Battling hate with a Holocaust survivor’s story


Two incidents of swastikas found in the Woodmere Middle School boys’ bathroom on March 14 and 16 prompted the school to bring a visitor to speak to the sixth- and seventh-graders last week in addition to an already planned annual eighth grade presentation

Students listened closely as Hewlett resident Marion Blumenthal Lazan told the story of her childhood years in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. She has been speaking in the Hewlett-Woodmere district for over 10 years.   

Lazan, and her husband, Nathaniel, travel the world, spreading the message that treating people with kindness and respect is the key to reducing intolerance and reminding people about the mass killing of Jews and others by the Nazis.

“We wanted each grade to be able to get to know her because it’s just an incredible story of what she went through and she can speak about it so easily,” said Nicole Eliopoulos, co-president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Lazan’s memoir, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” co-authored with Lila Perl, recounts the Blumenthal family story and the events that shaped her life, including the death of her father, from typhus, six weeks after he was liberated.  The PTA was able to give the students copies of Lazan’s book, and she signed each copy with a personalized message.

“I’ve read her book before and I really loved it,” said eighth-grader Zeon Eliopoulos. “I love the story of it, and seeing her in person you can feel the story even more.”

Eighth-graders made signs welcoming Lazan to the school. In the weeks leading up to her visit they went in-depth about the experiences of Holocaust survivors. Social studies classes cover World War II, but there is not enough time to go deep on the Holocaust. Michele Hochhauser the District’s English Language Arts/Reading chairwoman said that the school’s ELA classes hold a Holocaust memoir unit. 

“The students get both the historical point of view and the human side of what was happening because they’re hearing stories of real people,” Hochhauser said.

The eighth-graders read Holocaust memoirs leading up to Lazan’s visit and eighth grade ELA teacher Leah Shiflet brought in several speakers including Ella Schwartz, an author and local parent who shared her journey of researching what happened to her grandparents and great uncles during the war. Students were also visited by SHEMA, an organization from the Gural JCC that brings their families’ stories of survival during the Holocaust to classrooms. For over an hour, Lazan shared her story with the students.

“I think the most interesting thing I learned about was the way she dealt with it,” said eighth-grader Jordan Sapir. “I really hope if I’m ever going through something, god forbid to that scale, I could incorporate her tactics into my own life.”

“That was tremendously disappointing to hear,” Lazan said, about the swastika incidents. “I would like to think there was ignorance on their part. I like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but please, don’t spread anything, so terribly negative that hurts so many innocent people.”

She urged students to respect everyone and celebrate diversity. Lazan wants students to be kind to one another and in a time where Holocaust denial has become more prevalent understand that the Holocaust actually happened. 

“I can’t say it enough to be kind, good, and respectful towards one another, but don’t believe everything that you hear on the internet,” she said.