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Holocaust survivor tells students to learn from past, embrace kindness

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Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a child Holocaust survivor, shows an actual yellow Star of David that she was forced to wear identifying her as a Jew in Nazi Germany. She and her family were imprisoned in the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp before the camp was liberated in April of 1945. Lazan spoke to students at Fisher High School Monday and will speak tonight at Senior High in East Grand Forks. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

FISHER, Minn.—As a child, imprisoned with her brother and parents in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Nazi Germany during World War II, Marion Blumenthal Lazan invented a game to pass the time and give her hope.

Each day, she told herself, if she found four pebbles—one for each member of her family—all of them would survive the ordeal.

Speaking to an assembly of middle school students at Fisher School on Monday, Lazan shared her and her family's experiences in Germany before the war, in the concentration camp and after their liberation in April 1945.

During her second visit to this area, she will also be speaking to middle school students in the Grand Forks area and at Grand Forks Air Force Base. She spoke here four years ago, she said.

Lazan, 82, travels internationally, talking about the six-and-a-half years she and her family spent in refugee, transit and prison camps. She has spoken to nearly 1 million students and adults, she said.

In the years leading up to World War II, Lazan described restrictions that were imposed on Jewish residents, including being barred from public schools, theaters, and swimming pools. Non-Jews were barred from shopping in Jewish businesses, she said.

A yellow, star-shaped patch, emblazoned with "Juden," meaning "Jewish," was sewn to their clothing "to denigrate us and set us apart from the rest of society," she said.

"The Nazis took a beautiful Jewish symbol and made it ugly."

Her father, who ran a successful shoe business, was forced to sell it and the family's home at a fraction of their worth, she said.

On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi soldiers smashed windows and storefronts of Jewish businesses. Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass," marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

Her family was imprisoned for more than two years at Bergen-Belsen, rimmed with 12 feet of barbed wire, where "the constant foul odor, the filth, the fear" were ever-present, she said. "Death was an everyday occurrence. There were scenes a child should never see."

Although people read articles or see film footage of the camps, "there's no way it can be put accurately into words or pictures," she said.

Of the 6 million Jews who were killed in concentration camps, one-and-a-half million were children, Lazan said. She credits her mother's strength and determination for her own survival.

Her father succumbed to typhus shortly after the family was liberated.

The number of Holocaust survivors is decreasing daily. She urged the young listeners to share her story with others and "someday share it with your children and grandchildren," she said, "because in a few short years, we will not be here. It is you who will have to bear witness."

Lazan urged the students to develop "survival techniques" as a means of coping with difficult times in life.

"No one is spared adversity; no one is spared hardship," she said. "Never ever give up hope."

Like a kind but firm grandmother, Lazan stressed the importance of treating others with kindness, tolerance and respect.

"Never generalize," and don't judge an entire group by the actions of a few, she said.

She also cautioned against blindly "following someone without checking what their intentions are."

The lessons she's trying to convey "must start in the home," she said. "That's the only way" an atrocity, like the Holocaust, can be avoided.

"Learn from these lessons. Prevent our past from becoming your future."

If you go:

What: Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday

Where: East Grand Forks Senior High School gymnasium, 1420 Fourth Ave. NW

Cost: Free. A freewill offering will be collected for the WDAY Honor Flight program