Holocaust survivor shares her story during Days of Remembrance ceremony
May 18, 2009
Local schools joined members of the Aberdeen Proving Ground community in remembering the victims of the Holocaust during the Days of Remembrance observance at the Post Theater May 7.
Hosted by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, attendees included students from Aberdeen Middle School, Bel Air Middle School, Havre de Grace Middle School, Havre de Grace High School, James Run Christian Academy and Trinity Lutheran School. The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Equal Opportunity Office and members of the APG Garrison assisted with planning the event.
Dr. Ellen C. Haas, Human Research and Engineering Directorate, ARL, served as the mistress of ceremonies, and Rabbi Gila Ruskin, from the Temple Adas Shalom, gave the invocation.
"God, we ask your blessing here for our Soldiers and others who ensure that these persecutions and injustices do not continue here or abroad," she said. "Today we will light a candle to purge the darkness, making our future a brighter place for all humanity."
Chelsea Bridges, from Havre de Grace High School sang the national anthem before Ruskin led six students in a candle lighting ceremony.
"Remember that you are the ones who are going to carry us into the future. Light up our world, and remember that we are counting on you," she said.
Each student lit a candle to represent the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.
Col. Jeffrey S. Weissman, APG Garrison and deputy installation commander, extended a special welcome to the program's guest speakers, Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, and her husband, Nathaniel Lazan.
Weissman said that Congress established the Days of Remembrance to educate Americans about the history of the Holocaust and to annually commemorate its victims. This year's theme is "Never Again: What You Do Matters."
Weissman added that the story of the Holocaust needs to be told to future generations so that it does not happen again.
"The story of the Holocaust sounds unbelievable, but it is real, and we need to remember it vividly," he said. "We need to remember the suffering of the Holocaust victims to prevent this tragedy from happening again."
Weissman said that we all need to be aware of our responsibilities as citizens and responsibilities to our fellow human beings.
"The Holocaust is a story of what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings when democratic values have been destroyed and replaced by intolerance, hate and violence," he continued. "It is our responsibility to learn from history and teach our children that there is always a right choice and a wrong choice, and that what you do matters."
Lazan said that she wrote her memoir, "Four Perfect Pebbles," to tell the story of her experiences during the Holocaust.
Lazan said that she was a girl living in Germany in the 1930s when life for Jews became increasingly difficult, as they were facing many restrictions.
"We were only allowed to shop during specific hours, and non-Jews were not allowed to shop at Jewish businesses or even associate with Jewish people," she said. "We were not allowed to go to places of recreation like swimming pools or attend public school, and we had a curfew."
Lazan said that her Family made plans to immigrate to America when she was 4 years old.
Lazan said that the Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass, took place throughout Nazi Germany Nov. 9 to 10, 1938, when the Nazis coordinated an attack on the Jewish people and their property in Germany and German-controlled lands as part of Hitler's anti-Semitic policy.
"This was the beginning of the Holocaust," she said.
Lazan said that the government fined the Jewish people for the damage that was caused that night.
Lazan said that following Hitler's rise to power, the Blumenthal Family, her father, mother, her brother and herself, were trapped in Nazi Germany. They managed to eventually get to Holland, but soon thereafter it was occupied by Nazis.
Lazan said that for the next six and a half years, the Blumenthals were forced to live in refuge, transit, and prison camps that included Westerbork in Holland and Bergen-Belsen in Germany.
"We lived in poor conditions. We lived in cramped living quarters, in triple bunk beds with two people sharing each one," she said.
Lazan said that the German winters were very cold, and they only they had a thin blanket for warmth.
Lazan said that her Family was lucky in that they were able to share a bed with each other.
"Can you imagine two adult strangers sharing a bed under such strange conditions'" she asked.
Lazan said that they received little food, and many suffered from malnutrition and lived in poor hygiene conditions.
"We had no privacy," she said. "We had no toilet paper and there was little water and soap in which to wash. Never once were we able to brush our teeth."
Lazan said that the poor hygiene conditions led to constant filth and a horrible smell, and lice was always a problem.
"You can read about the horrible conditions and see them in television and in movies, but you can't imagine the smell, it is indescribable" she said.
Lazan said that once a month they were able to take a shower.
"We were never sure when they turned on the shower, what would come out, water or gas," She said, referring to the gas chambers.
Lazan said that she would play make believe games to pass the time. One game was to find four pebbles, which represented the four members of her Family.
"I had decided that if I found four perfect identical pebbles then the four members of my Family would survive," she said. "This gave me something to hold onto, this gave me hope. There was nothing to occupy our time, so I was lucky to have such an active imagination."
Lazan said that many people suffered and died from Typhus, including her father.
"When I think about those years, it is as if I am recalling a bad dream," she said. "We saw things that we never should have seen, especially at that age."
Lazan said that she was 11 when they were able to leave the camps. They lived in Holland until they were able to come to America to live.
"We arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 23, 1943, exactly three years to the day of our liberation," she said. Lazan's Family received help from a Jewish relief organization, who helped them find a home in Peoria, Ill.
Lazan said that although she was behind in her education, she studied very hard and was able to graduate high school eighth in her class of 267 students. Lazan added that she married her husband, Nathaniel, soon after high school, and they have had a happy life together.
Lazan said she wrote the book, "Four Perfect Pebbles," so that her story would reach many people.
"I am so glad that the story is in book form so that it can be passed to future generations," she said.
Lazan concluded her presentation by asking the audience to share her story with others.
"In a few short years we [survivors] will not be here to share our story with you," she said. "You are the very last generation to hear the story first hand. Please share this story, and in the future, share it with your children and your grandchildren. When we are not here, it is you who will have to bear witness, we must tell the story so that it will not happen again."
She emphasized that it is important that everyone does everything in thier power to not have it happen again.
"We can begin with respect and tolerance towards one another, in our workplace, at our school, and in our community. Let us respect our differences and reach out to one another," she said.
After Lazan's presentation, Weissman thanked her for sharing her story, and announced that William Childers, a quality specialist from SAIC, won the Days of Remembrance essay and display contest.
"When you have racism and hatred in your heart, you get damaged," Childers said when he accepted his award. "What you do and do not do matters, because you have to live with yourself. When you get older your memories will be a comfort to you if you did your best."
After the ceremony, several people commented that they felt that the presentation was inspirational and educational.
"It is a unique experience to hear a first-hand account from a Holocaust survivor, and it is something I am going to remember and tell others about it," said Sarah Scott, an 8th grader from Havre de Grace who participated in the candle lighting ceremony. "I think that it is great that she can be so open about her experience during the Holocaust, and I hope more people can learn of her story. She seemed like a positive person despite the horrible things that she went through. I think that her story is very inspirational."
Katie Hall, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, invited Marion Lazan to be this year's guest speaker.
"During our first conversation, I realized that she was a special person and that she was very passionate about sharing her story, especially with children." Hall went on to say that spending time with Lazan has been something she will never forget. "She's an exceptional role model for all of us."
Sheryl Coleman from ARL, has coordinated this event for many years said that she looks forward to the ceremony every year.
"This is a part of my job that doesn't feel like work," Coleman said. "It's an honor for me to not only help plan this ceremony but to also have the privilege of hearing these Holocaust survivors share their painful memories. Their lives are truly an inspiration."
To learn more about Lazan's story, visit www.fourperfectpebbles.com