Four Perfect Pebbles Summary

Lila Perl, Marion Blumenthal Lazan

Four Perfect Pebbles

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Four Perfect Pebbles Summary

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Marion Blumenthal Lazan wrotevividly about her childhood experience in several holocaust camps in Four Perfect Pebbles: a Holocaust Story. Though the memoir targets young adult readers, it has also resonated with adult readers since its publication in 1999. The text was written with the help of Lila Perl, an esteemed children’s editor who is credited as a co-author.

The memoir is unique for being written in third person, and presenting a holistic view of a Holocaust experience that is emotionally engaging and historically accurate. Four Perfect Pebbles also contains quotations from the author’s mother, Ruth, who was eight-seven years old at the time of publication; her memories add further authority to the recollections of the author, who was a child while held at various refugee and prison camps.

Themes include survival against overwhelming odds, the triumph of familial love, and fortitude.

In the 1920s, no one expected Hitler to rise to power. But his polemic speeches that blamed Jews for the sluggish economy resonated with many Germans. Once Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, anti-Semitism was supported by the state. The Blumenthal’s family store was boycotted by Christian Germans, and the family started to rely on buyers from outside the city. The family only stayed in Germany because of Lazan’s grandparents, who were too weak to travel.

In 1939, Lazan had just turned five years old. The Blumenthal familyleft Germany after SS guards actively rounded up Jewish citizens. They fled to Holland, a neutral country that would later be occupied by Germany.  In Holland, the family had applied for visas to the US but there was a major delay in the delivery of the visas.During that delay, Holland was occupied by Germany.

For the next six and half years, the Blumenthal family were refugees. After the German occupation, the Blumenthal family, along with other minorities, were transported to various prison camps throughout German-occupied Europe.

They were first sent to live in the prison camp in Westerbork, Holland.To survive, Lazan played imaginary games. One, which gives the book its title, was called four perfect pebbles. The game was based on the superstition that if she could find four perfectly shaped pebbles, then four members of her immediate family – her mother (Ruth), father (Walter), and brother Albert — would survive.

Having heard of mass extermination, the Blumenthal family never knew when they took a mass shower if the nozzles would emit water or gas.

The family was eventually transported to Bergen-Belsen, Germany. They were able to survive for the next two years, despite omnipresent disease and the threat of murder from fellow prisoners and German soldiers. Lazan talks about strangers sharing a twin bunk with other strangers in cruel conditions. The toilets were long wooden benches with holes cut in them; there was no toilet paper and hardly any soap to wash. For her entire childhood, they were not allowed to brush their teeth. The camps were designed to dehumanize the prisoners and increase their daily misery.

Lazan notes that she had it better than some people who were torn away from their families; the Blumenthal family stayed in the “family camp.”

As a child, she daily saw people die. Frequently, family members tripped over dead bodies in dark rooms and corners. She writes that it is impossible to accurately convey the horror of the various camps: the odor of death was incessant, their clothes were infested with lice, they knew that they could die at any moment.

At Bergen-Belsen, Lazan writes about the disease, feminine, and brutal beatings that killed half of the prisoners. The camp was about to be liberated by Russian forces when the Nazis shipped hundreds of families, including the Blumenthals, to Auschwitz.The prisoners referred to this as the “death train,” as it was well known by that time that Auschwitz was the worst prison to be at.

The prisoners knew the German’s were losing the war when they demanded that they hand over their civilian clothing so that the German troops could pretend to be civilians and not face retribution. With German communications breaking down, the “death train” was unusually late, and the Russians were able to free all the passengers trapped inside. The prisoners had been trapped on the train for two weeks with minimal access to water and food.

After liberation, the family lived in Trobitz, a city in east Germany. They relied on food and shelter abandoned by the German population. Because of a typhus epidemic, the family was kept in Trobitz for months. Typhus is spread by fleas and is extremely contagious. Tragically, a third of the Jewish population died, along with Lazan’s father, Walter.

Once the family was cleared for travel, they moved to Holland. They waited three years for permission to emigrate to the US. The family landed in New York City before moving to Peoria, Illinois. Lazan and her brother were able to start a stable life and have children.

In the book’s epilogue, Lazan and Albert visit their father’s grave to pay their respects.