Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a Holocaust survivor and author of the book “Four Perfect Pebbles,” was a recent visitor in the Fulton City School District where she shared her personal story of hope, courage and compassion with sixth grade students in the district.
Aligned with the sixth grade curriculum and study of World War II, Lazan’s first-hand account of the persecution of Jewish citizens, and her experiences in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp brought the reality of the Holocaust to more than 300 students from the four elementary schools in Fulton.
“Mine is the story that Anne Frank might have told had she survived,” said Lazan, adding “This is a message of perseverance, determination, faith and above all hope.”
Her story began with the Nuremburg Laws which imposed restrictions on Jews in Germany when she was a young child. Her father was a successful business owner and had received the prestigious Iron Cross for his service in the German Army, but on November 9, 1938, a date known as Kristallnacht, or “night of broken glass” things changed for the worst for the Jewish people in Germany.
This date marked the beginning of the Holocaust. Lazan’s family fled to Holland to await departure to the United States where they would be safe.
But in May 1940, one month before they were scheduled to leave, the Germans invaded Holland and they were trapped.
The family was taken by cattle car to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
Marion was only nine years old.
The camp was divided into several areas, separated by electrified fences.
She and her mother were sent to the women’s side and her brother and father were housed with the men.
She was put into a building built for 100 people, but crammed with 600, living in triple-decker bunk beds as their only living quarters.
“There were no trees, no flowers, never even a blade of grass,” she recalled.
The conditions in the camp were designed to break people physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Sickness, disease, lice, and death were ever-present, even though her mother tried her best to protect young Marion from seeing the numerous dead bodies.
They had very little to keep them warm and even less to eat, with a ration of a single slice of bread and a small dish of watery soup with maybe a turnip in it for food.
Later, her bread ration was cut to one slice per week.
Death was an everyday occurrence.
“We, as children, saw things that no one of any age should ever see,” she said. “We lived in constant fear.”
“One day, a game based on superstition became very important to me,” she told the students.
If she could find four perfect matching pebbles, each representing her four family members, it would mean that all of her family would continue to survive.
It became her symbol of hope.
“The game gave me something to hold on to. Something to believe in,” she said.
Finally in 1945, her family was forced into another train cattle car that was destined for Eastern Europe.
For two weeks, with little food and water and under horrible conditions, the family suffered.
The train stopped once a day, removed the newly dead and allowed the people off where they could eat a small amount of food, have a drink of water and use the bathroom.
Dehydration, typhus and dysentery were rampant.
After two weeks, the train was liberated by the Russian Army, and Marion and her family received medical treatment.
Marion, at age 10 ½ weighed only 35 pounds, her mother only 60 pounds. Her father died from typhus not long after liberation and Marion’s brother, Albert, the only one strong enough, had to bury their father.
The family tried to enter Palestine following the war, but they were denied.
Finally they found sponsorship in Peoria, Illinois, and the Holland America Line honored their tickets purchased many years earlier and they began to start their life over again in America.
Marion was 13.
Her perseverance, determination and strength of spirit helped her quickly learn the language, learn how to be a child again, and excel in school.
Five years later, she graduated eighth in a class of 267 students.
She attended Bradley University in Peoria where she met Nathaniel Lazan.
This August, they will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
“I have had a full and rewarding life,” she told the students.
Marion and Nathaniel have three children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Her brother, Albert, has dealt with the experience in a very different way.
“And I respect that,” she said.
Albert does not speak about the past and refused to bring children into this world.
Their mother, Ruth, passed away recently, just shy of her 105th birthday.
Lazan has shared her personal story with more than 1 million students around the world.
She encourages each student she meets to have love, respect and tolerance for one another.
“Respect must begin in your homes, in your workplace, in your classrooms, in the halls of your schools and in your community. It must begin with our children. Please,” she implored. “Build bridges and reach out to one another.”
Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and of those, one and a half million were children.
They were killed for no other reason than they were different; they were Jewish. In addition, five million non-Jews were killed, including the righteous Gentiles who jeopardized their lives to try and save the Jewish people.
Lazan’s hope in recounting her story is that by hearing it young people will remember to respect and tolerate the difference of others.
“By listening,” she said, “I hope you prevent our past from becoming your future.”
Lazan’s visit to the Fulton City School District was coordinated by the Oswego County BOCES’ Arts in Education service.