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“We’re running out of time.” Holocaust survivor says next generation will be the last to hear firsthand accounts of one of history’s darkest days

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(KWWL) -- Marion Blumenthal Lazan hopes her stories will resonate with those who here her speak so that they'll pass down the truth about what happened in Nazi Germany.

"We're running out of time. This is the very last generation who will hear this firsthand and someday they'll have to bear witness. So that is why we're running as fast as we can as long as we're able," Lazan said.

Standing tall even through Zoom, the 86 year-old survivor has been sharing her experiences since 1979. She spoke Monday to a few dozen Iowans in a talk hosted by the Thaler Holocause Memorial Fund in Iowa, whose goal is to pass along the stories of survivors as their numbers continue to dwindle.

 "My story is one that Anne Frank might have told had she lived," Marion writes in her online autobiography.

Marion spent time in Bergen-Belsen in Germany, the Nazi prison camp where Anne Frank died of typhus in 1945. She wasn't there when the came was liberated, though, instead being on a train with hundreds of other Jews for days without food or water in horribly unsanitary conditions.

"The dark, crowded quarters often caused us to trip and fall over the dead. Bodies could not be taken away fast enough," Lazan said.

Not one to shy away from talking about the horrors, Lazan spoke to how she and others would urinate on themselves to protect against frostbite.

The Nazi's tried to "break us" in spirtual, physical, and mental ways, Marion said. As a child, she saw those in the camps who tried to escape.

"The failure of their attempts were obvious when we saw their lifeless bodies hanging, elcotructed, against the barbed wire," Lazan said.

She held out hope though that they would be rescued one day, passing time by playing a superstitious game, which was the inspiration for the name of her book, "Four Perfect Pebbles."

"I decided that if I were to find 4 pebbles about the same size and shape, that would mean all four members of my family would survive," Lazan said.

Whenever she played, Marion said she always found all 4 pebbles. She often cheated, but it was her game, so she made the rules.

That sort of vision followed her into adulthood as she became a woman of both passion and optimism. Lazan says she wouldn't have it any other way, but the memories of the camps still arise.

"Many years ago, I need surgery on my face. Something needed to cauterized and burned away. As soon as that surgeon began with that procedure, I told him to stop," Lazan said.

The smell of burning flesh remdinded her of the burning bodies of those who died while trapped in the concentration camps.

NBC's Lestor Holt speaks with Marion Blumenthal Lazan about the goal of teaching more young people on the Holocaust.

The horrors inflicted on other human beings by other human beings, and also, in the case of the concentration camps, by their own government are hard for people to swallow, she said.

"Men, women, and children, innocent littles ones, 6 million of our people were murdered during that time," Lazan said. "Could you possibly imagine twice the population of the state of Iowa wiped out?"

She, her brother, and parents all survived the camps. However, her father died of typhus shortly therafter. The remaining family moved to the United States in 1948, Lazan still remembers the first moment she saw the Statue of Liberty, saying for the family it was a symbol of freedom.

While horrific, Lazan belives the tales of the dark history need to be passed on so such a terrible time isn't repeated.

She'll speak to eastern Iowans through Zoom twice on April 8th. The event is registration only. You can sign up for the Zoom here.

READ: Marion Blumenthal Lazan's biography after the age of 13

Since 1979 I have been speaking publicly about my Holocaust experience, but upon publication of my memoir, Four Perfect Pebbles, the number of speaking engagements has greatly increased. The Diary of Anne Frank has always fascinated me. I read it in the original Dutch on our voyage to America in 1948 aboard the Holland-American liner Veendam.

Actually, my story is one that Anne Frank might have told had she lived. She was in Westerbork where I was. Eventually, from Auschwitz, Anne was sent to Bergen-Belsen where I also was, and where she tragically died from typhus in March of 1945. With God’s help, I was able to write about “camp” life, liberation, and finally, starting life anew; first in Holland, and later, in our blessed United States of America.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan's Autobiography

Visit Marion Blumenthal Lazan's website here.

The Thaler Holocaust Memorial Fund was started in 1995 by Dr. David and Joan Thaler to provide support for education about the Holocaust to residents and  students at the local colleges in Linn County, Iowa. 

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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