“Be Kind and Good and Respectful”

Mrs. Marion Blumenthal Lazan at Brashier Middle College. (Photo Courtesy of Ms. Vernon).

Mrs. Marion Blumenthal Lazan at Brashier Middle College. (Photo Courtesy of Ms. Vernon).


“We lived a very normal life [in Germany]. My father was very successful in the shoe business. All of a sudden, all those who were our dearest friends turned against us. Germany was one of the most cultured nations back in the 1930s. They were brilliant people, and this is what they used their brilliant minds for,” recalls Holocaust survivor Mrs. Marion Blumenthal Lazan, who recently spoke at Brashier.

Mrs. Lazan was describing the unspeakable events of Kristallnacht, after which her family attempted to seek refuge in Holland before traveling across the ocean to the United States.

Just one month before their planned departure to America, Nazi Germany invaded Holland, burning mostly every possession they owned. Marion, along with her father, mother, and brother, Albert, were herded to Westerbork, a transit camp that held Jews temporarily before transporting them to extermination and concentration camps. In January of 1944, Marion and her family were loaded up on cattle cars destined for Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in which few survived.

“It was a bitter cold, pitch black, rainy night when we arrived at the camp. I was nine years old. Six hundred people were crammed in cabins meant for 100, and two people shared each bunk, which was no larger than a cot. We were never able to brush our teeth. There was no grass, flowers, or trees. There was a constant foul odor and people suffered from malnutrition, typhus, dysentery, and lice,” says Lazan.

When Marion was just ten years old, she weighed a meager 35 pounds, and her mother only weighed 70 pounds.

“My mother [was what helped me survive the camp]. She had this wonderful attitude. She had this positive, strong, inner strength that helped keep us alive. I’m a strong believer that your mental attitude has much to do with your physical well-being. . . I was always stubborn. In our case, at our time, that was a good thing. I channeled it in a good direction. Physically, we were finished, but we had a strong mentality,” recalls Lazan.

In the spring of 1945, her mother somehow managed to collect extra scraps of food, which she placed in a container and was cooking in the cabin while Marion attempted to shield what her mother was doing when the unthinkable happened. German soldiers unexpectedly entered the barrack and called for a surprise inspection of the beds. The container of scalding soup accidentally spilled on Marion’s leg, but she knew if she so much as cried out in pain they would be caught, with disastrous consequences. As the weeks passed, Marion’s leg grew infected, and it was impossible to keep the wound clean.

“[I held on to the hope that one day] I would have my three B’s: a bed, bath, and bread. In April of 1945, we were boarded on a train for two weeks without food, water, or sanitary facilities to another camp once the Germans heard that the Allies were coming. The Russian Army liberated our train and treated my burned leg. [However], my father died from typhus just six weeks after liberation,” recounts Lazan.

The family was sent back to Holland to restart their lives, and on April 23rd, 1948, Mrs. Lazan finally arrived in America.

“There were two things my mother demanded of my brother and me: number one was to learn English and number two was to work as hard as we could to succeed. I sat through movies to learn English, and [one of the movies I watched often] was ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’. At age thirteen, I was placed in a room with nine year olds, and five years later, I graduated high school at age eighteen. I was eighth in my class of 267 students,” smiles Lazan.

This extraordinary woman’s remarkable story continues, in which Marion is married at eighteen to Nathaniel after corresponding through mail.

“Nathaniel was 19 and I was 16 when he asked to walk me home from a synagogue service at Yom Kippur. In his letters, Nathaniel would include ten English words for me to define and use in a sentence to help improve my English. We will be celebrating our 65th wedding anniversary this August,” says Lazan.

She and Nathaniel have been traveling the country and globe since 1979 in hopes of giving young people a first-hand account of the Holocaust.

“I didn’t choose to speak; I was invited. A rabbi asked me to share my story in 1979 on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I had to put on paper all of those thoughts I had suppressed. . . the meaning of life [now] is to reach out and touch others about what it entails to have a freedom in this world. I hope all future generations will live in a world of peace and love,” says Lazan.

When coming to the conclusion of her presentation at Brashier, Mrs. Lazan pleaded for all of us to remember two things.

“The first is that the Holocaust did happen. The second is to be kind and good and respectful towards one another,” urges Mrs. Lazan.

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