It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust [NOOK Book]

Overview

 IMAGINE ELIZABETH
BETTINA’S SURPRISE when she discovered that her grandmother’s village had a secret: over a half century ago, many of Campagna’s residents defied the Nazis and risked their lives to shelter and save hundreds
of Jews during the Holocaust. What followed her discovery became an adventure as she uncovered fascinating untold stories of Jews in Italy during World ...

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It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust

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Overview

 IMAGINE ELIZABETH
BETTINA’S SURPRISE when she discovered that her grandmother’s village had a secret: over a half century ago, many of Campagna’s residents defied the Nazis and risked their lives to shelter and save hundreds
of Jews during the Holocaust. What followed her discovery became an adventure as she uncovered fascinating untold stories of Jews in Italy during World War
II and the many Italians who risked everything to save them.

Endorsements:

 “Finally, somebody made known the courage and the empathy of the majority of the Italian people toward us Jews at a time of great danger.” —Nino Asocoli

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781418554941
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/21/2009
  • Sold by: THOMAS NELSON
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 337,619
  • File size: 9 MB

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Bettina is a native New Yorkerwholived in Italy.Elizabeth graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. At present, she works in marketing in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

IT HAPPENED IN ITALY

Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust
By ELIZABETH BETTINA

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Bettina
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-102-3


Chapter One

A TALE OF TWO CAMPS

I always told Fred that he had a picnic in Italy. I said to him, 'You complained that sometimes you had too much soup, while I was lucky to get a few spoons of some dirty water,'" recalled Edith Moskovich Birns. Edith is a survivor of Auschwitz, while the man who would become her husband, Alfred (Fred) Birns, survived the Holocaust in Italy.

Edith, a tall, slender, elegant woman, reminds me of an older Grace Kelly. She is in her eighties, is always fashionably dressed, and carries herself with an air of confidence. To see her today, you would never guess that at one time she was beaten simply for being a young Jewish woman. And you could not imagine, unless she told you, that during World War II, she was held in Auschwitz and other German camps.

Edith was born into a Jewish family in 1925 in Konus, Czechoslovakia, which was then part of Hungary, near Ungvar. Her father was an accountant, and they led a nice upper-middleclass life until the day it was abruptly ripped from them by the Nazis. On April 10, 1944, the family-Edith, the eldest at eighteen; her two sisters, ages six and eleven; two brothers, ages seventeen andfourteen; and her parents-and their Jewish neighbors were rounded up and taken to a ghetto in Unvbar where they remained for about two months. From there, a cattle car took them to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp.

"I remember being taken out of my home in Hungary with my family. None of our neighbors tried to help us. No one warned us of what was going to happen," said Edith with a faraway look in her eyes. "In Italy, Fred and his friend Walter [Wolff] were helped by the Italians and warned when the Nazis were coming-even by the police. Fred was able to survive because the Italians did not assist the Nazis. They [the Italians] hindered the Nazi efforts and helped the Jews. That did not happen to us. The Hungarians cooperated with the Nazis.

"In fact, as we were being taken away, one of our neighbors asked us which of our cows gave the most milk. Can you imagine? That is what they asked us as we were being taken away. I will never forget that! From the truck, I saw them entering our home and taking our belongings.

"After a few months in the ghetto, we were put on trains, in cattle cars. It was terrible. There was no place to sit. We all stood. It was hot. There was no place to go to the bathroom. We were locked in the dark with no light and no air for days.

"Then the doors opened. We stumbled out and right away were sent in different directions. My little sisters were holding my hands, but I was forced to go into another line and had to let go of them. They went with my mother, and I never saw them again. They were taken straight to the showers and murdered."

Edith's voice cracked as she whispered, "I still have nightmares about that, and cannot forgive myself for not trying to save them. This was Auschwitz. You know what that means. Absolute horror. The guards would make fun of us and beat us if they saw us praying. They worked us to death, and we barely had enough to eat. If I found the core of an apple in the field, I picked it up and sucked it. That little juice helped me survive one more day, but if a soldier found me picking the apple up, he would have shot me immediately." She continued. "What was happening to us? I asked. Why was this happening to us? What did we do?

