A town atones

Marion Blumenthal Lazan delivering the keynote address during Bradley’s 2009 Constitution Day celebration.

January 24, 2011

In a bold effort to atone for a previous generation’s atrocities, the small town of Hoya, Germany, has named a new high school after Holocaust survivor and Bradley alumna Marion Blumenthal Lazan.

Today, the small town counts no Jews among its 6,000 citizens, but the Marion Blumenthal Hauptschule reminds students that 14 Jewish families, the Blumenthals among them, once called Hoya home. Lazan said the absence of Jews in Hoya today makes the recognition truly remarkable.

“It has to be acknowledged as something huge and tremendous for a little town to work so hard to try and set things right. It has to be appreciated,” Lazan said. “We have to reach out and build bridges and connect with one another.”

Lazan never had the opportunity to attend school in Hoya. She was only 4 years old when Nazis incarcerated her family. The Blumenthals spent six and a half years in concentration camps, including the notorious Bergen-Belsen. After liberation in 1945, the Blumenthals made their way to Peoria, where despite a late start in the classroom, Lazan graduated at the top of her Peoria High School class. She attended Bradley University for one year before joining her husband, Nathaniel Lazan ’54, on military deployments.

She has spoken to students around the world about her personal role in Germany’s dark history, and despite deep wounds, her message is always positive, championing education and tolerance. Lazan is a member of the Bradley Centurion Society and was the keynote speaker during the University’s Constitution Day celebration in 2009.

“There’s so much beauty out there and we just have to open our hearts and minds to share experiences and to share our heritages and religions. There’s much to be learned,” said Lazan, who noted that when it comes to an inclusive spirit, she and Bradley founder Lydia Moss Bradley are “members of the same club.”

Her biography, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” has been printed in several languages and is part of WW II curricula in the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada. She and her husband now live in New York, but spend a great deal of time away from home, sharing the Blumenthals’ story with young people around the world.

In a naming ceremony last November, Lazan spoke to students and teachers at her namesake school in Hoya. The ceremony marked a town’s humble effort toward recompense, and Lazan’s inspiring capacity to forgive.

“I never thought I would ever refer to anything connected with Germany as being beautiful, but this was an extraordinary event,” Lazan said.

For more information about Lazan and her book, visit http://www.fourperfectpebbles.com.