Holocaust survivor shares story of hope with Team Vance

  • Published
  • By Joe B. Wiles
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma -- “Mine is a story that Anne Frank might have told had she survived.”

Marion Blumenthal Lazan did survive to tell her story. She survived the concentration camps and death trains of the Holocaust in Germany and Holland during World War II.

She survived, and married, and has welcomed children and grandchildren into a world not always filled with good memories.

Lazan shared her story and memories with the men and women of Team Vance April 13 in the base auditorium. A story she has shared with more than a million students and adults over the past 25 years.

“It still has not become easy,” said the 81-year-old speaker and author.

She first spoke publicly of the emotional and physical abuse she, her mother, father and brother endured at the hands of the Nazi’s at her synagogue in 1979. Her rabbi had asked her to share during Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I was very reluctant to do so, to speak in front of people. But I agreed. That meant I had to sit down and write down all the thoughts I had suppressed for so many years. It was quite difficult,” she said.

When teachers in the audience heard Marion’s story, they wanted her to come share at their schools.

The first was in Brooklyn, New York. “It was very difficult, but it went very well.”

Since then, she has shared her story before audiences all around the world. It has become a mission.

“We are running out of time. It’s got to be done now,” she said. Today’s school children are the last generation that will hear of the horrors of the Holocaust first-hand from survivors, said Lazan.

Her story, as she shared it with the Vance audience, conveyed a message of perseverance, determination, faith, and above all, hope. But it is a story filled with fear and suffering.

Her life in Germany in the 1930s was good. Her father had a successful shoe business in a small town. Her parents, older brother and her grandparents lived above the shoe store.

But things changed in 1935. The Nazi Party announced new laws which excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of German or related blood. Additional ordinances disenfranchised Jews and deprived them of most political rights.

“Jews were not allowed into theaters, into parks or into swimming pools. All public schools were closed to Jewish children,” she said.

“Then there was the evening curfew for the Jews. Jews were only allowed to shop during specific hours of the day. And non-Jews were not allowed to shop in Jewish owned stores. Non-Jews were not allow to associate with Jewish people,” said Lazan.

Her parents decided to make arrangements to leave the country. She was four years old when her family received the necessary papers for immigration to American. Unfortunately, those papers would not be used until 10 years later

Then came Nov. 9, 1938, and “Kristallnacht,” the night of broken glass.

“The Nazis and their many followers smashed the windows and store fronts of Jewish owned stores. Jewish establishments, synagogues and Jewish books were burned and destroyed,” said Lazan. “This was the beginning of the Holocaust.”

That night her father was taken away and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was released 10 days later because his papers were in order for immigration to America.

In January 1939, she and her family left for Holland where they waited at a detention camp, hoping to sail to the United States.

But they were delayed until May, 1940, when the German Army invaded Holland. All their belongings were destroyed and their future grew darker.

In 1944, Lazan and her family were taken by train to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, Germany. “I remember it was a bitter cold, pitch black rainy night when we arrived at our destination. I was nine years old.”

She was placed in a section called the “Star Camp” where they had to continue wearing the yellow star they were issued back in Holland. The star labeled them Jewish.

A detailed and gripping narrative of her time in the detention and concentration camps is told in her book, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” named for the game she played in her imagination to cope with the unbelievable conditions and events. “We, as children, saw things that no one, no matter the age, should ever have to see,” said Lazan.

She imagined if she could find four perfect pebbles of almost exactly the same size and shape, her family would remain whole and survive.

In the spring of 1945, after six and a half years of mental torture and physical abuse, Lazan and her family were liberated by the Russian Army. Then her father died of typhus six weeks later.

In April 23, 1948, Lazan, her mother and brother arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey. A Jewish relief organization found a home for them in Peoria, Illinois.

Five years later, at 18, she graduated high school, and two months after that she married Nathaniel Lazan, a fellow she met two years earlier. “God willing, we’ll be celebrating our 63rd wedding anniversary this coming August,” she said.

Marion’s story of survival in the camps directly relates to the resilience initiative at Vance, said Kayce Garrett, the 71st Flying Training Wing Community Support Coordinator.

“I met Marion back in West Virginia when I was student teaching,” said Garrett. “My students were reading her book. We coordinated a visit for her to come to my school in 2012.

“Her husband, Nathaniel, was an Air Force pilot and my husband (1st Lt. Andrew Garrett) was going to be a pilot, so there was a connection,” said Garrett.

Lazan was in Enid to speak to local school students at the invitation of Jayli Downard, an 8th grade student at Chisholm Middle School.

Lazan’s book, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” is on the 8th grade reading list, said Crystal Szymanski, the principal at Chisholm.

Jayli really liked the book and did some research on Mrs. Lazan to figure out how to contact her and invite her to come speak at Chisholm, said Szymanski.

Jayli contacted Lazan through Facebook and she agreed to come.

Lazan then called Garrett and asked if she could speak on base while she and Nathaniel were in Enid.

“Absolutely,” said Garrett.

Lazan’s resilience kept her going during the dark days in the concentration camp.

In addition to the four perfect pebbles, Lazan imagined that one day she would have her three B’s again. Those three B’s represented everyday comforts and necessities too often taken for granted.

“The first B represented a bed. I knew that someday I would once again have my very own bed with a real mattress, clean sheets and enough blankets to keep me warm,” she said.

“The second B represented a bath. Warm water, soap, a clean towel and with that would come toothpaste and a toothbrush of course.

“The third B was bread. I knew that someday I once again would have enough bread so that I would never again go hungry,” said Lazan.

Imaginary games were her survival techniques, her survival skills.

“Do you know that we all have survival techniques and skills within us?” Lazan asked the Vance audience. “When the need arises, we just have to search for them, find them, and be sure we put them to work.

“No one is spared adversity. No one is spared hardship. We all have to overcome obstacles at one time or another.

“But with perseverance, with determination, with faith, and above all, with hope, one can overcome just about anything and everything. Above all, don’t ever, ever give up hope.

“It is not so much what happens to a person. It is how we deal with the situation that makes the difference” she said.

Lazan ended her talk with a request of the audience.

“The horror of the Holocaust must be taught, must be studied and kept alive. Only then can we guard it from ever happening again. This is what’s important,” she said.