"Toward the end of the war, I was transferred to Ravensbrück, near Berlin. When the Nazis realized the Allies were closing in, they sent us on the famous Death March. As the war was ending, the Nazis tried to murder the remaining survivors by forcing them to march away from the Soviet Army and die from the cold weather, exhaustion, and famine. I was liberated on May 5, 1945, by the Russians. That is what saved my life. There is so much more to tell you, but can I tell you another time?"

"Of course," I said.

We were both silent for a moment.

"You know," she said. "Fred and Walter, their experiences in Italy were so so different. The Italians treated them like human beings. Fred survived for six years in Italy. No one could ever have survived six years in German concentration camps. That was impossible."

"When did Fred arrive in Italy?" I asked.

"He went to Italy from Dresden with his mother and father around 1938. They didn't like what was going on in Germany and decided to leave."

Fred's family, like so many others, decided to leave Germany before the country's political situation worsened, and Italy was the only country that would let the Jews in without a visa. Life was good for Fred's family until the war; then they were sent to camps. Fred was sent to Campagna and his father to Ferramonti. At the time, their last name was Birnberg. (Later, when they immigrated to the United States, it was changed to Birns.) Then Fred made a domanda, kind of a "request," to join his father, and he, too, went to Ferramonti.

"As I said before," continued Edith, "the Italian camps were a picnic. Whenever Walter and Fred got together, they loved to speak Italian, and they both loved Italian people. They told stories like old friends do about their time together and what they did. You know what they did? They played cards! Can you imagine that? When I tell other survivors that my husband played cards in his concentration camp in Italy, they don't believe me. If Walter and Fred didn't have the pictures, I wouldn't believe it either. What kind of camp was that? Nothing like the ones that I was in.

"Eventually, when the Italians became enemies of the Germans, the Germans looked for Jews in Italy to take to their camps in Germany. Fred was able to get help from a priest who arranged fake papers for him. Fred became Mario Rossi. No one in Hungary helped my family get fake papers. No. Instead, they pointed the way to our house. That is the difference."

"What happened to your family?" I asked.

"My whole family except my brother and me were killed in Auschwitz. A family of seven-we became two."

And Fred's family?

"They all survived," she said. "They were in Italy. But Fred's relatives in Germany? They were all destroyed by the Nazis. Every one of them died."

* * *

Edith's heart-wrenching story highlighted yet again the stark differences Jews experienced when they were interned in Italy, compared with the death camps elsewhere in Europe. I was months into my journey of discovery, and by now I'd heard many other survivors tell stories with the same theme: life in Italy, instead of death; kindness from strangers instead of cruelty; humanity instead of depravity. The unfolding tale had taken me across the world and through many turns and surprises, but it all started with a simple photo.

Chapter Two

THE PHOTO-THE RABBI!

A picture changed my life.

The faded gray photo showed something that just didn't make sense. What was an Orthodox rabbi doing standing on the steps of the church where my Catholic grandparents were married? This was not the typical church in New York City with a synagogue around the corner. It was a church in the tiny Italian village of Campagna, a place practically invisible to the outside world, hidden in the folds of the rugged Apennine Mountains about an hour southeast of Naples.

Questions raced through my mind. Since when did this village have a rabbi? Just about everyone in Italy in the 1940s was Catholic. So how did this rabbi get there-especially during World War II? But there he was, surrounded by smiling people, including a bishop and a police officer. I didn't think police officers and rabbis got along anywhere in Europe in 1940.

I came to discover that this picture not only said a thousand words, but it also represented a thousand lives, and then some. It began a journey to discovering the true story of how thousands of Jews were spared almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis, simply because they were in Italy.

