A brilliantly and thoroughly researched account of the plights of five different Italian Jewish families during WW2. Alexander Stille, the author, has interviewed surviving members of each of the families and presents a narrative history pulsing with riveting and profoundly moving anecdotes.
The families live in different cities – Turin, Ferrara, Rome and Genoa. There are several truly memorable characters. There’s Ettore Ovazzi who is a militant fascist and remains so even after the anti-Semitic racial laws are introduced. He runs a newspaper which condemns unpatriotic Jews. There’s the writer Pittigrilli who works for OVRA, the Italian secret police and informs on the activities of all his Jewish friends, including the writer Carlo Levi. There’s Franco Schonheit from Ferrara who together with his father survives Buchenwald and Franco’s mother Gina who often stands up to the SS and miraculously survives Ravensbruck. There are the men and women of the Di Veroli family in the Jewish ghetto in Rome who are the poorest of Italian Jews and their narrative includes the moving story of how many Catholics donated gold and money when the Jewish leadership was ordered to supply a ransom of fifty kilos of gold. And there’s Massimo Teglio, an aviator, who comes across as a Schindler character, instrumental in saving many lives and greatly helped by the bravery of members of the Catholic clergy.
It really is a tale of benevolence and betrayal and highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject matter.