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Holocaust speaker shares message of hope, peace

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan shared her experiences under Nazi rule with Twin Ports students last week. They learned about conditions at the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp, and all the things Lazan did without --food, a bath, a wa...

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Marion Blumenthal Lazan hugs a fifth grade student following a presentation at Northern Lights Elementary School April 4. Lazan, a Holcaust survivor, spoke to students throughout the Twin Ports last week, urging both young and old to be kind and respectful to one another and to share her story. Maria Lockwood

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan shared her experiences under Nazi rule with Twin Ports students last week. They learned about conditions at the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp, and all the things Lazan did without -food, a bath, a warm bed, school, privacy, even the ability to scrub her teeth.

There were no trees, flowers or grass in the compound ringed by electrified barbed wire. The glint of sun off a piece of glass became her "pet," crushing lice was soon a pastime and she created an imaginary game. If she found four pebbles of the same size each day - one for each member of her family -they would survive. She recalled seeing what she thought was wood piled up in wagons, then realizing it was dead bodies.

"Death was an everyday occurrence," Lazan told fifth graders at Northern Lights Elementary School.

When she was liberated from a death train on April 23, 1945, the 10-year-old Lazan weighed 35 pounds; her mother weighed 70. Six weeks after they were liberated, her father died of typhus.

Through perseverance, determination, faith, and above all, hope, she survived.

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"It's how we deal with the situation that makes the difference," Lazan said.

The author of "Four Perfect Pebbles" shared that message of hope and gave out dozens of hugs.

"Be kind and good and respectful to one another," Lazan told the fifth graders .

She asked them to do everything in their power to keep such a horrible thing from happening again. Peace requires love, respect and tolerance, she said, and it needs to begin at home.

"Let us treat people as individuals, build bridges and reach out to others," Lazan said. "Be true to yourselves, not blindly follow a leader."

Students and adults were impacted by her words. Lazan also spoke at Superior Middle and High schools.

"When she talked about her family, it hit me in the heart, I couldn't imagine being torn from my family, not knowing if I would ever see them again," said Claire Androski, an eighth grader at Superior Middle School.

Fifth grader Joslyn Dalton said it was inspirational.

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"I've read a lot of Holocaust books, but I think this tops every book because you get to hear it firsthand instead of reading it," she said. "And we had the ability to ask questions, which was cool."

Students learned Lazan still speaks fluent German and Hebrew as well as some Dutch; she has been back to Germany a number of times; she was at Bergen-Belsen the same time as Anne Frank; and her mother lived to be 104.

"You can fight through anything no matter how big the struggle is," Dalton said.

This will be the last generation to hear the account firsthand, Lazan told them. She asked the youngsters to share the story with their friends, relatives, and someday, their children.

"I hope you prevent our past from becoming your future," Lazan said.

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, more than the entire population of Wisconsin.

"The Holocaust did happen," Lazan told the students. "Unfortunately, people out there deny the Holocaust happened. That's so dangerous."

The 82-year-old left the children with options for promoting peace.

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"Marion mentioned that you can become new friends with people that you don't usually talk to, or invite the new people to your lunch table, and I think I can change that by making new friends and being nice to others," said eighth grader Brooklyn Burger.

Her classmate, Janae Widiker, said that it's hard to believe an event like the Holocaust happened.

"Today's presentation causes me to feel that kindness has a very strong impact, but it is hard for kindness to occur," she said.

Fifth grader Layla Spees said people shouldn't be so quick to judge.

"The Holocaust showed me that you don't follow someone just because others do," said her classmate Tanner Smith.

Judy Meincke of Hudson attended the Northern Lights presentation with her sisters, Barb Switzer of Duluth and Cindy Stein of Cloquet. They said it made a big impact.

"I love that she just kept talking to the kids, saying be kind, don't follow, be careful who you're following, just be your own person," Switzer said.

It was, said Stein, a "good moral of the story."

Superior Middle School students waited in line for 40 minutes for the chance to hug Lazan. Northern Lights students shared cupcakes with the author in honor of the bake sales they held during the school year to help fund Lazan's trip to the Twin Ports.

"Every positive interaction these kids have with extraordinary adults makes them stronger and more able to tackle the future in a healthy, promising way," said fifth grade teacher Stacy Burfield.

Lazan published "Four Perfect Pebbles" in 1996 and has shared her story hundreds of times at schools, universities, places of worship, libraries, military establishments, remembrances and more. The book has been translated into German, Dutch, Hebrew and even Japanese. In 2010, a high school was named for Lazan in her hometown of Hoya, Germany.

"An amazing woman, absolutely an amazing woman," Meincke said.

To learn more about Lazan, visit www.fourperfectpebbles.com .

Related Topics: HISTORYSUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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