During the nightmare known as the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children. Five million non-Jews were also murdered, among them Romas and Sintis (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian activists, and anyone else deemed politically or racially undesirable. This story is about one survivor.
In 1938, Marion Blumenthal and her family began their journey to the United States as refugees from Nazi Germany. Just before the Blumenthal’s scheduled departure from Rotterdam, the Germans invaded Holland and bombed their ship. The family was trapped, and Marion, her brother and parents were forced into Hitler’s camps. They experienced six-and-a-half years of horror, including near escapes, dashed hopes and tragedy.
Finally, they were liberated and made it to America in 1948 using the tickets paid for 10 years earlier.
At the time of her liberation, Marion Blumenthal weighed 35 pounds. Today she travels the world to bear witness as the last generation of Holocaust survivors. Her memoir, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” has been published in English, German, Dutch and Japanese, and is available in hardback from Greenwillow and in paperback from Avon Books (and in schools, from Scholastic)..
EXCERPTS FROM EDUCATIONAL REVIEWS
Booklist Review October 2003
Grades 6–12. Marion Blumenthal Lazan’s quiet determination and confident speaking manner make an impact. Though difficult, Lazan shares the horrors of her lost youth with audiences. Her memories of incomprehensible pain and torture are expressed with a composure born from the rigorous self-control and restraint she mastered during her childhood when she survived more than six years under the Nazi stranglehold.
School Library Journal November 2003
Grades 7 and up. This devastating documentary tells the true story of Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal (who co-wrote the best-seller Four Perfect Pebbles). Expertly mixing archival footage, photographs, and talking head interviews, director John Chua does a commendable job of capturing Blumenthal’s amazing life story. At age 68, she currently travels throughout the United States telling young students about the horrors of the concentration camps. The high schoolers shown sit with rapt attention as she describes the atrocities she witnessed and experienced.
The American Library Association’s Booklist awarded MARION’S TRIUMPH the Editor’s Choice award in 2004.
- To allow students to become aware of the prevalence and consequences of intolerance, racism, prejudice and victimization.
- To gain a better understanding of the Holocaust within the context of World War II and the history of the 20th century.
- To discuss how children and adults cope differently with stress, tragedy and disappointment.
- To consider critically how the actions of individuals can make an enormous difference or impact on the experience of others.
- To discuss the meaning of individual and collective responsibility.
- To convey the importance of hope and a positive attitude.
- To note how Marion describes life in pre-war Germany.
- To describe the rise of Nazism in a small German town.
- To note how Marion describes the actions and decisions of individual Germans.
- To understand the actions Marion’s parents took in face of increasing prejudice and violence.
- To discuss Marion’s key messages to young people today.
- To discuss America’s role as a destination, and in particular as a place of refuge for the Blumenthals.
Below are statements, phrases, and sentences from the documentary that have a particular meaning or have particular significance within the video. Discuss these excerpts. The time reference at the end of each statement indicates its approximate location within the program – times will vary depending on whether you have taped it from a broadcast.
(It would be useful to provide students the background information about the Holocaust and modern German history to provide a context for the significance of the statements below. Consult the Web sites listed below for more information.)
- “And then of course, little by little, we felt the difference. When the Nuremberg laws came about, restrictions were put upon our people, on the Jewish people. It was the beginning of a massive pogrom against the Jewish people, a massive mental and physical assault.” (Marion, 7 min.)
- “Kristallnacht came about. November 9th, 1938 – that’s when the Nazis destroyed synagogues, Jewish stores; burned books, Jewish books. And that was a massive assault against the Jewish people.” (Marion, 9 min.)
- “Over 100,000 Jews were interned at Westerbork before being shipped off to more notorious camps. Among them was Anne Frank, who was held there after her arrest, then sent to Auschwitz, and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where she died of typhus. Marion, her brother Albert, and their parents, Walter and Ruth, spent four long years in Westerbork as prisoners.” (Voiceover, 13 min.)
- “The time came for the lists, uh, to be called out, for the exchange. And they started with the alphabet with A, B, and so on. The A’s were read; the B’s were read – no Blumenthals – the C’s, and so on, no Blumenthals.” (Marion, 16 min.)
- “I saw this old German in a uniform. And I kind of walked with him on the inside of the camp, and he would walk on the other side with his rifle. And we’d chat. And he said, ‘I got something for you.’ And he pulled out an apple, and he gave it to me.” (Albert, 21 min.)
- “And what if I would never find the 3rd or 4th pebble? I was afraid that one or two of my family members would not pull through. But somehow this game always gave me something to hold onto – some distant hope. And I always found my 4 pebbles.” (Marion, 24 min.)
- “The Blumenthals were put on a train and shipped out once again. Six days later, the Allies liberated Bergen-Belsen, and the S.S. guards gave it up the camp without a fight. The British army shot this documentary footage upon entering the camp. Dead bodies were everywhere, so numerous that mass graves were quickly created.“ (Voiceover, 28 min.)
- “It was the Russian army that liberated our train. And they led us to a farm village in eastern Germany. This farm village was called Tröbitz. It was just a bit south of Berlin, near Dresden, in eastern Germany. And many of the inhabitants there had fled. And not all of them; some of them actually helped us. And of course, they contracted typhus also, and many of them died.” (Marion, 32 min.)
- “An amateurish film that was taken in 1946 – it was March of 1946 – the holiday of Purim, in particular. It was actually only 8-9 months after our liberation. It shows children playing, children horsing around, as the expression goes, and almost living a carefree kind of a life.” (Marion, 37 min.)
- “None of us is spared hardship. And it’s not so much what happens to us, it’s how we deal with the situation that makes the difference. And if we have that inner strength, and that fortitude to look towards the future, and to have the determination and perseverance to go on, one will succeed. Above all, never give up hope. Never give up hope because physically we were finished. It was only with hope and determination and positive attitude and imagination that we got away.” (Marion, 53 min.)
Answer these questions in your own words. Your answers will vary because there is more than one correct answer.
Questions Literal Level
- When did the Blumenthals begin their voyage to America? Under what circumstances and how did they begin their journey?
- How and why did the Blumenthals first arrive in Westerbork?
- How did Albert spend his time in the camps? What activities did he engage in?
- Under what circumstances were the Blumenthals liberated?
- Describe how Walter Blumenthal died.
Questions Interpretive Level
- How did Marion’s parents cope with the horror of the camps?
- Compare and contrast the present day outlook of Albert and Marion with regard to their experience during the war.
- Contrast the actions of different Germans described in the video.
Questions Critical Level
- How does Marion see the role of individuals and personal responsibility in society?
- How does Marion’s message apply to your daily life?
- Describe the link between prejudicial attitudes and racist violence or hate crime. Some people have described the line of progression from everyday discrimination to genocide as a “slippery slope.”
How or why might this be true? Describe how a community can become increasingly intolerant and the ultimate consequences of such intolerance. Can you see examples of discrimination in your community that could theoretically lead to violence and tragedy?
Questions Creative Level
- Write a skit dramatizing the difficulties a member of a minority group might experience in mainstream culture. (You can set this in any historical and cultural period you chose.) Describe some of the experiences of this person. What kind of societal expectations would this minority member have to face? How would this person cope with these expectations and experiences? What kinds of institutional discriminations might this person experience?
- Contrast this documentary with other literary works dealing with young people facing different forms of institutionalized racism. (For example, you could compare Marion’s experiences with those described in Anne Frank’s Dairy of a Young Girl, Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy and Richard Wright’s Native Son.) How do young people respond to these pressures and injustice? What are the obligations and responsibilities of those who are witness to injustice?
STUDENT INVOLVEMENT GROUP ACTIVITIES
- Draw a timeline from 1933 to 1945 that depicts the major incidents in the lives of the Blumenthals. Although the narration in the documentary does not always indicate a year, use additional reference materials to research when certain of these major events would have occurred.
- Invite a Holocaust survivor to come speak to your class. Record on video or audiotape his or her life story.
- Trace on a world map the different locations and countries mentioned in the documentary. (Note that some places were mentioned but not visited.)
- What happens when people stereotype each other and themselves? Have each student write a paragraph describing his or her identity that may include gender, ethnicity and peer group affiliation, as well as unique aspects of each person unknown to others in the class. Have each person read aloud his or her self-description. How do we create our identities? How are we different from each other? How should differences be celebrated? Do we have preconceived notions of others that do not match up with the self-description?
- As a class discussion, compare and contrast parallel experiences of discrimination and racism from different cultures and historical periods.
- How might the experiences of a Holocaust survivor be similar or different?
- List and discuss the moral choices “bystanders” can make in confronting examples of discrimination and intolerance we might see every day.
- Compose a definition of courage. How do we measure and evaluate courage? How is MARION’S TRIUMPH a story about courage?
- Make a list of adjectives that describe Marion. Make another list that describes Ruth.
- List examples of family loyalty, courage, cruelty, betrayal, and hope in discussed or depicted in MARION’S TRIUMPH.
- Compose definitions of selfishness, love, sacrifice, and bravery.
www.adl.org The Anti-Defamation League.
www.museumoftolerance.org The Museum of Tolerance / Simon Wiesenthal Center.
www.ushmm.org United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
www.vhf.org Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
www.yad-vashem.org.il Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.