* * *

Like many other Italian-Americans, my grandparents moved to the United States for the many opportunities it offered. We still had family in Italy, so starting from the time I was ten years old, my grandmother, "Nanny," and I would spend our summers in Campagna. We visited almost every year until I graduated from high school, and it was a different world from the New York City suburbs I lived in the rest of the year.

No one in Campagna talked much about World War II. It was a difficult time, I was told, and my uncle Zio Pierino spent part of it in a German prisoner-of-war camp. At one point, the Americans accidentally bombed Campagna when they thought they saw Germans in the town. There were no Germans there-that day-but many townspeople had gathered for their daily ration of bread, and many of them were killed that day. Almost as an afterthought, I was told that few Ebrei (Jews) were hidden in the surrounding mountains. When Germans did come through, searching for Jews to deport to Germany, my great-grandfather and others in Campagna hid some of the Jews from them. That was all they told me. No one ever elaborated.

So I knew of a few Jews hidden in the mountains, not the hundreds-or maybe even a thousand-who spent years in Campagna. The way I heard it, it sounded as if a handful of people, similar to Anne Frank's family, were hidden there. And no one ever mentioned a rabbi!

* * *

Over four years ago, on a sizzling hot Sunday evening in August, my eighty-nine-and-a-half-year-old grandmother (she added the half back in) and I were enjoying brick-oven pizza with family and friends at Ristorante/Hotel Avigliano, a restaurant located high in the mountains of Campagna. This was the last night of a wonderful trip I'd planned as a complete surprise, an opportunity for Nanny to visit her family in the village where she and my grandfather were born. No one in Campagna knew we were coming, and were they ever surprised to see us! Little did I know that the surprise would be mine.

Campagna is a picturesque, quiet village that can only be reached by one narrow, winding road. If the road is blocked for any reason, the only way in is to climb the mountains. (Think The Sound of Music.) In many ways, time has stood still in Campagna. My friend David Parker visited Campagna a few years ago and nicknamed it Brigadoon, after the fictitious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years. It fits. The streets are narrow, made for i ciucci, the donkeys. In some places you can stand in the middle of the street and touch the walls on both sides with your outstretched arms. Little old ladies dressed in black lean over balconies keeping watch or peer out of seemingly shuttered windows. I say "seemingly shuttered" because the ladies manage to look through the slats and see all that is going on. Nothing escapes their ever-watchful, inquisitive eyes. You'll find the men sitting around the town or playing cards at the local cafés, and no one ever seems to move very fast-even on a Monday morning.

Nanny was seventeen when she married my grandfather and moved to New York, and as they say, the rest is history. She maintained close ties with her family over the years through letters-the old-fashioned kind with airmail stamps that took weeks to arrive, and she kept them all these years in her dresser drawer.

When I first began going to Italy, Nanny's parents were still alive, and I got to know my great-grandparents. They were the oldest people I had ever seen-at the time they were only in their mid-eighties. My great-grandmother looked like the other elderly ladies in town: she was petite, wore long skirts, and kept her snow-white hair neatly rolled up in an old-fashioned bun. My great-grandfather was short and had a mustache accompanied by a stern look on his face. He never left the house without a hat on and his shotgun slung over his shoulder-like the other men his age.

One summer led to another, and after I graduated from high school, I continued to visit every few years. After all that time, I thought I knew everything about this village and its quiet, almost backward, ways.

That evening at Ristorante Avigliano, Zio Peppe, a distant relative in his mid-seventies (it seems everyone is a distant relative in Campagna) and the owner of the restaurant, gave me a copy of a doctoral thesis. It was written by a wonderful man from Campagna named Gianluca Petroni. The picture of the rabbi on the church steps was in the book, just one in a series. There were more pictures from Campagna in the 1940s-of a menorah, of Jewish men playing cards, and of Jewish men singing. How did they get there? And why were they there?

This book has since traveled with me all over the world, and continues to unlock mysteries. Little did I know that this discovery would change not only the course of my life, but many other lives.

