Author of Four Perfect Pebbles Marion Blumenthal Lazan, spoke to Simmons Middle Schools students about surviving the Holocaust.
Lessons Learned from a Dark Period of History:
Holocaust Survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan Speaks to SMS Students
Simmons Middle School was pleased to welcome Marion Blumenthal Lazan, the author of the book Four Perfect Pebbles, on Monday morning at an all-school assembly. Students were told that they would have the unique experience to hear the story of a Holocaust survivor. As part of the sixth grade Language Arts curriculum, all students read Ms. Lazan’s Four Perfect Pebbles, but to hear the story and details provided kept the students listening intently.
Ms. Lazan started out her presentation saying that her story might have been the one told by Anne Frank, had she survived the Holocaust. (Teenager Anne Frank’s book, The Diary of Anne Frank, recounted the experience she and her family had during World War II and while they remained hidden from Nazi soldiers.) Ms. Lazan told the students that her own story was one of perseverance, determination, faith, and hope.
As Hitler rose to power, Ms. Lazan’s family, including her father, mother, and brother Albert, applied for and was granted paperwork to leave their home in Nazi-occupied Germany. In May 1941, the day before the family departed, Holland was invaded and the family was trapped where they were. All of their belongings that were to be loaded on the ship were burned.
Ms. Lazan described how people were transported to Eastern European concentration camps and extermination camps. She remembers when she was nine years old being transported in cattle cars and arriving in the pitch black, bitter cold while it was raining. Armed guards were shouting and attack dogs were barking. (To this day, she is still afraid of German Shepherds.) There were 12-foot high, electrified, barbed wire fences; guard towers; and searchlights.
Wooden, unheated shelters that were built for 100 people each housed 600 people. Bunk beds were three levels high and two people per bunk on each level. They had one thin blanket and a straw-filled mattress. The toilets were a long bench with holes cut into it. Each hole was right next to each other, so there was no privacy. There was also no toilet paper or soap, very little water, and they were never able to brush their teeth.
They were given very little food: one slice of bread which then went to one slice per week if the quarters were clean, a pat of butter, and watery soup with potato peelings and gristly meat. Everywhere there was malnutrition, dysentery, body lice, fear, filth and odor. “Bodies were removed daily, but they couldn’t be removed fast enough.”
In April 1945, Ms. Lazan and her family were being transported to an Eastern European extermination camp via cattle car, when they were liberated by the Russian army. At 11 years old, little Marion weighed just 35 pounds.
She eventually went to live in Peoria, Illinois where she learned English and eventually graduated from high school, eighth out of 267 students.
Today, Mrs. Lazan travels with her husband, Nathaniel, and proudly mentions their three grown children, nine grandchildren, and three great-granddaughters. Her book, Four Perfect Pebbles, was published in 1996. A PBS documentary, Marion’s Triumph, is narrated by actress Debra Messing and recounts Ms. Lazan’s story.
Mrs. Lazan said six million Jews were murdered during World War II. “There are approximately five million people in Alabama, so it is like the entire population of this state being wiped out, plus about one million more. Can you imagine?” She also told the students about the many non-Jews who jeopardized their own lives trying to help and hide Jews because they believed what was happening was wrong. When they were caught, they too, were sent to concentration camps and many lost their lives.
While Ms. Lazan talked about her life during World War II and the Holocaust, she had other messages for the students. She said it was important to not just follow along with people without understanding their true intentions. Ms. Lazan also told the students when she and the others were en route to the United States via boat, they were told if they wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, to come on deck early the next morning. “Everyone came up because everyone wanted to see the torch of freedom.” To this day, Ms. Lazan still looks to the Statue of Liberty every time she is in New York. She encouraged the students to go see it if they ever had the chance.
“You students are the last generation to hear these first-hand accounts of what happened. Share these stories with friends and relatives, and one day share them with your children and grandchildren. One day, I and others will not be here. It is you will have to bear witness.” She told the students that the Holocaust needs to be studied to prevent such terror and destruction from happening again. “We need love, respect, and tolerance, regardless of religious beliefs, color of skin, or national orientation, and it must begin with you. Let’s hope our past does not become your future.”