Editor's note: Sonia Aisner is the aunt of my late father Alexander Aisner, and to our knowledge, the only member of our family to reach the century mark. Her life story epitomizes perseverance, familial bonds and unlimited kindness. It is a pleasure, and honor, to share this small piece of it.
When you've had 100 birthdays, some will tend to stand out in memory more than others, and Sunday's celebration for Sonia Aisner was no exception. At least for her relatives and extended family.
Born in Lodz, Poland, Sonia's journey to the lovely living room of family friends Wendy and Hal Goldberg's Bloomfield Township home for this event was filled with hardship and unspeakable tragedy. But it's the tenacity and unwavering compassion she embodied — despite those moments in her life — that still draws inspiration from others of all ages that get to know her.
"We all know about the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust that Sonia endured. There is no need to elaborate," her daughter, Celina Aisner, said during a celebratory toast. "But what some of you don't know, is that even in the midst of that hell on Earth, Sonia maintained her compassion, her integrity and her hope for a better tomorrow."
Upon surviving World War II with her sisters and mother (her two brothers and father perished) Sonia married Sigmund Aisner in 1946 and, like many Jews, left Europe for a fledgling Israel. Middle aged, she again left everything familiar to her in 1964 to come to the United States, where Sigmund and two brothers settled in as electricians and skilled tradesmen in Detroit. Though fluent in four languages and a nurse by trade herself, Sonia couldn't pass the Nursing Boards without learning English. She worked during the day as a nurse's aide at the Jewish Home for the Aged and later Metropolitan Hospital, and at night took classes at a local high school to grasp English.
Prone to caring for her patients and daughters Annette and Celina, Sonia became a patient herself when diagnosed with cancer, which required radical surgery. She returned to work three weeks later and would probably still be on-the-clock today had Sigmund not insisted she retire so they could spend winters together in warmer climates, said Celina, who lives in Denver.
"She was so strong willed that I often suspected that she willed herself to do things that most people would find daunting," she said while smiling.
That included providing care and comfort for Sigmund, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease for a decade before his death in 1995. Sonia remained very active in retirement and loved traveling, reading and walking up to six miles a day. She maintained her exercise regimen well into her mid 90's, and became a model homeowner revered by her neighbors in Oak Park, where she still resides with Annette.
"I love this woman, she is like my adopted mother," said Charles Hart, a former neighbor who befriended Sonia more than a decade ago while marveling at how she did all her own landscaping and yard work.
He is among a handful of neighbors — and their children — that still regularly visit even though they've moved away.
Though she has difficulty hearing and doesn't speak much anymore, Sonia dabbed tears with tissues and let those in the room know she appreciated the special moment with her warm, infectious smile.
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