She was four years old when she was forced out of her house in what was then a part of the country known as the Ukraine and prodded into a cattle car with people crammed tightly together. Nobody could sit. They stayed standing that way for days. No food. No water. A single bucket tucked away in a corner as a makeshift toilet. Pressing against one another, hundreds packed tightly into the car, until they arrived at the concentration camp.
“This is something that has kept with me for the rest of my life,” Trudie Strobel, 81, a Holocaust and concentration camp survivor, told The Review during an exclusive interview before sharing her life story at a school assembly last week with about 400 eight-graders from So Pas Middle School. Strobel, of San Marino, is not only a Holocaust survivor but a noted artist of Judaic embroidery as well.
“As I said, it was not a life. It was an existence, pushing with the guns and the dogs. You see, this is what I remember: the teeth of the dogs and the shiny black boots being herded into the cattle cars.”
Strobel doesn’t remember the names of the camps she was forced to live in but she remembers how grateful she was to be able to stay with her mother. Her mother was a seamstress, which the Nazis found to be indispensable. Therefore, Trudie was able to stay with her mother the entire time she was in the concentration camps.
“Momma sowed for the Nazis,” Strobel said. “I was able to stay with her and I would pick things up and bring things to her and we were moved twice and she kept on sewing and sometimes I would be hiding if the gestapo came in. The work camps were different and the gestapo wasn’t there all the time. I was there for three years. I stayed alive because I could stay with her.”
Strobel was at the middle school a-week-ago Wednesday because librarian Betsy Kahn thought Strobel’s life would enhance the eighth-grade students own examination of World War II as well as their reading of Roald Dahl’s memoir about his experiences as a Royal Air Force pilot. The students also are writing their own historical fiction narratives about that time period.
“The basic curricular reason is that our eighth-grade English classes are studying World War II,” Kahn said. “My hope was to bring an eye-witness to history to school to relate her own experience as a survivor of the Holocaust as a young child.”
This was also important on a more personal level for Kahn. She explained:
“Well, personally, I’m Jewish myself so it means a lot to me to have the history of Jewish people taught and learned especially in this day and age. I’m glad that someone like Trudie, who has had the most horrible painful life experience imaginable can also serve as an example of someone who does survive in the biggest sense of that word and takes that experience and creates art out of it. I think that’s also a model for kids who may have pain in their own life to know there is a way to transmute pain and difficulty to beauty and healing.”
Strobel told the assembly that they were imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, and then moved through a series of concentration camps. After they were liberated at the end of the war, they lived for a time in a resettlement camp in Germany before moving to the United States. Strobel became a notable textile artist, using intricate embroidery to create pieces of art with religious, cultural, and historical themes. Her work is exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Tolerance as well as in local synagogues.
Strobel spoke of her liberation with awe.
“It was so quiet, there was no sound, no noise,” Strobel said during the private interview before the assembly. “Then, an American came in and said, ‘you are free.’ Momma could not get up because she was so frail, tired, but she said, ‘Trudie, we have to get up and go. We are free. We are finally free.’”
The 400 or so students along with teachers and even some school administrators surely heard those words because when Strobel finished her presentation, the assembly exploded in a thunderous round of applause.
For more information about Trudie Strobel visit https://www.trudiestrobel.com.