Kicking up her heels

Woman is still strong at her 103rd birthday party, her daughter says. She endured a concentration camp.

January 21, 2010|By Mona Shadia

Jeantine Aalbertsberg says the secret to a long life is staying strong.

Aalbertsberg’s life has not been an easy one. Her determination and strength have kept her fairly healthy at 103 years old.

Aalbertsberg’s strength comes from a source of great sadness, the memory of a hardship  that she had to endure in her 30s. In the 1940s, this woman of Dutch origin, who was born and raised in Indonesia, then a colony of the Netherlands, was taken prisoner by invading Japanese forces, and forced with her two young girls and other civilians into living in concentration camps.


Aalbertsberg said she spent four years in the camps of Sumatra, which was part of the Dutch East Indies at the time, and was separated from her husband and two boys.

On Wednesday, the residents at Costa Neuporte’ Elegant Senior Living, in Costa Mesa, where Aalbertsberg now lives, threw a birthday party for her. Her 103rd birthday was Saturday. Her daughter, Didi Aberson, 70, who was 2 when she was imprisoned in the Sumatran camps with her mother, attended Aalbertsberg’s party.

“She is a person that has a lot of stamina and a lot of willpower to keep on going, so here she is,” Aberson said.

When Aalbertsberg was taken to the concentration camps, she recalled, she wouldn’t let her emotions get in the way.

“I didn’t feel anything,” Aalbertsberg said. “I had to be very strong. I had no choice, so you had to make the best of it.”

To survive, Aalbertsberg smuggled food through the barbed wire. The scars on her arms remain as a reminder of what she had to do to keep her daughters and herself alive.

“I almost got shot and a bullet came this close to my ear,” Aalbertsberg said as she put her thumb and index finger together.

These days Aalbertsberg gets frustrated with herself for not being able to do so much.

But at 103, she seems far healthier than many of her juniors. Though she needs a walker to get around, her eyes remain sharp.

Aalbertsberg is an avid reader. And she does it without glasses.

She also cooks. But not as often as she used to. She recently cooked a steak for her daughter and did it well, Aberson said.

Aalbertsberg said that doing whatever you want and eating spicy food are other secrets to a long life.

Her advice for young people is to stay strong. No matter what one faces, she said, you can get through it.

And Aalbertsberg divulged another secret: Stay away from debt.

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