On Veteran’s Day this year, Marion Blumenthal Lazan spoke to students in a school in Kentucky about her ordeal when she spent 6 and 1/2 years as a child in Nazi camps, including Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. You can read about her talk to the students here.
According to the news article, Marion and her family were liberated in 1948 by “the Russian Army.” This is probably a misprint. It is more likely that Marion and her family were sent on a train, from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt, and the train was liberated by Russian soldiers in April, or early May, 1945.
Monument at Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site in honor of the Jews who died there
The words on the back side of the Monument at Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site are in English, as quoted below:
“Israel and the world shall remember thirty thousand Jews exterminated in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen at the hands of the murderous Nazis. EARTH CONCEAL NOT THE BLOOD SHED ON THEE! First anniversary of Liberation 15th April 1946 Central Jewish Committee Brtish Zone”
There is a documentary about Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s story, entitled Marion’s Triumph, which you can read about on Wikipedia. This quote is from Wikipedia:
Marion’s Triumph is a 2003 documentary that tells the story of Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a child Holocaust survivor, who recounts her painful childhood memories in order to preserve history. The film combines rare historic footage, animated flashbacks, and family photographs to illustrate the horrors she experienced.
This quote is also from Wikipedia:
What’s interesting is that if Anne Frank had survived the war, her story would have been similar to Marion’s. Both Marion and Anne Frank’s families tried to escape the Holocaust, but were caught by Nazis. Both were young girls during the war, and both traveled from Westerbork, a deportation camp, to concentration camps; Marion went directly to Bergen-Belsen, but Anne Frank was sent first to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen. It’s there that Anne Frank died of typhus, but somehow, despite her malnutrition and the disease that surrounded her, Marion survived.
There are a few facts that are missing from the stories of Marion Blumenthal and Anne Frank. The main thing that has been left out is that Bergen-Belsen was originally set up as an EXCHANGE CAMP, and did not become a concentration camp until December 1944, three and a half months before the camp was VOLUNTARILY turned over to the British Army. You can read more about the history of Bergen-Belsen on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/BergenBelsen/Introduction.html
Famous photo of a British soldier pushing bodies into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen with a bulldozer
Did Marion Blumenthal Lazan tell the high school students that she and her family were sent to Bergen-Belsen where they were put into the one of the 8 sections of the camp that was reserved for prisoners who were regarded as suitable for exchange for German citizens being held in internment camps in America? As far as I know, she does not mention, in her talks, that her family was put into an EXCHANGE CAMP, but America did not exchange very many prisoners.
Marion Blumental Lazan was probably a prisoner in the Star Camp [Sternlager], while her family waited for an exchange that never came.
Approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners, mostly from the Westerbrook camp in the Netherlands, lived in the Star camp, where conditions were better than in the other seven camps at Bergen-Belsen. In the Star camp, the prisoners wore a yellow Star of David on their own clothes instead of the usual blue and gray striped prison uniform. According to the Museum at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site, the prisoners in the Star camp had to work, even the old people, but they were treated better than the prisoners in the other seven camps.
The following quote is from Eberhard Kolb’s book entitled Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945:
From the Dutch “transit camp'” at Westerbork all those inmates were transported to Bergen-Belsen who were on one of the coveted “ban lists”, above all the “Palestine list”, the “South America list”, or the “dual citizenship list”. Holders of the so-called “Stamp 120000” were also taken to Bergen-Belsen, i.e. Jews with proven connections to enemy states, Jews who had delivered up large properties, diamond workers and diamond dealers who were held back from transportation to an extermination camp but who were not allowed to go abroad, as well as so-called “Jews of merit”. A total of 3670 “exchange Jews” of these categories, always with their families were deported from Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen in eight transports between January and September 1944.
According to Kolb, there were only 6,000 Dutch Jews who returned home after the war, out of a total of 110,000 who were deported by the Nazis. Twenty thousand more Dutch Jews had survived by going into hiding until the war was over. More than a third of the Jews, who survived Bergen-Belsen, were inmates of Star Camp.
