Pete's Story

A few years ago, I received a phone call from a person by the name of Peter Vanlaw, who claimed his uncle had been a prisoner in Bergen-Belsen at the same time as my family and me. And that he was also on the same horrible "death" train that took 2500 of us from Bergen-Belsen bound for yet another Hell. Where? We could only guess....


I don't recall exactly what happened next, but Nathaniel and I began to exchange e-mails with Pete, who was not only interested in my Holocaust story, but he also was hoping to get speaking engagements for me in the Los Angeles area, where he lives. 


We learned that he was the same age as both Nathaniel and me, but he only found out that he was Jewish when he was 52 years old!  His father had chosen to hide his Jewish heritage from him, probably because he felt his life would be easier as a Gentile in an extremely anti-semitic world. This is a perspective similar to that of my brother Albert, who doesn't want to bring children in to this world, fearing the possibility of yet another, God forbid, Holocaust.


Over the years we became good e-mail friends with Pete, as he began sharing new stories that came out of his family research relating to that horrific time in history. Then just this past January, when my speaking engagements took me to Redlands, California, Pete and I finally had a chance to meet in person for the first time, when I spoke at a Redlands Middle School

Meeting Pete in person for the very first time.
Meeting Pete in person for the
very first time



His own personal story, searching for his roots, is fascinating, and I would like to share it with you in

Pete's own words. I believe you will find it equally engrossing. His story begins below:



Peter Vanlaw' s Story


Peter Vanlaw' s Story:

Growing up as an only child with no living relatives that I knew of made searching for my roots a difficult process. As I began to dig into my family's history I found that the lives of my relatives had been violently transformed by WWII and the Holocaust. One of the stories that emerged was that of my mother's brother, Paul Rehfisch, who was reported to have perished in Bergen-Belsen, the notorious concentration camp. That was back in 2008, when I was doing research for my documentary, "For the Life of Me"

It was only then that I learned that my uncle had actually been one of the many victims of the tragic "Lost Transport". While trying to learn more about that appalling event, I discovered Marion Blumenthal Lazan, and her book, "Four Perfect Pebbles". All of this came as a complete shock to me because I never expected to find a single living person who had been through the horror of that journey.


When I found her on the internet I was amazed to learn that not only had Marion and her family been on the same death train as my uncle Paul and his wife Kaethe, but the coincidences continued to unfold. Marion's path from prewar Germany was almost identical to that of my uncle's. Both families fled from Germany shortly after Kristallnacht for the safety of Holland. While the Blumenthals were from Hoya, the Rehfischs were from Hannover, fewer than 45 miles away. Both ended up in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork, and in February, 1944 both families were transported to Bergen-Belsen. Then, ultimately on April 9, 1945, both families were loaded onto that infamous "Death Train", with its typhus laden passengers that meandered for two weeks, only to wind up ignominiously in the little German village of Troebitz. While Marion, her mother and her brother survived, her father did not. Neither did my uncle Paul nor his wife Kaethe. All three are buried in the town of Troebitz.



Additional Photos

Pete, his family, and me
Pete and family in the audience
Many thanks to Kate Pearne, Principal, faculty, & the wonderfully enthusiastic, receptive, and responsive students of Cope Middle School. 

Marion Blumenthal Lazan
Four Perfect Pebbles
Like us on Facebook View our videos on YouTube 
Please Connect with Desired Social Media Pages, if you have them. If not, simply delete this block. Visit for help getting started with Social Media