By Michelle Colesanti
There are very few opportunities in our lives to be in the same room with someone who has lived through (and survived) an horrific historical event. Students from Bell Shoals Baptist Academy, St. Stephen Catholic School, Grace Christian School and many home schooled students got to witness that first-hand as Holocaust Survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan shared her story of horror and hope at Bell Shoals Baptist Church on January 17.
After reading Marion’s Book, Four Perfect Pebbles last summer, Tammy Perkins, a teacher at Bell Shoals Baptist Academy became instrumental in getting Marion to the church to tell her story.
From ages 4 to 10, Marion lived a life filled with uncertainty, occasional periods of hope and certainly more misery than any of us today can begin to imagine. Along with her parents Walter and Ruth, and her brother Albert, the family was forced to live in refugee, transit and prison camps.
Her family’s journey began in Hoya, Germany and eventually took them to Holland in hopes of fleeing to America. At the start of WWII, that dream ended when Germany invaded Holland and her family was taken back to Germany to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Marion told the students, “Mine is a story that Anne Frank might have told had she survived. It’s a story of perseverance, determination, faith and hope.”
What she remembers about Bergen-Belsen is the death and misery everywhere. No trees, no flowers; not a blade of grass. Toilets were holes in the ground; no toilet paper. She did not get to brush her teeth for the 1 ½ years she was in the camp. Food was a slice of daily bread and water soup with potato peels. “The constant foul odor and filth surrounded by death is indescribable.” Once a month they took a shower, not knowing whether the shower would be water or gas was disconcerting.
Marion’s mother’s inner strength and fortitude saw them through. To survive, Marion would play her made-up ‘Four Perfect Pebbles’ game; looking for four pebbles exactly the same size, and if she did find them, she believed all members of her family would live. Somehow this game gave her something to hold onto –hope. She always found her four pebbles.
Towards the end of the war, the Blumenthal family was sent on what is known as the ‘death’ train, which contained 2500 people. After two weeks without food, water, medical supplies and toilets, the Russians freed them.
Severe dehydration due to typhus and dysentery was common, and sadly, six weeks after their liberation in April 1945, her dad died of Typhus, which was rampant through the prisoners.
They returned to Holland where she had to learn simple life skills such as table manners. Her first formal education was in a Montessori school. She also had to learn Dutch and Hebrew along with religious studies.
Three years after liberation, they arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey and eventually began their new life in America in Peoria, Illinois.
Marion spoke to the students about the importance of sharing her story with their friends and future children and grandchildren. “In a few short years, the Survivors will not be here to give a first-hand account. It is your generation that must bear witness and help guard the future from this happening again,” she said.
How we treat, behave and reach out to one another is entirely up to us. She spoke about how important it is not to just blindly follow a leader. Only if there is respect and tolerance for countries, can there be peace in the world. Marion expressed hope that the students could prevent her past from becoming their future.
She has returned to Germany twice. In 1995, she visited her father’s grave, and the spot where Bergen-Belsen used to be. Only mounds that are remnants of the mass graves exist. She again visited when her hometown named a local school after her.
Today, her life is full and rewarding. When she is not sharing her message, she spends time with her husband Nathan Lazan of almost 65 years and their family – three children, nine grandchildren and three great granddaughters.
Thanks to Mission BBQ, Bell Shoals Baptist Academy was able to raise enough funds to bring Marion to share her important message.
Four Perfect Pebbles was written by both Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan in 1994. Learn more about Lazan’s early life of hope, faith and survival by purchasing the book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Visit www.fourperfectpebbles.com.
On Amazon, you can also order the documentary on DVD, Marion’s Triumph: Surviving History’s Nightmare, narrated by Debra Messing.