This year, my husband participated in the school book club and brought home the books for me to read too. We read Twenty and Ten, The Boy Who Dared, Four Perfect Pebbles—all books about the Holocaust and the hardships Jews endured under Hitler.
The stories of Jews in Germany and its surrounding countries are familiar the world over. So when I saw Elizabeth Bettina’s book It Happened in Italy, I was interested. I didn’t know much about Italy’s role in World War II. What I found out surprised me, as I had never heard it before. Bettina says, “Wondering why almost no one really knows what happened—even those who live in the areas in Italy where these events occurred—compelled me to tell this story.”
It Happened in Italy is Bettina’s discoveries about what it was like to be Jewish in Italy at the time of the Holocaust. Bettina first discovered the story when she saw a picture from her family’s village in Italy: a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi stood side-by-side on the steps of a church. Except that everyone knew there were no Jews in Italy. Or were there?
Bettina’s questions about the picture led to a huge story and a web of amazing connections. She records the stories of nearly fifty Jews who survived the Holocaust because they were in Italy. They tell of living normal lives during the War, of picnicking and playing cards in the Italian “concentration camps,” of hundreds of Italians who hid them from German soldiers.
Walter Wolff is one of the survivors whose story Bettina shares. Wolff grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, and “lived through ever-increasing anti-Semitism and through Kristallnacht.” He and his brother were arrested the day after Kristallnacht and sent to Buchenwald. They had been accepted as students in the US, and because their mother had papers to prove this, they were released. Unfortunately, the US refused to grant them student visas. So they went to Italy, the “only country allowing Jews to enter without visas.”
In 1940, Walter was arrested in Genoa. Having seen German concentration camps, he was terrified. However, “the Italian camps were nothing like German camps. In comparison, it was like going to a hotel. There was no forced labour in the Italian camps. We could do whatever we wanted during the day, as long as we obeyed the simple rules of being present for role call in the morning … and in the evening.”
These stories are not just about a few scattered people who helped a few Jews escape the Germans—they are about entire villages, an entire country, that refused to participate in Hitler’s Final Solution. As one of the survivors Bettina interviewed said, “During bad times, there were good people, and without them, he and the other Jews would not have survived.” It Happened in Italy is an inspiring, uplifting read among the hundreds of dark stories about the Holocaust.
Elizabeth Bettina lives in New York City. She has a degree in Economics and Italian literature and has been invited to speak around the world about what she found while writing this book. To read more about the story behind the book or the stories in the book, visit Elizabeth’s website.
“And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.” ~ Elie Wiesel
This book was provided for review courtesy of the publisher or publicist. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.