Elizabeth Bettina’s grandmother was born and raised in Campagna, Italy. Elizabeth comes across a photo of the church where her Catholic grandparents were married showing a rabbi, among others, on the front steps. Investigating what a rabbi was doing in an Italian town during WW II is the story of the book.
Many Jews fled to Italy before the war since no visa was required. While Italy was an ally of Germany, the foreign Jews were placed in Italian camps but Italian Jews were mostly allowed to live in their own homes. How the Jews were treated in the Italian camps is the amazing story. They were fed well, had medical help, went to school, married, had children, and were allowed to have synagogue. When the Germans invaded in September of 1943 and Italy became an enemy of Germany, the Jews were helped to escape from the camps and were hidden in small towns in the hills. As one Jew protected by the Italians said, “For the Italians there was no difference; we were human beings.” (P. 135)
Bettina reveals an amazing story that until now has been almost unknown. As the book develops, she helps Jews, now living in the U.S., return to those Italian communities that protected them.
Unfortunately, Bettina telling her own story of how she found the information, contacted individuals and completed travel is a much larger part of the book than it should be. Do we really need a seven page chapter on how a cyst and subsequent surgery delayed some of her travel? Do we really need to know what the traffic was like during the taxi ride or that she stood next to Julie Andrews’ daughter during a rainy Macy’s Thanksgiving parade? Such inconsequential details could have been left out. Bettina writes, “The journey kept getting more intriguing.” (P. 195) It is her own journey she is talking about. Less about her and more about the Jewish survivors would have yielded a much more powerful book.