattle wagons to a concentration camp. No food, no water, no toilet. It was so crowded,” she says. “When we arrived at Sztutowo concentration camp in Poland, they took away my name. I became number 54128. My father was sent to another concentration camp. My brother was killed, but we did not know that at the time.
“After cold showers, they gave us dresses and shoes. If they were too small, we had to wear them anyway. No underwear. No socks. No gloves. Then they took us to the barracks. They were so crowded. No pillow. No soap. No toothbrush. No blanket. Almost no food.”
A few months later, Mrs. Shindelman, her mother, and other prisoners were sent deeper into the woods to build trenches for German soldiers; later, they were forced on a Death March. Along the way, they passed frozen corpses of Jewish prisoners. The prisoners were eventually locked in a barn until liberated by the Russians in May 1945. By then, Mrs. Shindelman and her mother were nearly starved, filthy, and sick.
In July 1945, Mrs. Shindelman’s father found her and her mother. They returned to Lithuania, but Stalin sent her father to a concentration camp in Siberia for 10 years. His sentence was cut short by Stalin’s death in 1953.
Mrs. Shindelman became a chemical engineer. She moved to Latvia, married Yudel, a veterinarian, and raised two sons: Moshe and Vlad. In 1991, the family’s dream came true when they moved to America. They settled in Queens. Mrs. Shindelman, who is fluent in seven languages, learned English at age 62 by reading Danielle Steel novels. Her husband passed away in 2006, and in 2009 she moved to Siena Village of Wayne to be closer to her sons.
“There are such beautiful people at Siena Village. Everyone is kind and polite,” Mrs. Shindelman says. “I feel safe.”
Mrs. Shindelman’s presentation is part of CHCC’s new Resident Speakers Bureau.
“Stories are meant to be shared, and one of the best ways to gain understanding is to hear someone talk about his or her experience. Our residents and patients have valuable experiences, which have often framed their lives,” says Maureen Braen, Patient Experience/Person- and Family-centered Care Representative, who assisted in organizing the Resident Speakers Bureau. “Through the Resident Speakers Bureau, CHCC reinforces gains a deeper understanding and has more meaningful interactions with those entrusted to our care.”
For more information about the Resident Speakers Bureau, contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.