Kalman Aron was 21 when he was freed after being held in several Nazi camps for four years, still determined to live his life after losing most of his family during the Holocaust.
On Thursday, Susan Beilby Magee, a family friend of Aron's told his story to Glendale High students and shared his paintings featured in a book she published, "Into the Light: The Healing Art of Kalman Aron."
In 1941, the Nazis invaded Latvia, and killed Aron's parents, who had supported Aron's art since he was a boy growing up in Riga, Latvia, drawing since age 3.
From the ages of 17 through 21, Aron spent time in seven slave labor and concentration camps in Riga, the Baltic Forest, Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
While being caught with a pencil and paper could typically get a prisoner killed because they may try to send messages to outsiders, Aron once risked drawing a portrait of a guard and gave it to him.
In return, the guard gave Aron an extra piece of bread. From then on, he would continue to draw and earn extra portions of food from the guards, Magee said.
While being held in the camps, Aron also remained connected to nature, which helped him endure the atrocities and fueled his landscape pieces.
Magee recalled that Aron once told her that the Nazis couldn't take away the inspiration for much of his artwork.
"At nighttime, they could not move the stars from the sky or keep the sun from coming up," he told her.
Aron received a master's degree at the Academy in Fine Arts in Vienna before moving to Los Angeles at age 24 and establishing himself as an artist.
Magee met Aron through her mother, who worked as a decorator in Los Angeles and discovered Aron's talent in the 1950s. However, it wasn't until Aron was 78 that he was finally ready to tell his story — and he wanted Magee to tell it.
"It was finally safe for him to be seen," Magee said on Thursday, who said Aron's story is one of triumph over evil.
In sharing his story and his art, Magee would spend nine years interviewing Aron's friends and family, and fellow Latvian survivors. She also traveled through the trail of camps Aron was held in across Europe.
As Magee — a 1962 graduate of Glendale High — compared Aron's paintings from the early 1950s to the 2000s, she saw that as the years went by, his works utilized more light than his earlier pieces, which feature prominent shadows and dark colors, whether of a house, children or men playing chess in a park.
"Ultimately, his story is about healing and peace," Magee added, who said Aron is still living.
"Today, he is at peace inside himself," she said.
For more information, visit kalmanaron.com.