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Holocaust Survivor Brings Story of Triumph to Mt. Pleasant Students

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Marion's Triumph
Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan discussed her life in front of an audience of fifth-graders on June 7 at Columbus Elementary School in Thornwood.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan implored fifth-grade students at Mount Pleasant’s Columbus Elementary School last week to be tolerant and accept differences in others. If there is tolerance and respect, Lazan reasoned, there can be peace in the world.

As a Holocaust survivor, Lazan knows how hate can spiral out of control.

Lazan, co-author of “Four Perfect Pebbles–A Holocaust Story” with Brooklyn-based writer Lila Perl, has toured the world to discuss the horrors of spending more than six years of her childhood in refugee, transit and concentration camps and bringing her message of tolerance and hope.

The book’s title referred to the game she played while trying to survive in Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany. She would search for four small stones, each one representing a member of her family. Once she gathered the pebbles she felt confident her family would be safe.

Lazan vividly recalled how the persecution started in her native Germany–Kristallnacht on Nov. 7, 1938–when Jews were attacked and their properties destroyed.

Lazan said her family fled Germany two months later for Holland in hopes of eventually reaching the United States. But before they could emigrate, the Germans occupied Holland. They spent time in Westerbork, a prison camp in Holland before being transported to Bergen-Belsen for the final 18 months of World War II and before the camps were liberated.

Though she was a young girl of about five years old when the war started, Lazan has vivid memories of her experience in captivity. One of the most difficult was the monthly showers.

“We were nervous when the faucet was turned on. (Was it) water or gas?” she said she remembered wondering.

Conditions were deplorable. Children were infected with lice. Some of the prisoners unsuccessfully attempted to escape. Lazan recalled the images of “dead bodies on the barbed wire. Death was an every day occurrence.”

Food usually consisted of only bread. Lazan said one day her mother took some potatoes from a kitchen, brought them back to their quarters and tried to make soup. But prison guards made an unexpected inspection of the room and when her mother tried to hide what she made, some of the hot soup spilled on Lazan, burning her leg. The still visible scar is a vivid reminder of much of her childhood.

By 1945 the Soviets liberated the camp.

“I vividly remember the spring of 1945,” Lazan said. “It was a wonderful, exciting feeling to be free at last.”

After the war, the family attempted to relocate to Palestine, which would eventually become Israel, however, they were denied entry. In April 1948, they arrived in America.

Fifth-grade teacher Cami Maffei said students have been studying fictional works from the Holocaust and their interest was piqued.

“Since the students were so interested in this topic, the fifth grade teachers thought to have a survivor come and speak from her own personal story,” Maffei said. “This way they can bring the stories to life.”

Maffei said the curriculum matches the Lazan’s goal, “the message of respect” and tolerance, which could have helped prevent the Nazi atrocities.

“The Holocaust didn’t need to happen,” Maffei said.

Though all four members of her family survived the Holocaust, Lazan’s father, Walter Blumenthal, died from typhus shortly after liberation. Lazan’s brother, Albert, lives in California and her mother, Ruth, is 104 years old, and lives a few minutes away from Lazan’s Long Island home. Lazan and her husband, Nathaniel, recently celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.

Aside from her book and lectures, Lazan was the focus of a PBS documentary, “Marion’s Triumph.” There was also a two-act musical based on the documentary.

A key motivation for Lazan to hit the lecture circuit, which she has been doing since 1979, is that the number of Holocaust survivors are dwindling. As a result, she asked the students for a favor–for them to remember her visit and her message and to relate those stories to the next generation when they get older.

Lazan’s message of tolerance was shared by fifth-grader Matthew Panker, who plans to read her memoirs. Individuals need “to respect all different types of people,” he said.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s website is

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