It happened in Italy
by Elizabeth Bettina
Softbound, 331 pages (appendices not included)
I once posted in my status message that I almost gave up on this book after two chapters. Actually, I read the preface and the Introduction which are five pages only. I said so because the preface and the introduction did not set the mood of the book but only spoiled it because I felt the exultation to goodness was overrated. So, I recommend that one should go to Chapter I right away.
From Chapter 1 up to 53 plus the epilogue and afterword as well as some appendices, I was swayed by the book. I could not believe myself being hooked in the storytelling which does not involve conflict and so much suspense. The story teller is alive in every page. Author Bettina has the vitality in her story telling. Her otherwise boring and simple topic became alive in every page. She made the reader part of the journey on how she first discovered the fact that her grandmother's hometown in Italy called Campagna became an internment camp for Jews during the Holocaust.
How she first met her first Campagna camp internee up to her meeting the others who were interned in various part of Italy as well as how she worked out into bringing the aging Jews who settled in America back to Italy up to her experience of meeting the Pope in the Vatican. Her tales on meeting strangers who became common friends with the survivors as well as her befriending a trumpet player in an autostrada or an open public space where Italians flock to eat and listen to music, who was instrumental to her contacts in the Vatican. Her excitement got me as well she got me on her personal journey when she was operated interim the trips and her grandmother's and grandaunt's deaths. All I can say is that she is one great planner!
From the start, her message is clear but she said it last in her book: If you are not indifferent -- things can be different. I was not compelled to highlight any passage but I am pleasantly surprised because even the predictability of the storyline did not shoo me away from this book.
I think the strongest message of this book is that we can be Italians too who risked their lives for the Jews because they are "Christians" or "human beings" (equivalent Italian word have these two words to mean the same) too. The Italian government itself gave stipend to the internees. So we can say that it is understandable that the survivors need to tell the world because Italians did the right thing during the Holocaust: To save lives.
In this book, Bettina is engaging and sincere in her story telling so that although from the first few chapters, one can already stop and "get it" already. But mind you, there are things on the last chapters that you need to know.
The most educated group of people in the world at the time created the Holocaust and the "Final Solution." Yet in many cases, it was the simple people, the "uneducated" people who saved the Jews.
Simple goodness triumphed over sophisticated evil.
If you are not indifferent -- things can be different.
Bad times, good people. (Actually, this is the title of the book of survivor Walter Wolff).
A glimpse on many places in Italy and the book comes with mini-maps which really helped.