Granby Elementary School students put away their history books for a firsthand account of life during World War II. Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan spoke to fifth and sixth grade students at the school about life as a Jewish person in Nazi Germany.
Lazan was born in Bremen, Germany, into a family that owned a successful shoe store business.
She explained how her father was once a decorated member of the Germany Army and talked about how her and her family’s life forever changed in November 1938 when a massive series of coordinated assaults were made on Jewish people and Jewish business-owners residing in Nazi Germany.
“You are lucky to have the opportunity to come to school. You look comfortable and well rested,” she said to the students. “I did not have those comforts or necessities in my childhood,” she added when she talked about the wake of destruction following the attacks and how her family was forced to live in a concentration camp.
Lazan painted a very real picture for Granby students that is far removed from what they know and experience. She spoke about living in a camp surrounded by electrified barbed wire and men carrying loaded weapons, she talked about the lack of food and water, and the many illnesses and diseases that plagued her, her family and the other prisoners.
“I saw things as a child that no one should see,” she said to the Granby students who sat in silence trying to comprehend a world so different from their own.
Lazan talked about the games she would play to pass the time and keep her mind occupied.
One such game which later became the inspiration for her award-winning memoir was a game called “Four Perfect Pebbles.” Lazan told the students she would search the concentration camp yard for four pebbles of roughly the same size and shape.
“This game gave me hope. The four pebbles represented my family – my mom, dad, older brother and myself. Finding all four meant that we would survive,” she said to the students.
Granby students learned about the Lazan family’s liberation, her father’s battle and subsequent death from a bacteria disease known as typhus, and the journey she took with her mother and brother to the United States.
Her new beginning in the United States came with a struggle, especially at school when at 13 years old she found herself placed in a class with nine year olds. She persevered through her school work and studies and told the Granby students that she ended up graduating on time, with students her own age and was ranked eighth in her graduating class.
Reflecting back on her childhood and her struggles, Lazan radiates positivity, telling Granby students, “My life has been full and rewarding.” She asked the students to always be hopeful, keep a positive attitude in life and to value virtues of love, kindness, respect and tolerance. “Don’t blindly follow others,” she urged of the students, adding, “Build bridges and reach out to one another.”
When asked why she shares her story albeit painful at times, Lazan tells Granby students that she believes lessons can be learned from her dark history. She encourages the students to share her story with others, saying, “Keeping the horror of the holocaust alive will prevent it from reoccurring.”
Sixth grade students learn about the Eastern Hemisphere as part of the New York State Social Studies curriculum. Granby students study civilizations and their political structures and in preparation for the visit read Lazan’s memoir: “Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story.”