Friday, June 5, 2009

Review: It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina

The author, Elizabeth Bettina, tells the true story of her journey of discovery about how Jews were treated throughout parts of Italy, especially Campagna, during World War II. The catalyst for this search was a photo of the author's grandparents on the steps of a Catholic church in Campagna, Italy. Why was a rabbi standing on the steps with the bridal party? During the summer, Elizabeth and her grandmother generally went to Campagna to visit family. While there she learned an amazing story about a man named Giovanni Palatucci.

Palatucci, in his official capacity of Questore ( part police chief, part immigration and census officer), had access to lists of foreign residents in Italy. Even though Italy was allied with Germany at the early part of the war, Palatucci knew that if the Nazis got hold of these lists, the Jews would be deported to concentration camps. At risk to his own life, Palatucci not only hid these lists, but helped people leave the country with false documentation or if they stayed in Italy, he helped to hide them. In September of 1943, Italy changed sides, so to speak and now Germany was their enemy. Unfortunately, Palatucci was caught by the Nazis and sent to Dachau where he died just two months before the camp was liberated.

A lot of the Jewish people were sent to an official Italian government internment camp where they not only survived but they actually thrived. The words internment camp bring images to the mind of such horrible places like Dachau, Auschwitz or Buchenwald inhabited by skeletal thin people with almost lifeless eyes, dressed in rags. One does not imagine internees wearing their own clothes, being well fed, allowed to practice their own religion and being treated with respect. But this is what happened in Italy during WWII even though many people never heard such stories before.

Through connections in Italy and in New York, Elizabeth soon began to hear more stories of the courageous Italians who helped the Jews avoid being captured by the Nazis. She thought this is one story that the world should know. Between many trips to Italy and meeting many people in the U.S.A, Bettina began to document the stories of the survivors. The stories were almost identical: if it were not for the Italian people during the war, the survivors had no doubt they would not have made it out alive. Along with the survival stories is documented the extreme gratitude toward the many Italians who risked their own lives to save the lives of the Jews. In a way, this book is a celebration of a people, who in a time when the world seemed to have gone mad, had the heart to defy the Nazis and help out their fellow man no matter what their religion.

This book is a fascinating look into history and the lives of numerous people who managed to survive the holocaust. At least 80 per cent of the Jews in Italy survived whereas in other parts of occupied Europe it was the exact opposite, a heart -wrenching 80 per cent did not survive at the hands of the Nazis. Unfortunately, some families had been split up with some being in Italy and some who never made it to safety. I can't even begin to fathom the guilt the survivors must have felt. The world should never forget these events.

At the end of the book are some very comprehensive appendices of information, including the names of the internees and the survivors who were interviewed and documented. There is also a timeline for the events in the book. An extensive bibliography is included. Throughout the book are numerous interesting photos. I really liked this book as I think it almost renews one's faith in humanity. Bettina is correct in thinking that this is a story that needs to be told. 4****

A big thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishing for a copy of this wonderful book.


  1. Hi Kaye :) I love the cute!
    This book sounds great to me. Anything Italian and I'm there!
    Hope you have a Terrific Weekend!

  2. What a great review. I really look to read this one. It does sounds like a story that must be told. Thank you.

  3. Sounds incredible! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. GReat review Kaye. This is one book I'd love to read.

  5. This sounds like a fascinating book. You are right no one I know ever told me these stories. I always like hearing and reading the stories that aren't main stream.

    Good review.

  6. Great review kaye.
    And it does sound like a book I could like

  7. Brilliant review Kaye! I am looking forward to reading this book. More and more stories about WWII keep coming out and each one is awe-inspiring.

  8. This sounds like a great book on a topic I know little about. Thanks for your review.

  9. I have this one on my TBR list. I love anything set in Italy, so I have high hopes for this book. :)

  10. Kaye, this sounds like a truly amazing book and one i'd love to read. Fantastic review!


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