The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 17, 2014

Nonfiction accounts shed new light on Holocaust

JOPLIN, Mo. — Last time I wrote, I covered two historical fiction books set during World War II. It seems I can't leave this era -- the books I'd like to share with you are also set in the period. This time, however, they are nonfiction accounts.

An exceptional opportunity for Joplin inspires these reviews. The author of the first book I'm writing about is Marian Blumenthal Lazan. She will come to the Joplin Public Library to speak at the end of the month. She was 10 years old when the Russian army liberated her while she was on a death train from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Our current generation is the last generation to be able to meet and hear from concentration camp survivors in person. It is a unique chance for us to learn.   

Lazan wrote "Four Perfect Pebbles," a book for elementary-age children. The four pebbles refer to the author's belief that "If she could find four pebbles of almost exactly the same size and shape, it meant that her family would remain whole ... the sets of pebbles were her lucky charms, and they gave her a purpose."

Lazan's family initially tried to emigrate from Germany to the United States. After years of preparation, papers and visas were in order, and passage to the United States was ticketed. There wasn't enough room for them on the ship, however, and they had to flee to refugee camps in Holland instead.

After several years in the Dutch refugee camps, they were forced to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

There, the search for the four perfect pebbles began. Because she is coming to the library to speak, you already know she survived the camps, but that's as much as I'll say. You'll have to come to know the whole story.

The second book is a young adult book, "Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz" by Eva Mozes Kor. As 10-year-olds, Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, were saved from immediate extermination in Auschwitz because the infamous Dr. Mengele realized they were twins and wanted them for medical experimentation.

Eva relates her refusal to die. She had been given a shot of "something" that caused her to become ill. Overhearing doctors, Eva heard Mengele relate that she "only has two weeks to live."

Rather than giving up, survival instincts kicked in. "I said to myself, 'I am not dead. I refuse to die. I am going to outsmart those doctors, prove Dr. Mengele wrong and get out of here alive.'"

Get out alive she did. Her sister Miriam survived as well.

Circumstances led her to the United States after marriage, and in the late 1970s, she began to lecture about the Holocaust.

Eventually, she met a Nazi doctor who had been at Auschwitz. She forgave him and found the power in forgiveness. She discovered "forgiveness is not so much for the perpetrator but for the victim."

After writing this doctor a letter of forgiveness, she immediately "felt that a burden of pain had been lifted ... a pain I had lived with for 50 years. I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz, no longer a victim of my tragic past. I was free."

Both these authors have a positive impact despite their experiences. They continue to advocate for survivors and educate people in hopes such events will never happen again.

Marian Blumenthal Lazan, author of "Four Perfect Pebbles," will speak at 6 p.m. on March 25 at the library. Her visit is sponsored by General Mills of Joplin. "Four Perfect Pebbles" will be available for purchase and autographing. Admission is free.


Jacque Gage is director of the Joplin Public Library.

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