click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




A Bag of Marbles: A New Holocaust Film Worth Seeing
Moral of the Story

A Bag of Marbles: A New Holocaust Film Worth Seeing

The true story of French Jewish brothers fighting for survival during WWII.

by

In an early scene of the new film, A Bag of Marbles, 10-year-old Jojo looks across the dining room table at his father and says, “Je ne suis pas juif!” – “I’m not Jewish!”

His father, Roman, slaps his son hard on the face. His mother, Anna, watches and winces.

Je ne suis pas Juif!” Jojo attempts his denial with greater conviction, but Roman slaps him even harder.

“I want you to swear that you will never, ever, tell anyone you are Jewish. It’s too dangerous,” his father warns Jojo and his older brother Maurice. “Better to get hurt now than to get yourself killed,” he offers as explanation for the harsh exercise, before folding Jojo into his arms for tearful hugs and kisses.

It is 1942 in Paris, and Jojo and Maurice are being sent away that night by their parents to try to escape the tightening vise of Nazi brutality. The boys are repeating history. Before they leave, Roman explains that as a boy in Russia, he was sent away by his own father to escape the tyranny of pogroms. While France had been under German occupation for two years, at this point in the story Jews had been ordered to wear the infamous yellow star on their sleeves. Jews were disappearing, and unfathomable reports of their destiny seemed a real possibility.

The window sign in Roman’s barber shop identifies it as “Jewish-owned,” something two SS officers fail to see when they enter the shop for haircuts. As Roman cuts the hair of one of the officers, he blandly blames the Jews for the war. Jewish customers waiting for their turns sit in stressed silence. As the officers pay for their haircuts, Roman tells them, “Gentleman, only Jews are customers here.” The Nazis stare back at him in disgust.

A Bag of Marbles, in French with English subtitles, is based on the memoir of the same name, written by the real-life Jojo, Joseph Joffo, who spent more than two years of World War II on the run or in hiding with Maurice. The movie was directed by Christian Duguay, who also directed the highly acclaimed movie “JAPPELOUP” as well as a Canadian television miniseries about the rise of Hitler.

The film has captured awards at several Jewish film festivals, including in Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego, and Miami. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 23 before rolling out to other cities in the U.S. throughout April and May.

Beautifully directed and acted, the story centers around Jojo and Maurice, how they manage to survive, and their efforts to reunite with their parents and elder brothers, Henri and Albert. Jojo and Maurice face unexpected dangers immediately on the night they flee, hiding from the glaring lights of German armored vehicles. During less tense moments, the brothers tease one another mercilessly, yet beneath the teasing is a fierce dedication and love, one that grows stronger as they are both forced to grow up very fast. At only 10 years old, Jojo is understandably challenged to keep up a brave front that covers for his deep fears.

This film does an excellent job of drawing the personalities of the main characters, as well as making enough of a point about the reality of Nazi brutality without excessive scenes of violence. It also demonstrates, as history so often does, the gossamer-thin veneer separating civilized behavior from unleashed hatred. The first day the brothers come to school wearing the Jewish star, for example, boys who had been their friends the day before turned on them viciously. On the other hand, the film also shows the moral bravery of so many people who fought for the good and who risked their lives to shield Jews. One such person in this story was a Catholic priest.

Living in danger, the brothers become even closer, with each boy’s survival tied to the other. They discover that “safe zones” are illusory, and they must make judgments about whom they can or should trust. At one point, when they are trapped by the Germans who do not believe their denials of Jewish ancestry, a Jewish physician, Dr. Rosen, comes to their rescue, stating that the boys’ circumcisions were for medical purposes, not religious ones.

Worn down and dejected at that point, Jojo wonders aloud to the doctor what the purpose is of all his efforts to stay alive.

“Death has already refused you twice, Joseph,” the doctor says. “If you keep fighting, holding on tight to life in your fist, you’ll make it. Do something with your life you can be proud of. You owe me that much.”

At a time when World War II is receding from memory for so many, it is a very good thing that some filmmakers are bringing books such as Joseph Joffo’s memoir to the screen. Many other films have centered on the Holocaust, including “Son of Saul,” “Denial,” “Europa, Europa,” “Life is Beautiful,” and “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” each with varying themes. “A Bag of Marbles” is a welcome addition to this genre, because it leaves the viewer fulfilled by the knowledge of what family love and devotion can achieve, and the ability of people to rise to levels of almost superhuman moral bravery in the face of evil.

March 18, 2018

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub