It Happened In Italy, by Elizabeth Bettina

bettinaConcentration camps in Italy during the Second World War? I hadn’t read that in my High School History books – even in the Catholic parochial school I attended. What were these camps like? How many Jews were cruelly forced into incinerators, inhumanely experimented upon, and maliciously treated like animals? How much like Auschwitz were the camps in Italy?

Not only was I surprised to learn about Italian concentration camps, but equally surprised with the rest of the story. Italian Catholics protected and hid many Jews who had escaped the German atrocities. Sure, they were placed in ‘concentration camps’, but they were treated like fellow human beings – Italian style – with schools for the kids, marriages, parties, and the gift of dignity. In fact, many lasting friendships developed between Catholic Italians and Jewish refugees. Though Italy and Germany were allies, the Italian people proved that political covenants were never going to change their unique character and culture.

I am half Italian. My grandfather came to America after the war. In our many discussions – having lived with my grandparents during my first year of college – I never heard any stories such as these. Why have these stories not been told before? In the midst of unforgettable human insanity, there was also human compassion.

The world owes a debt of gratitude not only to Elizabeth Bettina for her tireless efforts in sleuthing out these details and helping us understand this wonderful truth, but also to the many Italians and the Catholic Church for their willingness to risk their own lives to save so many Jewish lives.

This book is written simply, outlining the unfolding drama of discovery – life after life – where Italian and Jewish families were brought together and forever connected through many acts of compassion.

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