Holocaust survivor delivers message of perseverance, determination, faith and hope

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The author captured photos of Marion and Nathan Lazan (above) and of Lazan showing her yellow star (below) during the March 4 Zoom presentation.

On March 4, Granby Memorial Middle School welcomed Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, 86, as a guest speaker. Lazan spoke of her many experiences as a Jewish person and as a survivor of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen during World War II. This story was shared virtually from her home in New York with her husband, Nathaniel, at her side.

For an hour, Lazan talked about her experiences to an audience of 150 eighth grade students as well as teachers, teaching assistants, school administration, various community members, parents, and members of the Granby Education Foundation (GEF).

Lazan detailed how she and her father, mother and brother were trapped in Nazi Germany during the beginning of World War II, but were able to escape to Holland. Unfortunately, soon after arrival, Holland was soon occupied by the Nazis.

Lazan described how, during six and a half years, she and her family were forced to live as refugees, in transit between prison camps in Holland and Germany because they were a Jewish family.

She shared some of her experiences when the family learned that it was their turn to leave on a cattle car destined for the prison camp Bergen-Belsen. “As children, we were glad for a change of environment, but we were naive. When we approached the cattle cars, our fears began to mount. The adults suspected and feared what was in store. We were greeted by vicious attack guards with their dogs. It frightened me as a 9-year-old, and I still have fear when I see a German Shepherd.” Lazan detailed that of 120,000 men, women and children, 102,000 were doomed to never return.

Lazan explained that, when in a prison camp, there were at times 600 people crammed into crude barracks meant for 100. There were triple-decker bunk beds that were shared by two people to a bunk.” The bunk was our only living quarters,” she said.

Young Marion created a game to play in her mind as she spent time at the prison camp. The game she named “Four Perfect Pebbles” had a simple goal: find four perfect pebbles on the ground by the day’s end. If she was able to do this, that meant that her family would be safe. This game occupied her thoughts and gave her a purpose during her days. Lazan says that she was often able to find the perfect pebbles, but not always. Years later, Lazan and co-author Lila Perl wrote a book about Marion’s experiences called Four Perfect Pebbles, A Holocaust Story.

Lazan’s message was one of sharing her experiences living through the Holocaust but also to share her personal philosophy with the middle school students. “This is a message of perseverance, determination, faith and hope,” she said. Recalling her time at a prison camp, she said, “I knew the sun would always come out. I would imagine that one day I would have 3 Bs: a bed, a bath, and bread. These were my survival skills and techniques. We all have to overcome obstacles. It is how we deal with the situation that makes the difference.”

Many students felt the impact of Marion’s visit. Some students wrote:

“All I can say is that you are an absolute warrior.” Avery Unger 

“Your presentation taught me to always persevere especially when you are at your toughest moments in life.” Aleina Nardi

“I can’t even imagine putting myself in your shoes, but after your presentation, I can now see, just a little clearer, how difficult times were.” Hannah Park

“Some things I have taken away from this is no matter what, everyone is equal.” Emme Dillingham

Lazan visited GMMS through the efforts of Shirley Cowles, enrichment coach and teacher, who has seen Lazan’s presentation many times in different school districts. Cowles says bringing Lazan to speak to the eighth graders was tied to Granby’s school-wide enrichment model, where a “type 1 experience” such as Lazan’s visit, provides general exposure to a large group of students to pique their interest or be a direct link to the curriculum.

Cowles said, “This is important for our students. So often how we are educating them is providing them with resources, books, novels, movies, film—all wonderful aides to building knowledge. This is a first-hand account from a woman, as a younger girl, who has lived history. She is there to tell them, live, what this was like. Marion Lazan is a primary source to history.”

For more information on Marion Blumenthal Lazan, please see her website: fourperfectpebbles.com/

GMMS thanks the Granby Education Foundation for funding this guest speaker.

These three poems, written by students in Grace Matthew’s eighth grade class at GMMS, were inspired by Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s presentation. 

