MMS and Jefferson Students Meet With ‘An Anne Frank Who Survived’

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Marion Blumenthal Lazan

“Think of me as Anne Frank, had she survived.”

Sixth graders at Maplewood Middle School and fifth graders from Jefferson School listened in rapt silence last Monday, May 11, as Marion Blumenthal Lazan told the story of how her German Jewish family nearly escaped the Holocaust, waiting at the Dutch Westerbork camp for a ship to sail to America, only to fall into the hands of the Nazis after the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.

Lazan did not spare any details as she related the experiences of starvation, deprivation, and the filth and horrors of Bergen-Belsen, the German concentration camp where she, her mother, father and brother were interned.

Lazan explained how their stomachs shrank until they no longer felt the hunger (she weighed 35 lbs at the age of 10-1/2, upon liberation; her mother weighed 60 lbs). She told of how she thought that firewood was be pushed in wheelbarrows when she first entered Bergen-Belsen as a little girl, but then realized that the piles were naked, emaciated bodies. Lazan explained how detainees were made to stand in a field all day in all kinds of weather, how they were covered with lice, how they needed to urinate on themselves to ward off frostbite, how they were allowed to shower once a month en masse but never knew if gas or water would pour forth from the spigots.

It was a difficult story for the students to hear, and a difficult one for Lazan to tell, but the students listened with appreciation and grace.

After enduring the entire war in confinement, Lazan, her mother and brother survived; her father succumbed to typhus six weeks after liberation.

Now in her 80s, Lazan is energetic and youthful. Her tale is remarkable not only for the terrible atrocities that she detailed but also for her generous and forgiving spirit. She asked the middle schoolers to have respect for one another, to not judge others because of their group or background, and to thoughtfully question authority.

Finally, Lazan told the students that they would be the last generation to hear the story of the Holocaust firsthand from actual survivors. “When we are not here any longer, you will have to bear witness,” she told the students. “Only then can we ensure it will not happen again.”

Those interested in hearing more about Lazan’s story can read the book Four Perfect Pebbles or look for the documentary Marion’s Triumph (narrated by Debra Messing). Lazan’s visit was funded by both the Jefferson School PTA and the MMS HSA.

Click on any image below to see a slideshow of Lazan speaking at Maplewood Middle School.

Editor’s note, May 20, 2015: this article was updated to reflect that the audience consisted of 6th graders from MMS and 5th graders from Jefferson School.

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