Gemma La Guardia (1881-1962) and her famous brother, Fiorello who became a much beloved mayor of New York City, were born in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. Their mother, Irene Coen, was a descendent of the prominent Jewish Italian Luzzatto family. When the children were still young, the family returned to Italy. Years later Fiorello moved back to New York when Gemma and Fiorello were already young adults. Gemma met her future husband, the Jewish Hungarian Herman Gluck, in an English class she was teaching, and after they married, they moved to Budapest.
After the author has filled in this background she fast forwards to 1944 when she was already 63, a prosperous banker’s wife, mother of two adult daughters, one of whom had moved to the United States. She and other Hungarians thought they would be able to sit out the war, but in March of 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary and in incremental steps the life of its Jewish residents became more and more restricted and precarious. Gemma La Guardia became a target of the Germans because of her famous brother who was outspoken against the Nazis. They arrested her, first sending her to Mauthausen with her husband, then later sent her on to Ravensbruck, a camp of mostly women, many of them political prisoners. As the Allies pushed east, the Germans moved women prisoners from Polish camps to Ravensbruck, further straining its capacity and resources.
The author was considered a special prisoner because of her relationship to Fiorello La Guardia. The Nazis were afraid to kill her because of her connection and their fear of retribution against German prisoners-of-war, but she found out later that they were also hoping to use her in a German prisoner-of-war exchange. Her status at the camp meant that she was not subject to the backbreaking work of most inmates, so she had more of a chance to observe the camp, its inmates and its administrators. She was a valuable eye witness. She called Ravensbruck a kind of industrial center and recorded details of the set-up of the camp and the routine of its inmates as well as specifics about deprivation, illness, slave labor assignments, punishments, medical experiments, relationships amongst inmates and their guards, and clandestine resistance activities.
Gemma La Guardia learned when the war was nearly over that her daughter and grandson were also interned at Ravensbruck. Neither she nor her daughter knew that the other was in the camp. Eventually they were reunited and freed. With nowhere to go in the chaos of post World War II Europe, they remained in Germany, trying to learn about the fate of Gemma and her daughter's husbands. She eventually was able to make contact with her brother who worked on getting them to the United States. The author writes about her difficulties in Berlin finding a safe place to live, and describes the difficult process of registering, claiming ration cards, and the like. When she finally got to the United States her reunion with her brother was brief; he died a few months later.
This new edition of the memoir includes family photos and documents as well as:
The Preface to the original edition by S.L. Shneiderman in which he provides an overview of the plight of Jews in during World War II and then talks about the contents and value of this specific memoir.
A Prologue and an Epilogue to the new edition by Rochelle G. Saidel in which she discusses her particular interest in Ravensbruck as a woman's prison, her search for Gemma La Guardia's original manuscript, the value of the memoir as a historical document, and Gemma La Guardia's family in America.
An Appendix which consists of letters between Gemma La Guardia Gluck and her brother Fiorello LaGuardia, July 1945 - May 1947.
Gemma La Guardia Gluck dedicated her memoir “to the martyred women of Ravensbruck, the thousands who perished and the few who survived.” She was one of approximately 17,000 of about 132,000 who were interned at the Ravensbruck Concentration camp who survived and lived to tell her story. To read an essay on the history of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp written by Rochelle G. Saidel, click here.
Author's family on mother's side
Fiorina Luzzatto Coen - author's grandmother
Irene Coen – daughter of Fiorina; married Achille Luigi Carlo La Guardia;
Gemma La Guardia – daughter of Irene and Achille; married Herman Gluck; author
Yolanda La Guardia - daughter of Gemma and Herman
Richard Denes -son of Yolanda
Irene La Guardia – daughter of Gemma and Herman; married John Andrew Roberts
James Roberts – son of Irene and John
Gladys Roberts McMilleon – daughter of Irene and John
Clifford Roberts – son of Irene and John
Fiorello LaGuardia - son of Irene and Achille
Richard Dodge La Guardia – son of Irene an Achille; married to Mary Kozar
Richard Jr., Irene, and Marie Gemma La Guardia – children of Richard and Mary
Marie – Richard’s granddaughter (unclear which of Richard’s children is her parent)
Friends and Acquaintances
Isidore Selig Cohen
Lotte Lehman Silbermann
St. Louis, Missouri
New York City, NY