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Holocaust survivor speaks in Twin Ports

Marion Lazan

Fifteen years ago, students at East Middle School in Superior were touched by Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s story.

"It made you realize how terrible it really was," said Garrett Vollmer, a student at the time. "It’s amazing she survived."

Although they’d read "Four Perfect Pebbles," the story of Lazan’s life under Nazi rule, the chance to hear from the author in person made a huge impact.

"Her words were really powerful," said middle school student Courtney Sanders. "It was so sad."

As a child, the author, her mother, father and brother escaped Nazi Germany and made it to Holland, but it was soon occupied by the Nazis. The family was forced to live in refugee, transit and prison camps for six and a half years.

"Actually, my story is one that Anne Frank might have told had she lived," Lazan said on her website, "She was in Westerbork where I was. Eventually, she came to Bergen-Belsen, where I was, and where tragically she died from typhus in March of 1945."

The community can hear Lazan’s words again during a series of free talks, "Lessons from the Past," that kick off Monday. The presentations were funded by a $2,000 grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

"Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, stated, ‘When you listen to a witness, you become a witness,’" said Mary Anderson-Petroske, project co-director and teacher at Superior High School. "The opportunity for people to interact with a Holocaust survivor is becoming increasingly limited, and Marion’s firsthand testimony of the atrocities may leave an indelible mark on those that experience her story; positive changes may be created in all of us due to this interaction with her."

Stacy Burfield’s fifth graders at Northern Lights Elementary School learned about different forms of genocide this year.

"Once students are aware of the suffering of others, it turns their minds and hearts outward to be better stewards of their community," Burfield said. "It gives them new appreciation for what they have … Students come to respect one another more and demonstrate a stronger sense of community."

Their studies included reading "Four Perfect Pebbles." Lazan will visit their class April 4.

"Students are looking forward to meeting the woman who possesses so much strength, courage and an impressive will to survive," Burfield said. "They want to gain deeper perspective into the life of a woman who overcame enormous obstacles and how it shaped the rest her life."

The author’s message is relatable to audiences of all ages, Anderson-Petroske said, and all the events are open to the community.

"I hope audience members come away with not only an unforgettable story, but I also hope this story creates action," Anderson-Petroske said. "We are all much more powerful than we know, and we have the power to take care of one another and stop hatred in its infancy."

Monday, Lazan will speak from 8:30-10 a.m. at Cloquet Middle School and 1-2 p.m. at Lincoln High School in Esko. April 4, she will speak from 9:30-11:30 at Northern Lights Elementary School and 1:15-2:45 p.m. at Superior Middle School. Lazan wraps up her time in the Twin Ports April 5 with presentations from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Superior High School Performing Arts Center and 5:30-7 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Duluth Rotunda.

"We hope the learning experiences we are providing will build our community’s understanding of the effects of intolerance and create a more compassionate community" Anderson-Petroske said. "We want to deepen students’ abilities to empathize and empower others to make a positive impact on the world."

For Burfield’s fifth-graders, who are capping off their elementary school career by writing memoirs, Lazan can serve as an example.

"Her book shows how events in time never happen in isolation," Burfield said. "There is always a ripple effect."

Those attending the Northern Lights presentation are asked to inform Burfield at 715-395-6066, ext. 311, to ensure there is adequate space.