According to the Memorial Site at Bergen-Belsen, the exchange camp population on December 1, 1944 was 15,257. By February 1, 1945, there were 22,000 prisoners in the camp, and by March 1, 1945, the number of inmates had swelled to 41,520. On April 15, 1945, there were an estimated 60,000 prisoners in the camp.
A total of 50,000 prisoners died during the last two years that the Bergen-Belsen camp was in operation, including 13,000 who died of weakness and disease after the camp was liberated. By far the biggest killer in the camp was typhus, a deadly disease that is transmitted by body lice.
The story of Bergen-Belsen can be summed up by a chart that hangs on the wall of the Museum at the Memorial Site. It shows that there were 350 deaths in the camp in December 1944 before the typhus epidemic started. In January 1945, after a typhoid epidemic started, there were between 800 and 1000 deaths; in February 1945, after the typhus epidemic broke out, there were 6,000 to 7,000 deaths. In March 1945, the number of deaths had escalated to an incredible 18,168 in only one month.
In April 1945, the deaths were 18,355 in only one month, with half of these deaths occurring after the British took over. Unlike the death camps in Poland, the Bergen-Belsen camp was not equipped to handle this kind of death rate; there was only one crematory oven in the camp.
When the British arrived on April 15, 1945 to take charge of the camp, there were 10,000 bodies that were still unburied, and more were dying every day because the Germans could not control the typhus and typhoid epidemics in the camp. By the end of April, in only two weeks time, 9000 more had died. Another 4,000 died before the end of May.
Marion Blumenthal Lazan told the high school students that she had to pick lice out of her hair. Did she also tell them that lice causes typhus, and prisoners died by the thousands at Bergen-Belsen from typhus?
Did Marion Blumenthal Lazan tell the students that thousands of lives could have been saved if America had exchanged more of the Germans in the American internment camps for Jews in the Belsen exchange camp?
This quote is from Wikipedia:
A total of 11,507 Germans and German-Americans were interned during the war, accounting for 36% of the total internments under the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Control Program, but far less than the 110,000 Japanese-Americans interned. Such internments began with the detention of 1,260 Germans shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of the 254 persons evicted from coastal areas, the majority were German.
In addition, over 4,500 ethnic Germans were brought to the U.S. from Latin America and similarly detained. The Federal Bureau of Investigation drafted a list of Germans in fifteen Latin American countries whom it suspected of subversive activities and, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, demanded their eviction to the U.S. for detention. The countries that responded expelled 4,058 people. Some 10% to 15% were Nazi party members, including approximately a dozen who were recruiters for the NSDAP/AO, roughly the overseas arm of the Nazi party. Just eight were people suspected of espionage. Also transferred were some 81 Jewish Germans who had recently fled persecution in Nazi Germany. Many had been residents of Latin America for years, some for decades. In some instances, corrupt Latin American officials took the opportunity to seize their property. Sometimes financial rewards paid by American intelligence led to someone’s identification and expulsion. Several countries did not participate in the program, while others operated their own detention facilities.
Does Marion Blumenthal Lazan mention any of this in her talks to High School students? No, of course not. Nobody cares that German citizens were put into internment camps in America. Nobody wants to hear that Bergen-Belsen was an EXCHANGE CAMP. Nobody wants to hear the words typhus and typhoid.
Lazan’s talk was all about how she was discriminated against because she was Jewish. The worst thing that happened to Marion was that her mother spilled hot water on her daughter’s leg while she was cooking up some soup, in the barracks, using a potato that she had stolen. In her talk, Marion said that the barracks were unheated, so how did her mother manage to cook a stolen potato? Did she have a Bunsen burner in her barracks building?
Update 1 p.m. Nov. 12, 2013
After I had put up the above blog post, I found a YouTube video of Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s talk to students in her home town of Peoria, Illinois. Marion’s talk begins at 9:15 minutes into the video. Marion starts off by saying that her story is the story that Anne Frank might have told, but she does not explain how her story differed somewhat, allowing her to survive, while Ann Frank died at Bergen-Belsen.
Marion continued her talk by saying that in 1935, discrimination against the Jews in Germany began, although she does not give any hint, as to why the German people might have been against the Jews. She said that Kristallnacht was the “beginning of a massive pogrom” against the Jews, although she didn’t explain the word “pogrom,” nor did she explain the events that led up to Kristallnacht. Throughout her talk, Marion did not give the slightest reason why Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.
