Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina

The Italian people did not give up for slaughter their Jews during WWII although the Italians needed to create concentration camps and round up the Jews to satisfy the Nazis as their allies.  Elizabeth Bettina has written a report that proves that the so called camps in Italy were not the same as those found in Poland - death camps and work camps where millions of Jews perished.  They were more like summer camps for recreation. She also discovers that many simple Italians protected and hid Jews during the war because of their innate humanity.

Ms. Bettina has written a person discovery about her relatives and friends from the heartland of Italy who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi clutches.  She recounts how growing up in a NY neighborhood with many Jewish friends she becomes curious about Jewish names that popped up in conversation among her Catholic friends or when she visited Italy for summers she would wonder about certain veiled references or esoteric codes about Jewish people.  As a personal mission she begins research about what happened to one of the Jewish people who was named, and discovered that the Italians by nature did not conform to Nazi ways and did the opposite of collaboration. The bulk of the book is a recounting of very moving reunions of Holocaust survivors with their wartime Italian hosts.

Italy did not require a visa for entry during the war and thus many Jews sought refuge.  80 percent of the Jewish people living in Italy during the war survived - an incredible statistic considering 90 percent of Polish Jewry did not! Only when the Germans ended up administering the country after the death of Mussolini did Jews get transported to death camps in Poland.

The book is written from the perspective of a proud Catholic who can stand tall because her relatives and ancestral home did the right thing!  The book is, however, not critical of the Catholic Church's record on saving Jews during the war but rather highlights the anomaly of some parish priests who saved Jews.

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