Flying back to New York at thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic, I read in the thesis about Jews in Campagna during World War II and what their lives were like. Mostly, they were foreign Jews interned in Campagna in the former Convent of San Bartolomeo, located next to the Church of San Bartolomeo (at times referred to simply as the convent). They were allowed to practice their religion and could make il matzo (flat, cracker-like bread) for Pesach (Passover), a holiday Italians of the time referred to as the "Jewish Easter." Now, I cannot imagine matzo in Campagna-ever-let alone in a time and place where to be Jewish meant persecution and almost certain death. Did they allow Jews in Dachau or Auschwitz to make il matzo? I hardly think so.

I wanted to ask the pilot to turn the plane back so I could learn more. How could this have occurred in Campagna and no one ever talked about it? Gossip is the favorite pastime of people in this little village-in fact, in all the little villages in Italy. They could win a gold medal for gossip, if such an award existed. They know everything about everyone and are faster than any BlackBerry. Why didn't I learn about it from either the people of the town or from my history books in school? Why did the world not know? And how did my Jewish friends not know?

Many ask why I am so taken by this story. I grew up Italian-Catholic in a suburb of New York City that was predominantly Jewish, and I was aware of the Holocaust long before I learned about it in school. Even as a little girl I never understood why people-human beings-persecuted others just because of their religion. Some of my friends and neighbors had relatives who were survivors or, worse, were killed in the death camps.

Discovering Campagna's extensive connection to Jews during the Holocaust amazed me and began an extraordinary journey, one I could never have imagined but one it seems I was born to take. Looking back, I can now see that almost every facet of my life up to that point led me to this story. Destino, as the Italians would say.

I have an unbelievable desire-I could go as far as to say it is a calling-to connect the pieces of this intriguing puzzle. In searching for the pieces, I discovered that Campagna was not the only place where Jews were interned in Italy during World War II. Quietly, all over the boot of Italy-from small towns outside Torino, Milano, and Perugia to small towns in the regions of Abruzzi, Basilicata, and Calabria and many in between-Jews were helped by Italian people who risked their lives to keep them from the hands of the Nazis.

Jimmy Gentry was right. This story of goodness in a time of evil must be told.

Chapter Three

THE ITALIANS CHINDLER

Giovanni Palatucci. Italians call him "The Italian Schindler." Oskar Schindler was the German factory owner who saved nearly twelve hundred Jews during the Holocaust by bringing them to work in his factories. The movie Schindler's List dramatizes his story.

