Thursday, March 25, 2010

This Has Happened: An Italian Family in Auschwitz by Piera Sonnino 2006

"I have read any number of overwhelming and despairing works about the Holocaust, but I don't think I have ever read anything so simply structured, so clearly composed--so heartfelt a tragedy, especially from the pen of someone who never considered herself a writer--as the one that unfolds in this brief memoir."--Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent

This spare, movingly written memoir was written in 1960 by the daughter of a Jewish family who had deep roots in Italy. Both sides of her family emerged from the ghetto in Rome in 1870 when its residents were allowed to live elsewhere. Piera Sonnino notes that in the space of two generations her family went from liberation in Rome to annihilation in Auschwitz. She tells the story of her parents and their six children who moved from Genoa and went into hiding in Sampierdicanne outside of Chiavari. They then fled to Pietranera where they hid in an abandoned inn; expelled, they ended up back where they started: in Genoa where they were eventually picked up by the police and transported to Auschwitz.

In the memoir the author describes the details of their escape route, the relationship of the family members to each other, and then what happened to each family member once they were transported. This is a tragic story of a family dismembered and destroyed, with interesting sidelights about the goodness of many Italians who tried to help them.

There are family photos and maps as well as four accompanying essays which give us more information about the memoir. They are:
A forward by David Denby who discusses the literary value of the memoir.
A translator's note by Ann Goldstein who presents us with a "brief historical background" to World War II and the Italian Jews.
An epilogue by Giacomo Papi who describes how the manuscript came to be first published in Italian in 2004.
An afterword by Dr. Mary Doria Russell, an anthropologist who has done much scholarly work on "the Italian response to the persecution of the Jews," and who describes her work in the context of this memoir.

Ettore Sonnino - author's father
Giorgina Milani - author's mother
Their children: Paulo, Roberto, Maria Luisa, Piera (author), Bice, Giorgio
Anna Milani - Giorgina's sister
Rosselli - surname of Giorgina's maternal grandmother
other Sonnino relatives


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