There are many books I have read over the years but only a few that have had a deep impact on my life. One of those was It Happened in Italy. This book tells the story of what life was like for the Jews in Italy during World War II. The Jewish people in Italy were treated much more humanly and kindly than those in Germany, if they were under Italian rule. If the Germans had control they were still treated worse than animals. Thought I do have to say that not all the Italians were compassionate. There were Jews who died or were murdered in Italy at the hands of the Nazis.
In Campagna Italy there was an old convent that was used to house the Jewish people who were interred. They were allowed to practice their religion, and even had a synagogue and walk the streets of the town. When the Germans came Jewish people were sent out into the countryside to hide, and some even hid in ovens to survive. The Italians were a more compassionate people who showed that they could stand up to Hitler. They defied his orders to kill the Jews, and allowed them to live out the war. Many people of many different towns in Italy knew that there were Jewish families with false papers living in their towns, but they never said a word. One woman who told her story in the book talked about how she was the token Catholic in her family. She went to mass each week as the representative of her family to help hide the fact that they were Jewish. After the war her father went hack to apologize for lying to the people of town. They people told him that they knew all along he was Jewish. When he asked why that had not turned in his family they responded that it was because they were people. They were human beings. That is what the Nazis did not see. They did not see the Jewish people as human beings.
In other towns the Italian Jews returned after the war to find their home and all of their possessions still there, waiting for them. This was not true in other places in Europe. In other places people returned to nothing, no home, no photographs, nothing was left for them.
This book is well written and has much documentation which supports the stories included in the book. It also tells of the differences between the horror of the camps in Germany and the difference of the camps in Italy from the viewpoint of one couple who each survived, one in Germany and one in Italy, the wife who survived a year in Auschwitz and Ravensbruck and her husband who survived for six years in an Italy. She says and I quote from page 3 "The Italians treated them like human beings....No one could ever have survived six years in German concentration camps. That was impossible."
This book has shown that during a terrible time there were people with compassion who were willing to risk their lives to help others. It shows that man is not all bad and gives me faith that no matter how bad things may get, there are people who will help others to survive at the risk of their own lives. I pray that if I have to make the choice someday I have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the people of the many towns of Italy who helped the Jews in Italy survive.