So imagine this. It is the 1940s. An Italian police official working under Benito Mussolini (Hitler's primary ally in Italy) actively defied orders to implement Hitler's "Final Solution" of eliminating Jews from the face of the earth. In the process, he saved thousands of Jewish people from being deported to Nazi death camps. This extraordinary man was Giovanni Palatucci, and for his heroic efforts, he was killed at Dachau.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from IT HAPPENED IN ITALY by ELIZABETH BETTINA Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Bettina. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface: The Dachau Liberator-Early Fall 2008....................xi
Introduction....................xv
1. A Tale of Two Camps....................1
2. The Picture-the Rabbi!....................6
3. The Italian Schindler....................16
4. Blessings from a Childhood Friend....................20
5. An Unexpected Connection....................23
6. The First Survivor....................25
7. Unexpected Journey....................28
8. Planning the Return....................41
9. Vince Marmorale: 1+1=3....................43
10. How to Get to the Vatican: Call Amy....................46
11. Finding Out About Cardinal Ruini....................54
12. Arriving in Italy....................58
13. Exploring Rome....................60
14. Walter Wolff Returns a Free Man....................64
15. Vatican Visits....................72
16. An Invitation from a Cardinal....................81
17. Museum of Memory and Peace....................86
18. Vinnie D and the Documentary....................89
19. I am Eighty-Six Years Old Thanks to Italy....................92
20. Walter Wolff's Funeral....................101
21. Ursula, the Priest, and the Nuns....................104
22. Herta's Visit....................114
23. Max....................122
24. Hiding Out in the Open....................131
25. The Little Girl at the Pool....................145
26. An Unexpected Detour....................149
27. Ursula's Gasp....................156
28. More Discovery....................164
29. The Camp That is Not a Camp....................170
30. Saturday Night Live inCampagna....................176
31. Cut Iron-Tagliaferri....................180
32. Connecting the Dots....................189
33. More Dots Connecting....................196
34. Nashville: Bringing Me to Campagna....................200
35. The Nashville-Campagna-New York Connection....................208
36. The Sounds of Music....................215
37. Ursula's Phone Call....................220
38. Goodbye and Hello....................224
39. The Postcard....................230
40. Indiana Jones....................233
41. Mamma Mia!....................236
42. The Pope Call....................244
43. The Pope Visits New York....................246
44. Visiting the Vatican Rudolfo's Way....................248
45. A Visit with Monsignor Caccia....................256
46. Meeting the Pope....................259
47. A Journey Back in Time....................264
48. The Continuing Saga Becomes History....................274
49. History Then and Now....................282
50. Benevento Symposium....................288
51. Back to Campagna....................294
52. Potenza and Tito....................300
53. Fratello de Latte: the Milk Brother....................317
Epilogue....................324
Appendix A: List of 272 Internees in Campagna on September 16, 1940....................329
Appendix B: List of Survivors Interviewed for this Book....................337
Appendix C: Historical Documents....................341
Appendix D: Book Time Line....................347
Appendix E: Numbers of Jews Living in Each European Country Prior to WWII and Who Were Murdered....................351
Appendix F: Letters from Vince Marmorale and Survivors Interviewed for this Book....................353
Bibliography....................369
About the Author....................373
Acknowledgments....................375
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  • Posted September 11, 2009

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    Important story that could have been told in a better way

    It happened in Italy shows a different side to Holocaust and the concentrations camps. Only the camps mentioned in this books are not located in Germany but in Italy. I don't know about others, but I had no idea there were concentration camps in Italy. Neither did author Elizabeth Bettina.

    The research starts when the author discovers her Catholic parents wedding photographs outside a church with a priest standing next to a Rabbi. Since the author's grandmother was from Italy, she is surprised that she never heard about Jews send to concentration camps in Italy. So she decides to dig further and stumbles upon many stories of Jews who were given shelter in Italy and saved from Hitler's madness.

    Elizabeth attends a lecture once given by a holocaust survivor Walter (name?). She is surprised when she learns that he was in Campagna, in a small Italian town during the World War. Together with Walter and then Vince, who is an encyclopedia in everything holocaust, Elizabeth embarks on a journey to find and record the lives of all those who were in Italian concentration camps and were still alive.

    Some parts of the book describe Elizabeth's search for those people and then talking them to Italy to revisit those camps and the people who had once sheltered them (she also managed to meet the Pope in the process) and parts of it deal with stories from various survivors. The book is filled with many photographs and documents that prove the story.

    The stories were all very repetitive and after a couple of them I could tell what was going to come next. The gist is that Italians were very good to the Jews at a time when every else was throwing them in German concentration camps. They defied official orders, hid the Jews n their homes and basically helped them survive and escape. The story needs to be told, yes, but frankly after around 150 pages I was bored. I rolled my eyes every time the author said 'Amazing' and 'Unbelievable'. Yes, I get it. It was amazing but saying it on every alternated page was a little too much.

    The tagline says 'Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust'. But I found this book to be more about Elizabeth's journey and her story about finding these people. I would have liked a more personal account from the survivors. Also, there were so many names just thrown in for no reason. First of all, they are Italian names and are difficult to remember. So why throw in the name of a person who had nothing to do with the main story and who was not mentioned more than once? It was a little annoying. Also, a little modesty would have really helped.

    Finally, as I said, the story needs to be told but in a better way.

