Embroidering the Past
Trudie Strobel, 82
Child Holocaust survivor Trudie Strobel wasn’t able to speak about her experiences in the Shoah until 35 years ago when she had a nervous breakdown. She found a way to heal through art, specifically by embroidering Judaic tapestries.
“It all started with me coming back from the darkness,” Strobel said. “I then created the Badges of Shame exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.” Her collection of 11 dolls, each costumed in the stigmatized attire mandated by centuries of oppressors, is on permanent display at the museum.
Today, Strobel continues to embroider and speaks frequently to students about the Shoah. Her work is displayed in synagogues and museums throughout California.
“I do feel that it helps the students to connect a little more with all the information they have in school and visiting the museums,” she said. “It in one way gives them a perspective into what happened to one survivor.”
Thanks to a grant from the Dragon Kim Foundation and the support of Remember Us The Bnai Mitzvah Project and The Righteous Conversations Project, Strobel’s tapestries will have an inaugural dedicated exhibition on August 18, 2019 at the Feldman Horn Gallery at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. “This exhibit will concentrate on Jewish historical tapestries,” Strobel said. “We have such a rich history. It has given me such a glorious feeling as I do every stitch. My thoughts, all the research I have done, and all of the stitches I have learned since I was a little girl came to fruition.”
“I speak through my pictures, my embroidery, and I am the most privileged person right now.”
Born Gertrude Labuhn in Ukraine, Strobel and her mother were taken by Nazis when she was 4 to a camp in Lodz, Poland. Strobel’s mother was a seamstress, so she was put to work wherever they were sent. Strobel’s interest in art began when she was in a German displaced persons camp. Red Cross volunteers brought the children a box of supplies including pencils and erasers, and Strobel received beads.
“When I saw those beads, light came into my face,” Strobel recalled. She asked her mother to teach her how to embroider a goose. “She found a pattern of a flying goose [and] taught me how to insert a needle in and out.” Strobel still has that first piece of artwork. She was 6 years old when she and her mother were liberated by American troops.
Strobel’s art and story also will be available in a book titled “Stitched and Sewn: The Lifesaving Art of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel,” by Jody Savin. Prospect Park Books will publish the book in the spring of 2020.
“We can never forget our Holocaust,” Strobel said. “We cannot let this happen in the world again. And that’s why I speak. I speak through my pictures, my embroidery, and I am the most privileged person right now. I can’t tell you how wonderful our community is to me. What else can one say [except] that [I am] blessed?”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Strobel is a member of the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework.