Distributed by Seventh Art Releasing, 7551 Sunset Blvd., Suite 104, Los Angeles, CA 90046; 323-845-1455
Produced by John Chua
Directed by John Chua
VHS, color, 48 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Biography, World War II
Reviewed by Karen A. Plummer, University of Akron, Akron, OH
"Never give up hope." How many of us could endure over six years of terror and still look at the world with such a positive attitude? Marion Blumenthal Lazan is such a person. A survivor of one of the darkest times in human history, Marion suffered through a nightmare childhood in concentration camps and still looks towards the future with hope, determination, and perseverance. Marion tells her story in this film produced and directed by John Chua.
The Blumenthal family lived a comfortable life. Marion's father, Walter, was a decorated veteran of World War I. After the war, he ran a thriving shoe business in Hoya, Germany. Walter, his wife Ruth, and their two children, Albert and Marion, lived in an apartment above their store, and took care of Marion's elderly grandparents. As the Nazi's gained power in Germany, Walter and Ruth began talking about immigrating to the United States. The grandparents saw no need to leave. Considering their delicate state of health, Walter put this idea away for a time, but life became more and more difficult as boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses and increased harassment of the Jewish population became daily events.
In 1938, Marion's grandparents died and Walter began making arrangements for emigration. They moved to Hannover to organize the necessary paperwork. Receipt of final approval came on the heels of Kristalnacht, the "night of broken glass" when Jewish businesses were vandalized across Germany and stricter anti-Jewish laws were enacted. The Blumenthals quickly made their way to Holland to make the final arrangements for their emigration, and were sent to the Westerbork camp until those arrangements could be completed. While in Westerbork, the Germans invaded Holland and the Blumenthals, their hopes of escape dashed, entered the concentration camp system. Marion was only 9 years old when her family was sent to Bergen-Belsen in February 1944.
Marion describes life in Bergen-Belsen in horrendous detail. She describes the wagonloads of naked bodies being hauled to the ovens, initially mistaking them for cords of wood. Daily life included a morning lineup for counting the prisoners. Every morning the prisoners were to stand at attention in all weather conditions, with no food and tattered rags for clothing. Often these line-ups continued all day. Diseases, starvation, death, unsanitary conditions, lice, and cruelty were the order of the day.
As the Nazi's tried to break their prisoners physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, Marion still found ways to keep her hope alive. As her brother "grubbed" about the camp for food and her mother worked, Marion passed many of her days playing make believe games. Her favorite game had simple rules: if she could find four perfectly round pebbles, then all of her family would survive the horror of the camps. When she would find those pebbles, she would hold them close and fill her spirit with hope. Then she would hide them to keep them safe. She and her brother Albert also recount a story of a German soldier who befriended Albert at great risk to himself and gave the starving boy an apple, which Albert shared with his family and others. Marion notes that this showed that not all Germans were bad.
Another of Marion's remembrances shows the incredible self-control of this young girl. Marion's mother Ruth worked in the kitchen. One day Ruth was able to smuggle a potato, some water and vegetables into their barracks. With a makeshift pot and a small fire, she started to make some potato soup for her family. Just as the soup was simmering, the Germans began a surprise inspection. Ruth and Marion hurried to hide the soup and put out the fire so the Germans would not discover what they were doing. In their haste, the hot soup spilled on Marion's leg, burning it severely. She knew that she could not cry out or it might mean her death as well as the death of her mother so she endured in extreme pain.
After the Allied invasion, the Germans increased their efforts to eliminate the Jews in the camps. The Germans began moving some of the Jews further into Germany and away from the invading Allies. The Blumenthals were put on a train heading east just days before the Americans liberated Bergen-Belsen. They were on this train for two weeks with no sanitary facilities, no food or water, no medical supplies, and suffered daily air attacks by the Allied forces.
The Russian army liberated their train and led the survivors to the almost abandoned village of Trobitz in Germany. The survivors took over vacant homes, many having abundant supplies of food, but the food proved too rich for the starving people. Many died from over-eating. Others continued to die from typhus, dysentery, etc. Marion was taken to a nearby clinic for treatment for her burned leg, now infected and deteriorating. Walter taken to hospital suffering from typhus and he died there only 6 weeks after their liberation.
Coming at a time of such joy after their liberation, the loss of her father darkened Marion's spirits. Her family slowly recovered their health and returned to Amsterdam. In April 1948, they immigrated to New York, greeting Lady Liberty from their ship. They later moved to Peoria Ill. Marion spoke little English so at 13 she was placed in a 4th grade class. She adapted to life in the U.S., becoming a typical American teenager, meeting the man of her dreams, marrying and having children. But throughout all of this, she felt it important to tell her story and make certain that others understand the horror of the Holocaust experience. Through her autobiography, Four Perfect Pebbles, and speaking engagements, Marion has taken her message around the world.
This film is a critical addition to Holocaust studies collections. The film effectively intertwines shots of Marion speaking to a school group, reminiscing with her family, and talking to the camera with footage from the Blumenthal-Lazan family and archival sources. Graphic images of inmates of the camps may be too intense for some viewers. Highly recommended for middle school/junior high students or higher.