A Story of Survival and Hope

Holocaust Survivor Marion Lazan Shares Personal Journey at Kristallnacht Memorial Event

On November 8, Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan was the featured speaker at the annual Kristallnacht commemoration organized by Yeshiva University’s Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM). The theme of this year’s event was “My Holocaust Story: A Message of Perseverance, Determination, Faith and Hope.”

Holocaust survivor Marion Lazan
Holocaust survivor Marion Lazan

Lazan has dedicated the last 40 years of her life to Holocaust education around the world, and told students that she has taken “101 round-trip flights this year” to share her stories. She spoke of the normalcy of her childhood in Germany prior to the Holocaust: “As unbelievable as it may seem, life in Germany in the early 1930s was similar to Jewish life in the United States today.” Lazan’s father owned a successful shoe store and her family lived above it.

YU students attending Kristallnacht comemoration
YU students attend the Kristallnacht commemoration event.

Lazan remembered the first night of Kristallnacht—November 9, 1938—as the beginning of a rapid change for her family as her father’s store, along with many others, was destroyed. That same night, her father was taken from the home and sent to Buchenwald, but was released three weeks later, when the family’s papers for immigration to the United States were examined and found to be in order. He sold his store for a fraction of its worth and took his family to Holland to wait until his family could leave for the U.S. But they were trapped when Germany invaded in 1940. Lazan’s family was transported to Bergen Belsen in January of 1944, where Lazan experienced the horrors of life in the concentration camps.

To help keep her mind off of the terror, Lazan said, she invented make-believe games, and one particular game became important to her. Lazan imagined that if she found four equally sized pebbles, her family of four would survive. It gave her something to hold on to in her most desperate hours. She recalled having certain hiding spots for some of the stones so she would always have four evenly-shaped pebbles. She would cheat if it meant winning her game and thus saving the lives of herself and her family.

Lazan’s family did survive the camp and were among those placed on a train of cattle cars ahead of the approaching Allied forces. The train was liberated by the Russian army. But they were in poor condition and her father died soon after. The remaining family members went to Israel and later Lazan and her brother emigrated to America.

Lazan explained that she feels as though she is relating a nightmare when she speaks and must herself from these years to cope. However, “despite all the terrible things that happened to me as a child, my life today is full and rewarding,” she added. She has three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Lazan held up her yellow star, which was used to denigrate and isolate Jews, as demonstration of how the Nazis made a Jewish symbol so ugly. “To defeat them we must have love, respect and tolerance for one another regardless of religion, skin color or nationality which begins in our homes,” she said.

Her message to students was simple: “I ask you to share my story or any of the stories you hear about [the Holocaust] with your children in the future,” Lazan said. “When we’re not here any longer it is you who will have to bear witness. Only then can we prevent this from ever happening again.”

Lazan has published an account of her experiences, Four Perfect Pebbles (Greenwillow Books). She also contributed to a documentary about her life, “Lazan’s Triumph,” which aired on PBS.

Mairav Linzer is a senior at Stern College for Women. She is majoring in biology and English literature and plans to attend law school after graduation.