Diary of a Young Girl
—Anne Frank

Hideaway girl, hideaway world.
I call it the Secret Annex. 
Morning and night, day after day,
I always find my way.
We were free, then we were the enemy.
What ever happened?
I don’t feel the ground I walk on, 
but I do feel the Nazis surrounding me.
Quiet footsteps,
looking in every direction,
feeling like you have nothing left.
One Jew down, another one goes.
Don’t make Hitler prouder,
he will just become louder.
“Jews shouldn’t be privileged; all Jews are forbidden. “
I hope everyone at the Secret Annex will make it.
You could feel the emotions running through everybody.
They are innocent people that just wanted to reach the finish line,
without Hitler coming in their way.

Wars, invasions,
who knows what’s next?
Our little attic already has enough to handle.
A rush of discouragement, we are in a scandal.

Peter Van Daan…
has the eyes of the sun.
He is the only person keeping me alive in the Secret Annex.
Can you imagine?

Important resources can drop like flies,
and so can people.
You try not to think about it,
but the thought still wanders in your mind.

People always have their differences, 
me and mummy definitely have.
Never see eye to eye,
it’s like she always denies.

it’s a strong word.

—Jazlyn Nelson

*My Anne Frank Song*
Cry Without Crying Too

My home my family my very own room
The worst I didn’t even think to assume
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh

Shot shot boom take my family were doomed
All I have is my memory everything else is entombed
Oh oh oh

Now I’m hiding in a locked old room tight quiet everything you wouldn’t want to do
I didn’t want to leave
Everything I believe

I didn’t even think it was true when they told me the truth
No token of my old life
Just a long walk of strife

I miss everything it would have been
Now I am away and hidden
I’m just like you through and through
Can you really watch me cry without crying too?

No yelling shsh have to tiptoe not prance
I’m so spiritless I think I’m in a trance
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh

My mom isn’t very nice to me
We bicker and bicker relentlessly
Oh oh oh

Now I’m hiding in a locked old room tight quiet everything you wouldn’t want to do
I didn’t want to leave
everything I believe

I didn’t even think it was true when they told me the truth
No token of my old life
Just a long walk of strife

I miss everything it would have been been
Now I am away and hidden
I’m just like you through and through
Can you really watch me cry without
crying too?

In a concentration camp
Just one oat and a tiny lamp
Oh oh oh
oh oh oh
Ashamed I am of my tiny body
Limp and tired a bit bloody
oh oh oh

If I said I wasn’t sick it would be a lie
Now I’m going to have to say goodbye

Rest in peace young girl
Oh Oh oh

—Annie Baldwin


Before we were equal,
We were free.
Free to be whoever we are,
And to believe whatever we believed.
The people I once called friends had their minds distorted.
They considered us to be the enemy.
They thought we were to blame for the suffering of the population as a whole.
Before I could walk where I wanted to, and go where I pleased.
Now, everyone knows from the sight of me, that I’m different.
Bright yellow against drab clothing draws eyes to my face.
Their faces plagued with disgust as they see us walk by.
Let me make it clear, they wasted no time.
Then they start to attack.
They set fire to our lives.
The sound of shattering glass echoed through the streets.
The crimson blood stained the walkways.
The only thing to do is run.

Our secret sanctuary provided us refuge from the chaos outside.
But our hideaway couldn’t keep out the hate.
The Secret Annex was a ticking time bomb.
Infight sparked like fire if you rubbed someone the wrong way.
Stubbornness overtook everyone.
The bond, however, that we all share was resistant to the troubles that we faced.
As close as we all were and as outspoken as I was,
I couldn’t have a real conversation with any of them. 
The thoughts I couldn’t share remain in the pages of my diary.
The words float throughout the pages.

These people are my new family, in a way.
Life here at the Annex has calmed down after we all got settled.
Sometimes it’s difficult to cooperate with each other,
But we have each other’s backs.
Who knows how long we will all have to stay together?
We all grew together.
Much like a tree, our branches and our lives all intertwined together as we grew.
I got to watch myself grow into a woman.
I got to watch us grow up together.
I got to watch us grow into a family.
Whatever it is, family is forever.
They finally came knocking at our door.
We hid in the shadowy corners of the house.
I knew eventually the confines of our hideout couldn’t protect us forever.
Forever can be a completely arbitrary word sometimes.
Forever doesn’t always last. 
We have a word describing the thought of being for the rest of time,
But it never ends like that.

Like millions of others, I got taken to a concrete wasteland, where the barbed wire marked the boundaries of the prison.
My story was cut short.
I made it this far,
But I tripped at the finish line.

—Katie O’Neill