Holocaust survivor Gabriella Karin returned to the University of La Verne on Sept. 22 to share her story and her art to about 40 students and faculty members in the Campus Center Ballroom. The lecture was hosted by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Tikkun Olam club.
The Tikkun Olam club was formerly known as Hillel. The Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam” means “repair of the world.” The club’s main goal is to make the world a better place by teaching students about the past, helping others and giving back to the community.
“We want to bring people together and be inclusive because our goal is to help others,” Joachim Gratz De Lang, president of Tikkun Olam said.
University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner said they decided to host the event because it is an important opportunity for students to be able to hear Holocaust survivors talk about their experiences.
“There are very few survivors that are still living so it is very special and unique for any of us to be able to hear about that experience, to integrate it into our lives,” Wagoner said. “Her message is we need to learn about this to understand it so that this horror never happens again.”
Wagoner began the lecture by thanking Karin for returning to the University to tell her story. She continued to express her gratitude and mentioned Karin’s sculpture “Shimmering Leaves – Perished Families” which is displayed in the lobby of the Ludwick Center’s Sacred Space.
The sculpture is a part of Karin’s Holocaust collection, which she showcased in her presentation. It represents the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.
“Gabriella, your legacy will live on at the University of La Verne forever because of your sculpture that is in the Ludwick Center,” President Devorah Lieberman said. “We have to continue to speak for you to others so that the memories that you have will never happen again and it is our responsibility to carry that forward.”
Karin was born in the capital of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava, and was eight years old when the war began.
“Before the war, we lived in a peaceful, democratic country, very similar to where we are living today,” Karin said. “In our wildest dreams, we could not have imagined what would happen.”
During her lecture Karin showed pictures of herself throughout her childhood, her parents and her father’s store. She also showed a picture of her and five friends during her 10th birthday party.
“I am the only one who survived,” Karin said. “I lost all my friends, every one of them.”
When Karin was 11 years old she was sent to a convent under false papers by her parents.
“I had false papers that said I wasn’t Jewish,” Karin said. “My name was not my name, my birthday was not my birthday. I was a different person.”
During this time Karin was very unhappy and cried herself to sleep every night, until one year later when her mother decided that she would take her wherever she would be and in the mornings she would go to school if she could. Karin did this for three years.
When Karin was 13 years old, Karol Blanar hid her and her family in his one-bedroom apartment for nine months. Blanar’s family had hidden her grandmother before she passed away. During this time Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and they began looking for Jewish people who were in hiding, but they never searched Blanar’s apartment.
“They never searched his house and they went from house to house, from apartment to apartment in the whole city, but they never entered his house,” Karin said.
Blanar’s apartment was never searched because it was built in 1935 and there were signs all around it that said “No Jews can live in the house.”
Karin said that Blanar would bring food to them, but he could not take too much or people would get suspicious, so they were constantly hungry.
Karin spent her time reading because when Blanar went to work they had to be very quiet. Blanar would bring her books and she would read whatever she was given.
“Everything can be taken away from you,” Karin said. “Even the clothes you wear, but nobody can take away what you have in your head. Put good stuff in it. It is yours until you leave.”
After the war, Blanar fled the country and Karin’s family received a message letting them know that he had crossed the border, but they lost contact with him. When Karin got older she decided to look for him and found out that he had died in 1980. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Columbus, Ohio.
“I got very upset and I called the cemetery,” Karin said. “They told me that nobody was there when he was buried and nobody paid to have a marker.”
Karin ordered an engraving for the headstone that said “Righteous Person Among the Nations.”
Blanar and his parents were honored by the museum Yad Vashem -The World Holocaust Remembrance Center as “Righteous Person Among the Nations.” This is given to non-Jewish people who helped Jewish people survive.
Karin was 14 when the liberation trains started to arrive with survivors and at that time she decided that she was not going to let what happened affect her life.
“I decided within myself that Hitler did not get my body and he would not get my soul,” Karin said. “I would smile and I would be happy and I am.”
For more information on Karin’s work visit, gabriellakarin.com.
Samira Felix can be reached at email@example.com.