Last week, CMS 8th graders wrapped up their social studies classes with a virtual presentation from holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, marking her third visit to the school.
Comparing her experiences with that of Anne Frank, Mrs. Lazan, 88, has been giving talks since 1979. Her stories have reached over two million students and adults in 41 states and five countries and she is the published author of Four Perfect Pebbles, a memoir about how spending six-and-a-half years as a Nazi prisoner shaped her life.
Calling her story one of “perseverance, determination, faith and hope,” Mrs. Lazan spoke to the engaged listeners, who came away with a deeper understanding of what life was like during World War II.
CMS social studies teacher Chris Michael was so inspired by Mrs. Lazan when he first heard her speak at a local event in 2017 that he invited her to speak at the middle school.
“It’s important to expose students to history and to hear Mrs. Lazan’s story because if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we are destined to repeat them,” Mr. Michael said. “I want students to know that no matter what obstacles life throws at you, you have to overcome them.”
For student Roz Annely, hearing about these first-hand experiences from a survivor versus her teacher had a lasting effect. “It was different hearing about the holocaust from an actual survivor,” she said.
Mrs. Lazan told the students that there was nothing for children to do to help pass the time while they were held prisoners. Without paper, pens or books they had to use their imaginations. She came up with a superstitious game that involved having to find four pebbles each day, which represented her family members (herself, her parents and her brother). She told herself that if she found all four that meant they would all survive.
“It gave me something to hold onto; some distant hope,” she said.
Student Astrid Wilborn appreciated Mrs. Lazan’s honesty.
“I enjoyed how she was very honest about things, she didn’t sugarcoat anything. When asked if she forgave the Nazis she said didn’t.”
Though her experiences were over 80 years ago, Mrs. Lazan vividly remembers the malnutrition, once a month showers and the odor. She said there isn’t a book or movie that can ever depict the smell of death.
However, despite the horrors she endured, her message was inspirational. She told the students to love, respect and have tolerance for others, regardless of religious belief, skin color or origin.
“Let us all redouble our efforts to be kind and respectful,” Mrs. Lazan said. “And never, ever give up hope. It’s not so much what happens to a person, it’s how we deal with a situation that makes a difference.”