Threads of History

Loosely translated, the Yiddish word “bashert” means “meant to be.”
    Trudie Strobel, 82, of San Marino, says it was bashert  that connected the Holocaust survivor—a gifted tapestry artist—with two teenagers and a foundation that celebrates creative students with a desire to foster positive change.
    The merger led to the art exhibit “A Life in Tapestry,” which chronicles Jewish history and Strobel’s memories of the Holocaust through her intricately detailed tapestries.
    Curated by 18-year-old Pasadena residents Lila Dworsky-Hickey and Maya Savin Miller, “A Life in Tapestry,” is on display in the Slutzky Art Gallery at the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine.
    “I’m such a fortunate person to have been able to do this and to find comfort,” Strobel said. “I’m actually very humbled, but I’m also proud. In my mind, it goes together.”
    Because of coronavirus restrictions, “A Life in Tapestry” is not yet open to the general public, there are hopes that will change in the coming months.
    The exhibit was previously shown at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and is in Orange County for the first time.
    “When we discovered that this project, when we discovered that this was a new way to take a look at the Holocaust, not only through a different medium, but through the eyes of a child, we thought it would be a wonderful thing to bring to our center,” said Debbie Meline, the center’s director of Jewish education.
    For decades, Strobel couldn’t bring herself to speak of being a young child in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
    After a long period of depression that culminated in a complete breakdown roughly 30 years ago, a therapist suggested Strobel share about her experiences through her art.
    Strobel combined her skill in drawing and needlework and began creating tapestries, dozens of them, virtually all depicting Jewish history leading up to and including the Holocaust.
    However, only Strobel’s close friends and family members saw them.
    Enter Miller and Hickey.
    Miller was 12 and doing research for her bat mitzvah project, which eventually led her to Strobel and her tapestries.
    “I walked into Trudie’s home not expecting anything,” recalls Miller, now a senior at Polytechnic High School in Pasadena. “Her house is like a museum. I knew from that first meeting that Trudie’s story and the artwork had to be shared with the world.”
    Three years later, Miller learned about the Dragon Kim Foundation, started by the parents of Dragon Kim, a musician who was 14 when he was killed by a falling tree branch while camping in Yosemite.
    The Kims, who are Tustin residents, established a fellowship to help creative high school students who have a vision to make positive change in their communities.
    Hickey and Miller were selected for a fellowship, and received $5,000 and mentorship to curate an exhibit of Strobel’s tapestries.
    “At a time when it felt like the nation was becoming increasing polarized, we believed that we needed reminding about what led to the Holocaust: intolerance, racism, people being unwilling to speak up about injustices in their society,” said Grace Kim, Dragon Kim’s mother. “Trudie’s story of surviving the Holocaust was an important one that needed to be told, so that we don’t repeat the horrific mistakes made at that time.”
    Having her tapestries on display for the public to experience is an honor, said Strobel, who credits Miller and Hickey and the Dragon Kim Foundation for making it happen.
    In the largest and arguably most graphic tapestry in the exhibit, “Final Destination,” Strobel illustrates her memories of imprisonment in a Nazi camp.
    Rows of somber-faced women crammed in barracks are depicted in one portion of the piece and charred bodies in an oven in another section.
    The tapestry is bordered by white flowers on a barb-wired vine.
    “That piece is incredible and I think is a piece of history and honestly a gift to my generation and future generations who won’t be alive at the same time as Holocaust survivors, who can hear Trudie’s story though her art,” Miller said. “I just think it is so important in preserving this history and it serving as a reminder both of the perils of intolerance and the healing powers of art.”  


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