Daily Egyptian

Holocaust survivor: Life in concentration camp was ‘a devastating time’

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Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan greets Zion Henry, 7, of Carbondale, following her speech Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. Lazan, who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1948, told the story of her journey as a Jewish child in Nazi controlled Germany and at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany where she and her family were imprisoned.

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan greets Zion Henry, 7, of Carbondale, following her speech Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. Lazan, who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1948, told the story of her journey as a Jewish child in Nazi controlled Germany and at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany where she and her family were imprisoned. "I try to teach my kids strong messages like these," said Zion's mother, Alexis Henry, who is a graduate student in behavioral analysis and therapy. "It's important to me that they learn to continue to love, learn and live in spite of all of the bad things." (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan greets Zion Henry, 7, of Carbondale, following her speech Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. Lazan, who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1948, told the story of her journey as a Jewish child in Nazi controlled Germany and at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany where she and her family were imprisoned. "I try to teach my kids strong messages like these," said Zion's mother, Alexis Henry, who is a graduate student in behavioral analysis and therapy. "It's important to me that they learn to continue to love, learn and live in spite of all of the bad things." (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Tyra Wooten

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan had little to occupy her time in the concentration camps where her family spent six-and-a-half years imprisoned. So she thought up a game to occupy her time.

“I would search for four pebbles,” Lazan said Tuesday night in front of a crowd of more than 400 people. “In my mind if I were to find these four pebbles, it would mean that the four members of my family would all survive.”

A renowned public speaker and author of the autobiographical novel “Four Perfect Pebbles,” Lazan shared memories from her childhood perspective of life during World War II inside two Nazi concentration camps. Attendees filled the pews of First United Methodist Church at 214 W. Main St. in Carbondale to hear her story.

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Lazan and her family lived comfortably in Germany above her father’s shoe store before Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. When the Nazis began to take hold of the country, the Lazans sold the home and business to finance an escape to the U.S.

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan speaks Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. Lazan, who immigrated to the United States with her family in 1948, told the story of her journey as a Jewish child in Nazi controlled Germany and at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany where she and her family were imprisoned. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

They were seized in the Netherlands and sent to the Westerbork concentration camp when Lazan was 3. The now 84-year-old woman remembered her surroundings in vivid detail, describing to the crowd the electric barbed wire fences, the 12-foot gates guarded by Nazi soldiers and the barks of the German shepherds.

“We were in camps for six-and-a-half years,” Lazan said. “They got worse as time went on.”

Lazan and her family eventually landed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Food was scarce. Prisoners lived on a ration that consisted of a slice of bread, butter and soup, once a week. By the time her family was freed, Lazan said their stomachs were so shrunken that hunger was no longer painful.

“They gave us next to nothing to eat,” Lazan said. “There was sickness, there was typhus and we were covered with lice. It was a devastating time.”

Lazan was liberated by the British army when she was 10. She weighed 35 pounds when she left the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

After liberation, Lazan’s father died of typhus and her family struggled for another three years before receiving travel documents to move to the U.S. As a young woman in Peoria, she met and married Nathaniel Lazan, her husband of 63 years. They share three children, eight grandchildren and two great granddaughters.

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan speaks Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, at the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Near the end of her speech, Lazan said the horrors of the Holocaust must be taught, studied and kept alive to prevent it from ever happening again. The generation of survivors will soon be gone, she said, and that is why she travels to share her story.

“When we’re not here any longer, it is you who will have to bear witness,” she said.

Duane Lickteig, a researcher for recruitment and retention in the College of Science, said he came to experience the rare opportunity of witnessing a live speech from a Holocaust survivor.

“My idea is that you cannot provide justice for the people who lost their family, you can’t give justice to those who lost their lives, but the least you can do is remember them,” Lickteig said.

Staff writer Tyra Wooten can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @twootenDE.

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