    Rating: 2.5 rounded to 2

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful tale of humanity told in a shoddy manner

    It happened in Italy. What happened in Italy? Italian people treated Jews nicely during the holocaust. That pretty much ends this book by Elizabeth Bettina. The moment you have understood this and appreciated it, which happens within first few pages, there is nothing more in the book to keep you hooked.
    I was very excited to read this book because I wanted to know more about this piece of the history as it is a great tale of humanity. I am quite surprised of my ignorance of this wonderful story of how Italians saved so many lives by risking their own. This book should have definitely been written and talked about so that world gets to know that there is always good amongst the evil. I am glad that I read this and could actually relate it to one of my own experience (When I was helped by a Muslim family during religious riots in India. I am a Hindu)
    So as I said, this book should have been written. But it should have been written much more differently. While reading the book, I often kept feeling that I was reading someone's blog about day-to-day happenings. It happened in Italy wastes a lot of time talking about operational parts of the story and thus leaves the reader high and dry when it comes to the actual story of holocaust. Also, the 'Story' that is being shared through different people comes across as pretty much the same.
    I must say that you will be thrilled to know that this all actually happened and is thus a wonderful book to read, if you can ignore the fact that it's been written badly. Thanks to Thomas Nelson for publishing this book and spreading the word.Maybe we all just need to Give Peace A Chance.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2009

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    It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina

    Stories from World War II have always fascinated me. Usually, once I start a book that concerns the war or the Holocaust, I can't put it down; and if it concerns Italy, my dream retirement destination, then I am there. This book was somewhat different for me, though.

    It Happened in Italy is the untold story of how the Italians helped to save some thirty thousand plus Jews and "undesirables" during World War II. They were very kind to them and hid them, and although some of the Jews were placed in internment camps, they were nothing like the concentration camps of Hitler. The "prisoners" were sometimes allowed to live in the towns, and they became close friends with not only the villagers, but also with the police. They were even allowed to visit family kept in the actual internment camps. The internment camps themselves were just basically a home away from home. The people were treated very well. They were not allowed to work, so they found other ways of entertaining themselves. I was fascinated by the stories of the survivors, and sometimes I was very sad to find out that most of their families who were not in Italy or, in some cases had left Italy, had not survived.

    Although their stories fascinated me, the book left me begging for more. The author seemed to talk a lot about her own personal life and travels, and, I hesitate to say this, but there were places like this in the book where I became very bored. When the survivors' stories were on the page, I devoured it, but a lot of the book did concern the author, and it was just not what I had expected. It is a wonderful story, and it should be told; but I think that it could have been told in a different way without all the personal anecdotes and sporadic self writings. I do like how she lists all of the survivors who were interned in Campagna and all the survivors who she interviewed. This allows for better research.

    I'm not sorry that I reviewed this book, however. It has left me with a thirst to find out more about this subject. I would not have known about this, had I not read it, and I totally agree with the author and the survivors that the world needs to know their story.

    If you'd like to read more reviews about this book, you can find them at Thomas Nelson.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    It Happened in Italy - Good for historical purposes, but author leaves something to be desired

    From an historical standpoint, this book will be useful to let people know of the kindness of the Italians towards the Jews during the holocaust. I also feel it is a good starting point for others to follow and tell a better story. I felt that the author seemed intent on selling herself, which, in my opinion, should not be the purpose of this book. One of the things that bothered me the most was seeing pictures in the book of the holocaust survivors with Bettina standing with them. I believe those should be in her scrapbook or blog, but not in the book. The book actually reads like a blog. But to be sure, Bettina did work quickly to obtain primary research from the holocaust survivors and their families who reside in the U.S.A. I believe her overall intent was good which was to gather information about their life experiences in Italian camps. At various points she became somewhat of a tour guide as she made arrangements to take some of the survivors back to Italy.... and she seemed intent from Day 1 to get an audience with the Pope. This book does seem to serve to show the readers that if you get absorbed in an idea, and can write a diary, you can probably publish a book.

