Lessons on tolerance from a Holocaust survivor

Lessons on tolerance from a Holocaust survivor

dsc_0583Caption: Photo by James A. McBride











Marion Blumenthal Lazan, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a child, speaks to students at St. Teresa School, Runnemede, on March 4.


RUNNEMEDE — Students in grades 5-8 at St. Teresa School here were taught a lesson on the Holocaust, from someone who survived it, on March 4.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan, whose childhood included near starvation as a concentration camp prisoner, offered some hard-earned advice to her young listeners: “be kind, good, respectful and tolerant of one another.”

Lazan co-authored an award-winning book on her struggle, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” that was read by students before her visit.

Along with her parents and brother, Lazan suffered under Nazi rule first in the Westerbork Transit Camp in Holland, and later in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Born in 1934 — the same year Hitler became Fuehrer — Lazan grew up with her mother, father and brother in Germany. The Nuremberg (Race) Laws became effective the following year, and Lazan’s family and other Jews found the themselves restricted from movie theaters and parks, and saw other rights taken away.

Forced to close his business, Lazan’s father made plans to take the family out of the country, hoping to eventually make it to the United States. In January 1939, the family emigrated to Holland, but after the Nazi army invaded that country, Lazan, her brother and parents found themselves in the Westerbork Transit Camp and, later, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Lazan recalled living among 600 Jewish prisoners, in barracks made for only 100 people, and sleeping on a straw mattress with a small blanket.  One slice of bread a week was her ration, and the monthly shower made prisoners uneasy, as they weren’t sure whether water or gas would come out.

Lazan also told of the time she discovered that a wagon she thought was loaded with firewood actually carried the naked bodies of dead prisoners.

“The Nazis did their best to break us physically, spiritually and emotionally,” she said.

To keep hope, she invented a game.  She imagined that if she found four pebbles of the same shape and size, then all four of her family members would survive their ordeal. “This game gave me hope,” she said.

In the spring of 1945, after being transported on a train to Eastern Europe for two weeks with her family, the Russian army liberated her, her family, and the other prisoners. During this time, at the age of 10, she weighed 35 pounds.

For Lazan, the elation of freedom was replaced with grief when her father died of typhus six weeks after their rescue.

In 1948, Lazan, her brother, and mother arrived at Ellis Island. Today, at the age of 78, she lives in New York with her husband, Nathaniel, who accompanied her to St. Teresa School. The couple have three children and nine grandchildren.

Lazan admitted that, at times, she wrestled with her faith about her struggles, but said, “I am proud of my faith. Don’t ever give up hope; it’s how we deal with a situation that makes the difference.”

She also urged the students to share her Holocaust story, as “you are the last generation to hear first-hand accounts.  The horrors of the Holocaust must be told, studied and kept alive,” so that it is not repeated.

After her talk, Lazan met students and signed copies of her book.

Her talk was “very important for our children, because one of the chief lessons they learned is that when you are around something that’s so negative in your life, you become stronger,” said Sister Patricia Scanlon, school principal.

“There’s so much wisdom to be gained through suffering; it’s how you handle it. It’s such a blessing (for students) to hear (her story). This is a lesson for their whole lifetime.”


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