Marion Blumenthal Lazan witnessed and lived nightmarish moments that many in today’s world thankfully only read about or watch on television. She is a Holocaust survivor and shared with students at Oswego County BOCES (OCB) her own personal story and a powerful message of hope, courage and compassion.
Lazan was born in Germany and was just a small child when, under the rule of Adolf Hitler, she and her mother, father and brother were forced to live in a Nazi concentration camp. The daughter of a once successful business owner who was also the recipient of Germany’s prestigious Iron Cross medal found herself living in conditions that were designed to break people physically, spiritually and emotionally. She explained to OCB students how she survived on a ration of one slice of bread a day and shared a small straw bunk with her mother. She also said that sickness, disease and head lice were often inevitable, blankets and protection from the frigid temperatures were non-existent and that her mother tried to protect her from seeing the numerous dead bodies.
Lazan spoke about her mother’s inner strength and fortitude to survive and how she herself would pass the time with imagination games. Her favorite game, based on superstition, required her to find for four pebbles of relatively the same size, shape and color. The pebbles represented the four members of her family and finding all four would give her hope that all four of her family members would survive their extreme circumstances. “The game gave me something to hold on to. Something to believe in,” she said.
In 1945, at 10 years old and weighing only 35 pounds, Lazan and her family were finally liberated and began making arrangements to move and start a new life in the United States. This process took roughly three years and during that time she suffered the loss of her father to the disease typhus.
Her life in America continued to challenge her and at 13 years old she explained that because she did not know how to speak English she was placed in a classroom with nine year olds. Determined to succeed, Lazan said that she dedicated most of her time to her studies and graduated, at the age of 18, 8th in a class of over 260 students.
Lazan told the students that she began speaking publicly about her childhood experiences over 30 years ago and said that retelling the nightmare helps her separate herself from the experience. She asked the students to pass her story on to their friends, family members and future children, saying “Prevent our past from becoming your future.” She reminded the students about the importance of tolerance and respect and of accepting others who are different and said, “Build bridges and reach out to one another.”