FULTON, NY – Students in the Fulton City School District recently received a firsthand account of life in Europe during World War II, as Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan spoke to fifth and sixth grade students about the troubled childhood she was forced to live in Nazi Germany.
For nearly two hours Lazan shared her life story, and often paused to reinforce the importance of perseverance, determination, faith and most importantly, hope.
“My story is one that may have been similar to Anne Frank, had she survived,” Lazan said.
Lazan was born in Bremen, Germany, into a family that owned a successful shoe store. Lazan said that she, along with her parents, brother and grandparents, lived comfortably in an apartment above their shoe store.
However, Lazan explained that life became increasingly more difficult for Jewish people, especially after the Nuremberg Laws – a set of anti-Jewish statutes – were enacted on September 15, 1935.
The newly formed laws, designed to remove Jewish influences from society, caused Lazan’s family to contemplate leaving their home county for the freedom of the United States.
“These restrictions went on and on. It was then that my parents decided to make arraignments to leave the country,” said Lazan. “After my grandparents passed away in 1938, we received our necessary papers for our immigration to America. I was just four at that time.”
Just when Lazan and her family believed they’d secured their freedom, Nazi Germany coordinated Kristallnacht – also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass – a major attack against the Jewish communities throughout Germany and Austria.
As Lazan puts it, Kristallnacht was in reality the beginning of the Holocaust.
“Unbeknownst to my mother, my father was taken away to a concentration camp,” Lazan said. “He was released after 10 days, only because our papers were in order to immigrate to America. But to think that only a few years prior, my father had been awarded the Iron Cross for his military service in the German Army during World War I.”
After spending time in a detention camp, Lazan and her family were deported to a concentration camp in Germany. For more than six years, Lazan survived in what she described as an “area of misery.”
“There was no privacy. There was no toilet paper or soap, and hardly ever enough water to wash up. Never once were we able to brush our teeth,” Lazan said. “And we were never sure what would come out of the faucets – water or gas.”
Lazan explained that the Nazis’ tried to break down the Jewish prisoners both physically and mentally, and noted that they often succeeded. Looking back, Lazan said an extremely creative mind helped her stay positive during a time of great sadness.
Lazan created games while in the concentration camp to keep her mind occupied, including a game she called “Four Perfect Pebbles.”
“I would try to find four pebbles of about the same size and shape, and that would mean that the four members of my family would all survive,” she said. “This game gave me something to hold on to. It gave me a distant hope.”
That distant hope nearly became a reality for Lazan and her family. After being liberated from the concentration camp by Russian forces, her father lost his battle with typhus, a bacteria disease that also claimed the life of Anne Frank.
Lazan, along with her mother and brother, eventually made the journey to the United States.
Her new beginning didn’t come without struggles, as she had to learn a new language and catch up to her fellow classmates.
At 13 years old, Lazan was placed in a class with nine-year-old students. However, she preserved through her schooling and eventually ranked eighth in her graduating class.
Reflecting back on her life – which now includes 60-plus years of marriage, two children and 11 grandchildren – Lazan said she has remained positive and tries to always showcase kindness to others.
“Be kind to one another. It’s such a simple message that seems to be so hard to achieve,” Lazan told the students.
Albeit painful at times, Lazan said she continues to share her story because she believes life lessons can be learned by discussing dark moments such as the Holocaust.
“I do realize the importance of sharing that period of history with you, simply because in a few short years we will not be here anymore,” she said. “As difficult as it may be, the horror of the Holocaust must be taught and studied and kept alive. Only then can we make sure it never happens again.”