Holocaust survivor’s book tells of fear, loss and triumph

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

NEW BOOK was published in time for the author’s 90th birthday.

Holocaust survivor Gabriella Karin wrote her memoir as a 90th birthday present to herself. While her story speaks to the horrors of war, it also celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.

In 1944, Karin hid in a cramped apartment for nine long months. But unlike Anne Frank — the diarist in the Netherlands who perished in a concentration camp — Karin survived.

After the war, she moved to the new state of Israel, and she eventually settled in her Hancock Park home of 52 years with her now-late-husband Ofer and son Rom.

“I am very excited about it,” she said last month of the book.

“I was working like crazy 12 hours a day when the COVID-19 started, and I finished the book in two months.

“Then came the editing and finding a printer, and, on my 90th birthday, I had in my hands a first copy of the book!”

A hardcopy of the 303-page book, “Trauma, Memory, and The Art of Survival: A Holocaust Memoir,” is available at gabriellakarin.com and as an e-book at amazon.com.

“I am signing the books that are ordered on my website. This is the only way I could sign the books,” she says, during the pandemic.

Pre-war Bratislava

Before the war, she describes having had a happy childhood. Her family had owned a delicatessen in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia).

With anti-Semitism on the rise, she attended a school in a Catholic convent for three years with the help of false papers to disguise her Jewishness. Then, in 1944, her aunt’s boyfriend, a 25-year-old lawyer, Karol Blanar, defied “the murderous Nazi regime and risked his life to hide eight people,” including 13-year old Gabriella and her parents. They were in hiding across the street from the Nazi-Slovak Gestapo in a building with bylaws that prohibited Jews, and so the building wasn’t searched, she writes.

Blanar would sneak in food — it was never enough, recalls Karin — and books on history and works by Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy — whatever he could muster. Karin read hours a day.

After the war, at 15, Karin entered a fashion design school in Bratislava, the youngest of her peers — a feat she attributes to the books she devoured in hiding. She later worked as a fashion designer for many years, and in retirement, learned to sculpt.

Holocaust Museum

Karin first came to the Holocaust Museum LA (then called Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust) in hopes of getting help in finding the heroic attorney who saved her life. When the then-head of the museum saw her Holocaust-inspired sculptures, Karin was invited to join in a group exhibition.

Michele Gold, current board chair of Holocaust Museum LA, gives great credit to Karin for sharing her story “to students and communities far and wide.” Gold writes in the book’s foreword. “… through powerful and inspiring storytelling, you can make a difference, and that she has, making her mark on thousands of people.”

March of the Living

Karin became a volunteer docent at the museum in Pan Pacific Park (now closed because of the pandemic), and she has participated annually in March of the Living, when thousands visit the concentration camps from Auschwitz to Birkenau, including many Los Angeles high school seniors.

“These trips are amazing. They change the lives of these kids… They see the survivors are optimistic and believe in a future, and it changes them,” Karin said.

These students are also “the last, the very last, to live in the presence of survivors,” historian Michael Berenbaum writes in the book’s preface.

Karin’s story is also documented with the USC Shoah Foundation, which filmed her on site in Bratislava.

Karin is perhaps most proud of her family and her three surviving grandchildren; one of them, Ben, helped her publish the book. And, recently, she welcomed a great-granddaughter into the family fold. Her growing family is the ultimate triumph over Hitler, she writes.

The kind lawyer

She did eventually trace the kind lawyer who saved her life, only to find he had died. His brother accepted a Medal of Honor in the Mayor’s Palace in Bratislava, and Gabriella also placed a tombstone on his then-unmarked grave in Columbus, Ohio.

Her book is a personal one but with a timeless and universal message.

Her wish, she says, is shared by all mothers: peace for their children. “How can we achieve this? Is there a magic formula?” she asks in the book.

There is not.

“It’s us. It’s me. It’s you… We are the people who can bring peace if we work together with a common goal… Accept everybody, as they are, regardless of race, gender, religion, denomination… Together we can make a better world.”

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