Forest Hills group helps Holocaust survivor secure COVID-19 vaccination

A Forest Hills Jewish organization was instrumental in helping Holocaust survivor Agota Adler receive her COVID-19 vaccination. (Courtesy of Chaverim)

While many seniors continue to struggle with the COVID-19 vaccination distribution process across the city, a Forest Hills Jewish organization came to the aid of a Holocaust survivor and helped her receive her inoculation.

Agota Adler, 85, was able to sign up for her coronavirus vaccine during last week’s snowstorm but she had difficulty arranging a ride from her Great Neck home to the Queens Hospital Center campus on 164th Street in Jamaica Hills and Hillcrest. Adler turned to Chaverim for assistance and volunteers from the group, which is known for its free-of-charge roadside assistance in a variety of non-emergency situations including the delivery of food to homebound individuals, mobilized to assist her.

“Chaverim took me from my home to the hospital in Queens, where I was vaccinated,” Adler said. “I did not feel any pain.”

Originally from Budapest, Hungary, Adler survived the Holocaust and fled the communist regime that followed World War II. She credits her survival to the legendary diplomat Raoul Wallenberg as Hungary wavered in its Jewish policy during the war. The government was pro-Nazi and Jewish men were drafted into forced labor brigades including Adler’s father, who died during the war. When the Nazis took control of the country in 1944, ghettos were established and Jews were required to wear yellow stars as plans were drafted to deport them to the death camps of Europe.

Adler was too young at the time to know of Wallenberg, who was purchasing buildings in Budapest and placing them under his country’s protection.

“I remember I got a special piece of paper. I think it was after the war that I realized it was a Schutz Pass. We moved in with 30 other people into a small apartment,” Adler told the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. “I remember that my mother got very ill; she had pneumonia. I don’t remember how, but somehow I was able to sneak out of the building, and get a doctor and some medicine, and she got better thankfully.”

Soviet forces liberated Hungary from the Nazis in the following year, and used their presence to establish a communist government that restricted economic and religious rights. During the failed Hungarian uprising in 1956, the border with Austria was open and thousands of Hungarian Jews fled to the west.

Adler settled in Great Neck where she lived for the past 47 years with her husband Greoge, who was also a beneficiary on Wallenberg’s Schulz Pass. He died last April just as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the New York metropolitan area.

As the winter storm arrived last week, Adler missed her scheduled appointment for the vaccine injection.

Adler turned to the Forest Hills organization for help.

“She called Chaverim stating that she had a vaccine appointment scheduled during the snowstorm to hit last week but was unable to get anyone to take her,” Chaverim founder Avi Cyperstein said. “She wanted to go to the site on Friday to see if they would give her the vaccine that she was originally scheduled for earlier in the week. We all knew that there was a chance that they wouldn’t give it being that she did not have an appointment for that day but she was very anxious and we decided to assist.”

Cyperstein, a candidate for Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’s seat in District 26, which covers Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill, helped transport Adler to her destination Friday.

“We joined the line and when we got to the window we explained the situation and were informed that because she didn’t have an appointment she wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine,” Cyperstein said. “This was her third attempt to get the vaccine. Immediately we asked for a supervisor and a truly amazing individual named John was there within a minute and heard our explanation.”

Adler was placed in a line and received her shot within 15 minutes.

“On the way home she exclaimed with excitement, how she survived the Holocaust, lived through almost a year of the COVID pandemic, and finally got a vaccine,” Cyperstein said. “She was elated as she called her friends and family on the way home to share the news.”

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