Because of the discrimination against the Jews in Germany, Marion’s family obtained “papers for America” and were scheduled to leave Germany when Kristallnacht happened on November 9, 1938. Her father was one of the Jewish men who were sent to Buchenwald, but he was soon released because he already had papers for his family to leave Germany.
In January 1939, the Blumenthal family prepared to set sail for America. In December 1939, the family went to Westerbork, in Holland, to wait for passage to America. Unfortunately, in May 1940, Germany invaded Holland and that ended Marion’s dream of going to America.
In her talk to the students, Marion did not mention that Jews were having a hard time leaving Germany because other countries in Europe would not take them. She did not explain that, even in America, there were severe restrictions on how many Jewish immigrants were allowed to come in.
Then Marion goes on to tell that, in 1942, the “extermination” of the Jews began. In January 1942, on a Tuesday morning, Marion’s family was put on “cattle cars,” while “vicious dogs” forced them onto the trains. She was just 9 years old.
To her credit, Marion explains, in the video, that Bergen-Belsen “was sectioned off,” and that her family was put in the “Sternlager.” Just as I had guessed, the Blumenthals had been put into the “Star camp” where conditions were better, according to information at the Bergen-Belsen Museum.
At 38.56 minutes in the YouTube video, Marion shows a yellow star, like the one that the Jews were forced to wear in the Star Camp. But nowhere in her talk did Marion mention that the Star Camp was the best section at Bergen-Belsen, reserved for the prominent Jews, who were suitable for an exchange for a prisoner in an American internment camp.
Marion mentioned that “once a month,” the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen were given a shower. She says that the prisoners “were never sure whether water or gas” would come out of the shower faucets. However, she does NOT claim that there were gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen; she only hints at the possibility of gas chambers.
Finally, Marion gets to the part in her speech about “four pebbles,” which she says represent her “four family members.” The title of a book, which she wrote is Four Perfect Pebbles. While she was at Bergen-Belsen, Marion had made a game out of searching for four perfect pebbles each day.
Finally, Marion gets to the “gas chambers.” Every Holocaust survivor must explain why they were not sent to the gas chamber, especially when they were younger than 15 years old, while in a camp. Keep in mind that, at this point in her talk, Marion has not mentioned that Bergen-Belsen was an EXCHANGE camp. She implies that Bergen-Belsen was an “extermination camp” and since her family had not been exterminated yet, she says that they were put on one of the “three trains to the gas chamber in April 1945.”
I previously blogged about the gas chamber at Theresienstadt here.
Marion does not mention that the trains to the gas chamber were going to Theresienstadt. She implies that the Nazis were gassing Jews, right up to the end of the war, even after most of the camps had been liberated. She doesn’t explain that the Nazis had fooled around for years, hoping to exchange Jews for German prisoners in America and other countries, and in the last weeks of the war, they had decided to send the Jews to Theresienstadt, where a gas chamber had allegedly just been set up.
To her credit, Marion did mention, at 27 minutes into the video, that there was a typhus epidemic at Bergen-Belsen.
At 27.51 minutes into the video, Marion says that, after 14 days on the train to Theresienstadt, with no food, no water, and no toilets, she was liberated by “the Russian Army.” Her family was sent back to Holland, from where they tried to go to Palestine, but the British were not allowing Jews into Palestine.
Finally, her family was able to use their tickets, purchased in 1939, to come to America. On April 23, 1948, she arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The YouTube video of Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s talk is entitled “Four Perfect Pebbles.” You will have to search for it yourself, because I cannot put it up for some reason.
To impress upon the students, who had come to hear her talk, how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, Marion said, near the end of her speech, that 6 million Jews had died in the Holocaust, which was one third of the Jewish population in Europe. She said that there are currently 12.5 million people in the state of Illinois, where she now lives. Imagine half of the people in the state of Illinois being killed, if ever the Nazis are allowed to come to power again. It boggles the mind. Marion gives her talks to students to impress upon them that they should not discriminate against Jews or anyone else.