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For Seniors : A Picture of a Life Stamped by History

March 20, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN

Sam Fabian was not on Schindler's list.

He was not one of the Jews saved from the Nazis by industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose story is recounted in the hit film "Schindler's List." Neither did he have enough money to buy his way out of Nazi-controlled Eastern Europe.

What he had was a trade. He was a tailor, and the British needed skilled people like him to teach British professionals how to use their hands for the war effort.

Under harassment from authorities, he had fled Lithuania for Berlin because the Germans were still allowing Jews to leave there as long as they did not take any money with them. There, he met two Jewish tailors from Great Britain who were recruiting Jewish tradesmen. He was given free passage to England and placed in the Kitchener detainee camp in Sandwich, England. He taught lawyers how to cut patterns and sew.

For Fabian it was a blessing. He survived the war, met his wife, Clara, in Britain and later, the 80-year-old says in his thick Lithuanian accent, "became 100% American."

Sam also had a hobby that was passed to him from his grandfather and transcends age and nationality. He's a stamp collector.

The Nazis destroyed the original collection, but when Sam came to America in 1949 he resumed collecting. And he began a new life. It was 1939. He was 25 years old. His immigration papers, carefully preserved in an album, say "refugee from Nazi oppression."

"I knew what was going to happen," he said of the harassment in Lithuania, "because the Gentile people in my town of Tilset, Lithuania, told us to 'get out before you get killed.' "

Today, Sam and Clara, who had fled Hungary to England, do not talk much about the past. Not that it is a taboo, but the Fabians, who live in West Hollywood, are more interested in the present than in the past--although Sam still keeps a sewing room complete with a Singer sewing machine almost as old as he is.

"There's nothing better than this machine," he says.

But it's the stamps--all 20,000 of them--carefully preserved in scores of albums according to country of origin that reveal Sam's passion. He brings out album after album, each stamp carefully placed, each album fastidiously organized.

Until a year ago, he was teaching stamp collecting to a group of youngsters ages 7 to 12 at the Brentwood Library. "Hitler took my first collection; this is my second collection. My father taught me, and I teach children and my grandchildren."

"You can learn history from stamps, geography, art. . . . You can learn about famous people. This is a good thing," he says.

Fabian's life-size photograph hangs in an exhibition at Santa Monica Place titled "The Age of Enlightenment."

Photographer David Peevers wrote in the text accompanying the picture: "You might pass Sam Fabian on the street and not notice him. This show of 28 profiles of older people allows you to see and experience these incredible people and the lives they have lived. Their stories could get lost because there's a perception about being old that says this person doesn't have a lot to offer. This show says pay attention, open your eyes, talk to these people, be open to them and you're going to learn a great deal about life and living. I did."

The exhibition runs until March 31 at Santa Monica Place. For information, call Emeritus College, (310) 319-4567, or Santa Monica Place, (310) 394-5451.

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