Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan recounted her time in a concentration camp and her struggles after the end of World War II to a crowded Sussman Theater on Feb. 9.
Drake students, professors and Des Moines residents listened to Lazan speak about living in a concentration camp from ages 9 to 10. Drake University Hillel organized the event.
She recalled “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of Broken Glass” on Nov. 9, 1938, where Jewish synagogues, stores and homes were burned and destroyed.
Her family left for Holland before trying to leave to the U.S., where her parents took care of 125 children that were sent by their parents to escape the Nazis.
She spoke about how her parents made arrangements to come to the U.S. after many restrictions were imposed on Jewish citizens, such as a curfew and special shopping hours.
One month before they planned to leave, the Germans invaded Holland. Lazan, her parents and her older brother were sent soon after to several concentration camps, including Westerbook in the Northeastern Netherlands and Bergen-Belsen in Northwestern Germany.
“Six hundred of our people were crammed into each of the crude, wooden, heatless barracks meant for 100 when originally built,” Lazan said. “There were triple decker bunk beds with two people sharing each bunk.”
She shared a bunk with her mother. She spoke about the smell, and how no one could ever capture just how awful it was.
“Bodies could not be taken away fast enough,” Lazan said. “We as children saw things that no one, no matter the age, should ever have to see.”
Lazan said that everyday they were only allowed one piece of bread and a cup of watery soup.
Lazan published a memoir in 1996 titled “Four Perfect Pebbles.” She explained to her listeners that the title came from a game she made up while she was living in the concentration camp.
If she found four pebbles that were the same size and shape, then all four of her family members would live. However, if she didn’t manage to find all four, she had four hidden pebbles that she could “find,” just in case.
“As Marion mentioned in her speech, very few Holocaust survivors are still alive and that number will get even smaller year after year,” said Ian Miller, president of Drake Hillel. “Therefore, it is necessary for us to hear these survivors, so that we can in turn share their stories with others: friends, relatives, children, and grandchildren.”
“Some people still are under the impression that the Holocaust did not occur,” Miller said. “The main message that Marion spread throughout her speech was one of kindness, faith, and, above all, hope.”
Hope and acceptance were big themes in Lazan’s speech. She explained that as a child, she never gave up hope and was able to live a fulfilling life despite the horrors she endured during her childhood.
She told the audience her story of how she was able to turn her experiences into something that others could learn from, therefore preventing it from happening again.
“In addition to that message and the fact that not many survivors are still living, I think it was important for students to come to Marion’s speech because of the story she shared,” Miller said.
Miller grew up in a neighborhood that had a large Jewish population.
“We had access to curriculum specifically about the Holocaust and even one of the nation’s Holocaust museums,” Miller said. “Many people on campus did not have these opportunities, so bringing a speaker such as Marion to campus allows for everyone to have access to her story and her message.”
Lazan’s speech touched many people in the audience.
“I really liked hearing about how she survived,” said Dezirae Fisher, a first-year student. “She was so young when it all happened and saw more than anyone ever should. All that she went through and how she is able to talk about it and still have faith is amazing to me.”