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I am so excited that you wish to know more about this amazing untold story of the Holocaust – how Jews were saved in Italy. You are reading this because of one simple photograph I saw a few years ago while visiting my grandmother’s village tucked away in the Apennine Mountains about one hour south of Naples.
What in the world was a rabbi doing on the steps of the church my grandparents were married in? It was 1940. This church is only a few hundred feet from my great-grandparents house — the same house I stayed in summer after summer as a child. Why had I not heard about this?. I knew that “some” Jews were saved during World War II….but “some “ did not include a rabbi and hundreds of Jewish men —in Campagna of all places!!
People always want to know “how did I get interested in this?” Well, there are a lot of things I do not know in life, but one of the things I do know is that I was meant to write about this.
I grew up as an Italian Catholic in an almost completely Jewish neighborhood. All my best friends were Jewish. I don’t remember learning abou about the Holocaust – it was something it seems I always knew about – and could not understand. Why would people do that to each other? How could this have happened?
Some of my friends’ parents, aunts and uncles were victims or survivors of the Holocaust. Why, because they were of another religion. It didn’t make sense to me. One of the Ten Commandments is “thou shalt not kill”. But kill they did — more than six million Jews and five million other “undesirabls” along with them. And if they “lived” in Nazi camps, places of destruction and death, they weren’t really living – they were being worked to death before being sent to death. So, why were people in this photo in Italy smiling? I just had to know.
Again, another “why”? Why were these facts not known in the general population and mentioned briefly in most history books? Although it is a small number saved in Italy – about 32,000 compared to the six million murdered, it is imporant to know that this represents approximately 80% of the Jewish population in Italy while approximately 80% were murdered in occupied Europe.
And thus began this most unexpected journey – a journey on which I would be joined by many survivors – some in my own backyard, on visits to many of the little villages where this history occurred, and in meetings with members of the Vatican, including an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
And…just when you think you have heard all the stories possible…Others appear…literally in front of my eyes – a reunion that only the stars aligning could have brought about…
I look forward to hearing your comments. Did you know anything about Jews being saved in Italy? If so, how? If not, what do you think about this little known piece of history? Perhaps some of you reading recognize family members in photographs – or recognize your last name in the list in the back of the book.
I look forward to hearing from you.