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SEP 29, 2016

What a Holocaust survivor has to say to South L.A. school kids — and how she uses art to connect

By Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times.

The first period of any school day can be boisterous, with bells ringing, friends catching up on gossip and late arrivals rushing madly through doors. But early on a Thursday morning, the students in teacher Jon Aguado’s history class at Animo Ralph Bunche High School in Los Angeles are respectful and silent.

The only sounds are the low hum of a ventilation system and the soft voice of guest speaker Gabriella Karin recounting her chilling experiences in Slovakia during World War II. 

Born to Jewish parents who operated a delicatessen in the heart of Bratislava, she was 11 when she and her family were forced into hiding — much like  Anne Frank — to avoid deportation to a Nazi concentration camp.

“In this small, one-bedroom apartment were hiding eight people,” she tells the classroom, holding up a picture of the building in which her family hid as it  looks today. “Imagine for nine months sitting on a chair and not being able to move. I could not talk.”

“We were always hungry,” adds Karin, who at 85 rocks a chic, asymmetrical bob. “There was never enough.”

The class is rapt.

Students at Animo Ralph Bunche High School listen as Gabriella Karin describes her childhood in Nazi-era Slovakia.

Karin’s talk — and the flurry of art-making that follows — is part of an innovative program established by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust that uses art to teach public schoolchildren about the Holocaust.

For three years, the museum has partnered with three high schools and one junior high in underserved areas — Animo Ralph Bunche, Animo Watts High School and Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy, all in South Los Angeles neighborhoods, and Hawthorne’s Prairie Vista Middle School —  arranging for L.A. schoolkids to visit the museum and for guest speakers from the museum to visit those schools in return. 

These exchanges culminate in collaborative class art projects  —  paintings, installations, group quilts and massive mobiles made out of Plexiglas discs — that the museum then displays in its galleries. (Currently on view is the mobile inspired by Karin’s talk.) 

A student-made mobile inspired by the Share Our Stories program on view at the Museum of the Holocaust.