A chilly night, Jan. 20 delivered a capacity crowd to the Am Yisrael Chai Holocaust Remembrance Event at City Springs. Keynote speaker Marion Blumenthal Lazan, author of her autobiography “Four Perfect Pebbles,” told her gripping childhood story of witnessing Kristallnacht, fleeing to the Netherlands and enduring concentration camps before arriving in America.
Am Yisrael Chai is a nonprofit Holocaust education and awareness organization that focuses on the spirit of survival and success.
“We are thrilled with the wonderful support from the Atlanta community,” said Am Yisrael Chai President Dr. Andrea Videlefsky. “The venue at the new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center was magnificent and accommodated more than a thousand people.
“This year’s theme, Hope and Perseverance, was particularly meaningful.
“It was amazing to have 19 local Holocaust survivors at the event to light memorial candles. Each of their stories served as a poignant reminder to NEVER FORGET,” Videlefsky said.
“The juxtaposition of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Martin Luther King Day serves as a reminder of the importance of the obligation we each have to uphold justice.”
The introduction of Holocaust survivors was emotional as each illuminated his/her candle in front of a slide presentation depicting treasured photographs of them now and as youngsters. Student volunteers, emphasizing the passing of generational memory, escorted the survivors.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, ever relevant and prepared, recounted his past two visits to Yad Vashem and his keen attention to survivors’ stories. He announced that Sandy Springs would soon construct an arts building nearby that would permanently house the Anne Frank exhibit in its gallery. Paul recalled Eva Galambos, who escaped Nazi Germany to become a labor economist and the first mayor of Sandy Springs (2005 to 2014). “I never could figure out her accent; then I realized she spent some years in Athens … Georgia,” he said.
When Lazan took the stage, it was with a clear, calm voice, taking the audience through the upending of her life and her family of four’s story. Starts, stops, and setbacks unfolded as the family almost escaped before the Germans invaded Holland, where they sought safety after Kristallnacht. It’s all there: the bitter cold of Bergen-Belsen, vicious barking dogs, infrequent access to proper hygiene, using urine to combat frostbite, thin, watery and grisly soup, and the luxury of a crust of bread.
“My father would not even eat the non-kosher soup … and died of typhus six weeks after liberation.” In between these events was Lazan’s untreated leg burn, and the Russian Army rescue when she weighed 35 pounds at age 10. “Mother, who lived to 104 in the U.S., weighed 70 pounds.” She reminisced, “To survive, I played games in my mind: gathering matching pebbles (representing family members and, ergo, the title of her book), … finding a sliver of glass in the dirt, to maintain hope.”
Arriving in the U.S., Lazan saw the Statue of Liberty and set upon learning English and catching up to those her age and grade in Peoria, Ill.
She introduced her son and her husband of 66 years – who she met at Yom Kippur services – among the audience members.
“We wrote letters every day during our courtship, where I used a dictionary to write intelligently, and he sent me more than a few words to define to improve my language.” Needless to say, her determination and positivity enabled her to graduate with her class.
She concluded by showing her own yellow star (as Nazis forced Jews to wear) and urging the audience to never blindly follow bad leaders or ideas and continue to bear witness for future generations. “Remember,” she cautioned, “that over 5 million non-Jews, as well as the 6 million fellow Jews, perished in the Holocaust.” Tolerance, treating others with respect and kindness is what she preaches in her busy travel schedule that includes school presentations.
Lazan, a proud grandmother and great-grandmother, said, “I have been back to visit Bergen-Belsen, which looks like a park. When I was there originally, no greenery was anywhere among the bleakness. Today, among the flowers, there are still the mounds, … mounds of mass graves we shall never forget.” Then Lazan quoted Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
The lobby was filled with daffodils, cookies and coffee as Lazan autographed her book. The shape and color of daffodils represent resilience with their return each spring, in contrast to the yellow of the forced star. Am Yisrael Chai also sponsors the Daffodil Project, planting 1.5 million daffodils in memory of each of the children who perished.
Lazan was one of the lucky ones. Her son David said his mother kept her memories hidden for a long time. “Growing up, Mom never spoke of her experience. Once I left home around 1979, she opened up.”
Atlanta is glad that she did.