True, their past had been expunged, their future was completely uncertain, and they would emerge from this chapter stateless and without official identity of any kind. But compared to what was going on in the rest of Europe, this Italian respite was a God-send. And I will be forever grateful for this. I have my life, and there is nothing more precious than that.
When a dear friend told me about Elizabeth Bettina’s book, I finally felt relieved that someone out there would bring this miracle of humanity to the public’s attention, because, truly, it is a very little-known story. After all, there’s plenty of history and news about the atrocities in this world, but hardly any mention of beneficence. There are individuals who stand out, and some who are even documented (Schindler, for example), as rising above the cruelties of humanity, at risk of their own well-being and even lives. But, to my knowledge, there are few if any instances of whole nationalities taking it upon themselves to rescue, protect and provide human balm to those threatened by major holocausts.
This story of Italians, from every echelon of society, from local peasantry to political and religious, is a revelation of the goodness we are all capable of. In a world which has witnessed and studied the nature of groups and mobs to be devastating in their cruelty and destructiveness, it is a genuine relief to read a document that enumerates the opposite: Italians were a shining light of compassion, withstanding the powerful Fascist/Nazi regimes, and giving expression to the best that is in us. According to social psychologists, the tendency of individuals and groups, under authoritarian rule, is to collapse into destructive tendencies. Here we have a beautiful counter-example to that hypothesis. May it be a template for all of us to imitate so that we can stand tall as members of the human race.