Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan spent a few hours in her Long Island home sitting for a portrait by New York photographer Gary Rabenko one recent morning. The author of a 1999 memoir, “Four Perfect Pebbles” (Greenwillow Books) and the subject of a 2001 documentary, “Marion’s Triumph,” Lazan is often in front of a camera.
But the purpose of her latest photo session was unusual: her portrait is to be mounted this month in the front lobby of a high school named for her last year in her German hometown.
The Marion Blumenthal Hauptschule, in Hoya, on the Weser River in northern Germany, is believed to be the first such school in the country that bears the name of a living Holocaust survivor.
“I think it is absolutely tremendous what the citizens in the little town are doing to redress the horrors that happened 60 years ago by their own people,” says Lazan, who with her husband Nathanial attended the school’s three-hour naming ceremony featuring political and church dignitaries, and a performance by a local, non-Jewish klezmer band.
About 20 Jewish families lived in Hoya before World War II. Today “no Jews are living in the town,” Lazan says.
A survivor of Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen, she came to the United States in 1948, settled in Peoria, Ill., and moved to the New York area after getting married.
Her public speaking about her wartime experiences, and her message of tolerance, led to her autobiography, co-written with children’s author Lila Perl. The documentary and a busy public speaking schedule in the U.S. and Germany followed. One speech a decade ago caught the attention of Eike Reicher, now the principal of the Hoya school, who decided to name the institution for Lazan.
Lazan heard through the grapevine last year that the school would be named for a member of her family. “I assumed it was in memory of my father,” Walter Blumenthal, who died of typhus shortly after the war, she says. On a visit to Germany last year, she found out that she was to be the honoree. “I was the last to know.”
Each time she speaks in Germany, she says, she meets students — born decades after the Nazi era — who are ashamed of what happened there. “This is a new generation — we have to be so cautious when we generalize” about all Germans.
Her mother, Ruth Blumenthal Meyberg, who at 103 lives in Far Rockaway, Queens, was pleased by the German school’s gesture. “If one lives long enough,” she told her daughter, “one will experience everything.”
The title of Lazan’s book comes from her childhood practice during incarceration — believing that the four members of her immediate family would survive if she found four pebbles of the same shape and size, she was constantly on the lookout for such small stones. She found them; they got lost in the camps. She found others; her family survived.
Today, her Hewlett, L.I., home is full of pebbles that students send her after her speeches at their schools. She’s received plain pebbles, pebbles marked with words of inspiration and pebbles fashioned into necklaces.
Another inmate at Bergen-Belsen was Anne Frank, author of the world-famous diary. The two youngsters never met, Lazan says.
“Mine is a story that Anne Frank might have told had she survived,” Lazan says in her speeches.
Unlike Frank, who wrote in her diary “for her well-being,” Lazan says she didn’t need a diary.
“I had my four pebbles.”