A moving account of a family caught up in the Shoah.
In 1960, Italian Holocaust survivor Sonnino wrote a spare account of her experiences during World War II. Intended for her children, the manuscript stayed in her possession in a red leather binder; only in 2002, three years after her death, did her daughters permit its publication in an Italian newspaper. The author was one of six children in a Jewish family living in Genoa when the Germans swept through Italy in 1943 and 1944. She tells of the Sonninos’ attempt to hide and their eventual deportation to Auschwitz, where her parents and five siblings all died. The book’s most chilling passage comes early on. German-Jewish refugees flooded into Genoa in 1934, causing considerable economic hardship for those, like the author’s family, who tried to help them. No more came after 1935, and the Italians assumed that things in Germany had improved. “The death struggle of the German Jews had begun,” Sonnino writes, “and we were unaware of it.” Four illuminating essays bookend this slim memoir. David Denby acknowledges the “tinge of irritation and guilt” people often feel upon the publication of a Holocaust memoir, then brilliantly demonstrates why this one is necessary. He comments helpfully on Sonnino’s prose, noting that her writing becomes more terse and urgent as her narrative marches toward the camps. His arresting foreword is followed by a helpful sketch of the historical background from New Yorker editor Goldstein, who also crafted this wonderful English translation. An epilogue by Italian journalist Giacomo Papi describes how the manuscript came to light, and novelist Maria Doria Russell’s provocative afterword explains why Italian Jews fared relatively better than their brethren in the rest of Europe.
An important contribution to Holocaust literature.