SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Bridge Home No Kill Animal Rescue, one of the region’s only no kill shelters, just celebrated its 14th year as an organization.
Recently Bridge Home moved into a new building after 13 years of operating out of an old gas station.
Director Regina Isenberg who started the shelter said this is another step toward fulfilling her mission of saving unwanted pets in Northeast Tennessee.
News channel 11’s Micah Smith found out Isenberg’s goal was inspired by the time she spent as a prisoner in a World War Two concentration camp.
“I was born in the former Yugoslavia, was raised in Munich, Germany,” said Isenberg.
“I was 4 years old when we had to leave they came and we had like an hour to leave.”
Regina’s family was deported to a concentration camp called Rudolfsgnad in the former Yugoslavia during World War Two.
She spent three years there.
Isenberg told us, Russian authorities deported her family and thousands of other German citizens living in Eastern Europe.
This was retaliation for the war crimes the Nazi’s committed while occupying the territory.
“They opened them up there just like the Germans had,” said Isenberg.
Isenberg does not have pictures or any other item from her childhood.
But she said she doesn’t need them to remember her time in Rudolfsgnad, a place nicknamed “The Starvation Mill”.
“They didn’t shoot them did not gas them, just did not feed them. You got like corn soup once a day, or oatmeal soup,” said Isenberg.
“There were 33,000 people and 30,000 actually starved to death.”
Isenberg said her survival involved making friends with the enemy.
“Some of the soldiers would throw me a piece of bread they were not allowed to give it to us.”
Isenberg’s mother who was fed more for doing hard labor smuggled food into the barracks.
“My mom said that’s ok I really wasn’t that hungry I just thought I’d bring it to you. Later on, of course, I realized that was the love of a mother,she wanted me to have it. She only weighed 79 pounds and she was 5’7,” said Isenberg.
Isenberg said one of her only comforts in the camp was her favorite doll, an item that would save her life.
“They opened the doll up and put the jewelry inside and sewed it up and did not tell me..I had malaria I had typhoid,” said Isenberg.
Isenberg said her uncle traded the jewelry for medicine which saved her life.
But not everyone lived.
“Well my baby sister ended up very sick and so she was 9 months and she died and my mom, thinking as an adult wanted me to hold her one more time. I looked and I said I’ll hold her tomorrow again and my mom said no, she won’t be here,” said Isenberg.
Regina Isenberg could not save her baby sister, but she said she can save other innocent lives.
“Every time I look at animals I think a little bit how we were, our existence there” said Isenberg.
“If there were people who would care about us, all those people would not die. Now I’m thinking about the animals. If people would just care about them we would not have so many animals to be euthanized in our area.”
Isenberg said her experiences in the camp help her empathize with these pets.
She said God gave her a long life so she can save the lives of unwanted and abandoned animals in Northeast Tennessee.
Regina Isenberg said when she is not working at the shelter, she speaks at high schools in the region and shares her story. Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.