Shelley M. Zeiger
The Wheel of Life is a memoir not only about the Holocaust, our rescuer Anton, and our liberation by the Red Army but also about life after the Holocaust in Europe and the United States.
Since 1982, Shelley has shared his personal story as a survivor of the Holocaust with adult audiences and, most importantly, with groups of school children, some, thanks to Internet videoconferencing, far from his home.
Shelley grew up in Zborów, a town in eastern Poland, which was occupied by the Germans during the Holocaust and transformed into a ghetto. Shelley and his family escaped from the ghetto and hid in their neighbor Anton’s home for the remaining duration of the Holocaust.
Shelley says, “Every day since April 1944 has been a gift to me.” Upon liberation by the USSR, Shelley and his family headed west to the United States. There they began to live their lives again and embraced their new freedom.
His experiences during the Holocaust have made Shelley the person he is today and have influenced his actions. “Because my family and I were liberated by the Russians and because the United States gave us a home and freedom, I have tried to foster democracy and improve international relations through international development and cultural exchanges,” explains Shelley.
Shelley first learned about commerce from his father and uncle who had a steel business connected with WWI and its trench warfare. They blew up the trenches left over from WWI, retrieving the steel that had been used to shore up the trenches and sold the steel to the Polish government.
After his service to the United States Army, Shelley went to college one the GI Bill and was an Arthur Murray Studio dance teacher at night. Through the dance company, Shelley met his future wife, Marion, and he had the opportunity to better understand the commercial aspect of life in the U.S.–productivity, sales and customer service.
In 1960, Shelley and his father and brother discussed their first business venture. They became the distributor for Chateau Martin wine, a popular wine, and their company name was Admiral Wine and Liquor. “We worked hard but could see good results from our efforts. The free market economy works if a person works hard and perseveres. I believe that one reason we persevered was our rough experiences in Europe,” says Shelley.
Since his very first business enterprise, Shelley’s list of accomplishments has grown immensely. In the early 1970s, Shelley wanted to know more about banking, so he decided to learn by doing. He partnered with area businessmen to charter a bank. Fellowship Bank on Fellowship Road, FDIC approved, was created in 1973. Around 1982, during the time of high interest rates, the board of Fellowship Bank decided that they had to build bigger or sell. They sold to Princeton Bank, which in turn sold to Citi Bank.
In 1985, Shelley formed a Trenton-based delegation of politicians and civic and community leaders, who traveled to Moscow to explore the idea of economic and cultural exchanges with their Russian counterparts. The deputy mayor of the sister city suggested a partnership between Trenton and the Lenin District of Moscow, which was the heart of the Soviet Union. Shelley explains, “This was our opportunity to have the first sister city agreement with the Soviet Union, depending upon approval by Trenton’s City Council. An agreement about cultural exchanges between the two governments was not reached, but in the future that may change. If there is a will there is a way to work on cultural exchanges that will educate and entertain both sides.”
Two years later, Shelley forged the first U.S.-U.S.S.R. joint venture, bringing American Astro Pizza to Russia and opening the TrenMos Restaurant in Moscow. “We brought something more than pizza to Moscow; we brought one of our traditions of appreciation of customers and more. More importantly, we were transplanting U.S. business culture to the U.S.S.R,” explains Shelley.
As a result of introducing pizza to the U.S.S.R, Shelley explains, “I had the satisfaction of thanking the Russians for liberating me in 1944 as well as serving the U.S., my country, by opening a new market. More important, I think, was the political statement: Russia and the U.S. can work and do business together. This was my philosophy then, and that still is my philosophy. The progress that our two countries have made thus far is monumental, although we still have a long way to go.”
Today there are many joint ventures between U.S. and Russian companies; for example, at least one hundred restaurants have foreign partners. The floodgates opened in the eighties; Moscow has become an exciting European city with all the comforts of any other international city such as New York, Paris, London and Tokyo.
Shelley opened his first hotel, the Capitol Plaza Hotel, in Trenton in 1980. A decade later, Shelley developed a Marriott Conference Center, which is linked to the historic War Memorial building, next to the State House in Trenton.
Today, Shelley is involved in two projects in Trenton. The first domestic project will bring back one of New Jersey's Native American tribes, the Delaware Nations, to the Trenton area and the Delaware River. The second domestic project is to install solar panels on the Trenton Marriott Hotel garage, which would generate 250 kilowatts per day. The energy would be projected on a huge screen in the hotel's lobby for school children to view the renewable energy generated by solar panels. As many as 250,000 children, who visit Trenton’s historical area, could view this screen, learning the advantages of using renewable energy.
Shelley is also working to convert an abandoned building in Trenton into an assembly plant to create solar panels and parts. This project could create jobs for 200 to 400 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
On an international scale, Shelley is currently serving as a consultant to develop a port in Georgia on the Black Sea to open trade between Asia and Europe. The project is economically important because it has the potential to turnover 250 million tons per year and it will create jobs. However, Shelley explains, “What excites me most is creating formats that make both economic and human sense to narrow the gap between different cultures and people.”
The moment you meet Shelley, you will see that his passion to leave the world a more culturally diverse and productive place for future generations is unstoppable.