When Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, 88, spoke to seventh- and eighth- graders at Lincoln Orens Middle School in Island Park, she didn’t just want to pass on a message — she needed to. And that message was one of kindness toward one’s fellow man.
“In a few short years, I and other survivors will not be around to share our experiences firsthand,” Lazan told the students. “Please share our stories. It is you who will have to bear witness.”
Lazan details much of her unique and heartbreaking story in her novel “Four Perfect Pebbles,” co-authored by Lila Perl and named for an imaginary game that she played during her and her family’s time in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. Her story was the subject of a 2002 documentary called “Marion’s Triumph,” in which she recalls how “we often tripped and fell over the dead . . . death was everywhere.”
“The game was based on superstition,” Lazan said of Four Perfect Pebbles. “If I were able to find four pebbles around the same size and shape, in my mind, that would mean that the four members of my family would survive.”
Although she and her family all survived the various camps, Lazan’s father, Walter, would succumb to typhus six months after.
Lazan also told the students that, while in the camps, she hoped for three B’s: a bed, a bath, and bread. Or in her mind, as a German 10-year-old, Ein Bett, Ein Bad, Ein Brot.
“As far as the beds were concerned, they were triple-decker bunk beds, with two people sharing each bunk,” Lazan told the Herald — but, she said, she
knew that “someday, I would once again have my very own bed, with a real mattress, clean sheets and blankets to keep me warm. . . . Secondly, a bath. I hoped for warm water, clean towels, and to use toothpaste and a toothbrush.”
Her hopes and prayers would come true when the Russian army liberated the train she was on right before the Nazis were going to send them to the gas chambers in a nearby extermination camp during the end of the war.
On April 23, 1948, exactly three years to the day of their liberation, a Jewish relief organization found a home for Lazan and her family in Peoria, Illinois. It was a place she had never heard of before, and a place where she would have to start her whole life over at the age of 11 in a “strange country.”
She has learned to share messages of hope, courage, and compassion, especially to today’s youth. Just this year, she has shared her story to thousands of students spanning the country, both in-person and virtually, everywhere from Island Park to Minnesota to Arizona.
“The most important thing for the children, and audiences of all ages, is to be kind, good and respectful towards one another,” Lazan emphasized. “That is the basis for peace and respect and tolerance and compassion towards one another. … To be good is an easy message, and yet so hard to achieve.”
Although Lazan has shared her story nationally for over 25 years, she knows that each and every audience — whether it be a group of businesspeople or a group of middle schoolers — can comprehend and apply her message to turn the world into a better place.
“My story conveys a message of perseverance, determination, faith, and hope,” Lazan said, “Everyone can identify with that for sure.”