U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) — To this day, 77-year-old Marion Blumenthal Lazan feels a strong sense of fear when she sees a German Shepard.
It takes her back to that cold, rainy night in 1944 when she arrived at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a 9-year-old, and was threatened along with thousands of other Jewish families by Nazi guards with vicious police dogs.
Although itâ€™s difficult for Lazan to revisit that dark period, she shared her story with 90 cadets at a luncheon April 17 in the Mitchell Hall Formal Dining Room for Holocaust Remembrance Week.
â€œAlthough Iâ€™ve spoken to upward of 1 million students and adults over the past 20 years, it still hasnâ€™t become easy,â€ Lazan said. â€œI do recognize the importance of sharing that period of history because in a few short years, Holocaust survivors will no longer be able to give a first-hand account of it.â€
â€œYouâ€™re the last generation that will hear from us, so I ask you to share my story, or any of the Holocaust stories that you have read and heard about,â€ she added.
Lazan spoke about her experiences during World War II from Nazi concentration camps to liberation, and how she started her life anew in the United States.
â€œMine is a story that Anne Frank might have told had she survived,â€ Lazan said. â€œThis is a story that could bring a message of perseverance, determination, faith and above all, hope.â€
Lazan said she will never forget the night of Nov. 9, 1938. Often referred to as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, Nazis and their followers destroyed Jewish stores, synagogues and books, and Lazanâ€™s father was sent to a concentration camp.
â€œThis was the beginning of a massive physical and verbal assault against Jews in Germany,â€ Lazan said. â€œIn reality, this was the beginning of the Holocaust.â€
The Blumenthal family, Marion, her mother, Ruth, father, Walter and brother, Albert, had filed papers to immigrate to America but were trapped by the Germans in the Netherlands. Eventually the family was shipped to a concentration camp.
â€œWhen we saw the cattle cars we were to travel in, our fears began to mount,â€ Lazan said. â€œAdults suspected and they somehow knew what was in store for us.â€
Lazan said while at Bergen-Belsen, 600 people were crammed into crude, wooden barracks with two people per bunk.
â€œThere was no privacy, no toilet paper, no soap and hardly any water to wash with,â€ Lazan said. â€œIn the almost year and a half we were there, never once were we able to brush our teeth.â€
Lazan said she never knew if sheâ€™d survive while being marched to the showers once a month.
â€œWatchful eyes of the guards ordered us to undress and because people had heard about exterminations and gas chambers, we were never quite sure what would come out when the faucets were turned on: Water or gas.â€
Lazan said death was an everyday occurrence often caused by malnutrition and dysentery. The dark living quarters would cause people to trip and fall over the dead, she said.
â€œWe as children saw things that no one, no matter the age, should ever have to see,â€ Lazan said. â€œI know that youâ€™ve probably heard and seen movies and documentaries about the Holocaust, but the constant foul odor, filth and continuous horror and fear surrounded by death is indescribable.
There is no way that this can actually be put into words or pictures.â€
Lazan said she would play make-believe games in her pastime, one in which became very important to her, and eventually became the title of her book, â€œFour Perfect Pebbles.â€
â€œI decided that if I was to find four pebbles of about the same size and shape, that it would mean my four family members would all survive,â€ Lazan said. â€œI always found my four pebbles, and this game gave me some distant hope.â€
Lazon said her meager diet caused her stomach to shrink, and hunger was no longer painful.
â€œBy liberation, at age 10-and-a-half, I weighed 35 pounds and my mother, a mere 60,â€ Lazan said. â€œThere is no doubt in my mind that it was my motherâ€™s inner strength and fortitude that finally saw us through.â€
In April 1945, the Russian army liberated a Nazi train thatÂ Lazan and her family were aboard. The train was headed to the extermination camp and gas chambers.
â€œItâ€™s truly remarkable how any of us were able to survive in such horrendous conditions,â€ she said. â€œFive hundred people died on the route or shortly after.â€
Among the dead was Lazanâ€™s father, who succumbed to typhus six weeks after liberation.
Two years later, at age 13, Marion, alongside her mother and brother, immigrated to the United States.
â€œItâ€™s a wonderful story of how we gradually recuperated and started our lives anew,â€ Lazan said.
Lazan graduated from high school on time, after a delayed education, and married her husband Nathaniel Lazan, who later became a B-25 Mitchell Bomber pilot in the Air Force.
â€œMy relationship with the Air Force goes back to the 1950s,â€ Lazan said. â€œIt was a proud moment when I pinned the silver wings on my husband in 1955 at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas.â€
Lazan said despite all of the terrible things that happened to her as a child, her life today is full and rewarding.
â€œIâ€™m very grateful that I survived body, mind and spirit, and was able to perpetuate my heritage with my husband and family,â€ Lazan said.
Holocaust Remembrance Day was April 19.