    Bettina covered the holocaust from a different perspective, and as such, it is an important part of history. It was quite simply written, again, more like a blog or diary, often with only a few pages to each chapter. Out of 380 pages, there were 53 chapters in the first 300 pages, with the remaining 80 pages containing the Epilogue, six appendices, a bibliography, a blurb about the author, and acknowledgments. It was difficult for me to read this book to the end.

    "It Happened in Italy" by Elizabeth Bettina, Thomas Nelson, Publisher, Nashville, TN USA

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    It Happened in Italy, by Elizabeth Bettina

    I've wanted to learn more about the Holocaust ever since I read Leon Uris's "Exodus", so I requested Elizabeth Bettina's "It Happened in Italy" from Thomas Nelson as one of the Book Review Bloggers. This book documents the stories of many Italians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis, and balances the past with the present by including the testimony of several of those Jews, some of whom survived internment camps in Italy.

    My first impression is of a very feel-good book that focuses on people's positive experiences. The author stresses, over and over again, that the Jews were happy and safe in the low-security camps set up in this particular part of Italy, where they basically played soccer, socialized and attended synagogue.

    I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Bettina backs this up with many photographs to show people enjoying themselves, but it seems too good to be true. This is the theme of the book: that even in an Axis-friendly country, some people did all they could not just to save lives but to give their fellow human beings a better quality of life. It's still difficult to believe, though, since what's depicted here is a concerted effort involving everyone in the village of Campagna and thousands of others besides, and this book provides two unconvincing reasons as to why.

    "All the survivors we interviewed said the same thing: it was in the Italian character to help.

    .the most educated group of people in the world created the Holocaust and the "Final Solution". Yet it many cases, it was the simple people, the "uneducated" people who saved the Jews. Simple goodness triumphed over sophisticated evil."

    I looked Hitler, Himmler and Goring up on the Internet but did not find any evidence that they made up "the most educated group of people in the world". In other words, there's no insight into why this story happened as it did, why no one in the Italian village seems to have even tried to sell out the Jews (such as what happened to the Czech paratroopers who carried out Operation Anthropoid). This book is too focused on telling the stories to do anything more than simply tell them.

    Which may be enough for other readers. As well as the photographs, Bettina includes copies of documents and maps, giving the book a very visual feel as she traces interweaving paths back to the past. But for me it was repetitive, especially the scenes where a survivor tells Bettina his story, then repeats the story to a Vatican official, then tells it once more to the Italians when they're reunited. I'm glad that so many people survived the Holocaust and have good memories of Italy, but I didn't enjoy reading this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    Camp Jack's Weaponry 2

    Welcome ~Jack

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    Interesting content

    This is Elizabeth Bettina's forum for telling how wonderful she is. Her story is wonderful. However she puts too much emphasis on her part in making events happen. The events that happened in Italy have enough merit on their own.

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  • Posted April 19, 2011

    Good book, but it could have been told better.

    I was more interested in the stories than her own personal life, and wanted to know more about the stories of the survivors. So I was a bit disappointed. But I did learn about a piece of history I did not know about, (Jews in Italy during WWII...) so that was good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2011

    Interesting story, but wasn't told well

    I found this book at a liquidation sale of one of our local bookstores and bought it on a whim - I am particularly interested in history pertaining to World War II and am an Italophile at heart, so the title seemed to merge two particular interests of mine. The book is very fast-paced (I was able to read fifty pages when I first picked it up, about twenty minutes before bed one night) and it moves fairly quickly. About halfway through the book, however, I realized that while the subject matter is truly fascinating, the manner in which this subject matter was conveyed left me wanting more. More often than not, the book seemed more the personal diary of Ms. Bettina than a detailed account of the Jewish survivors in Italy during the war. The bottom line? This really is an astonishing story - it is incredible to believe that at one of humankind's darkest moments, the Italian people rose to the occasion and helped their fellow man in the truest sense of the phrase. This book, however, leaves much to be desired in the way it seeks to tell this particularly engrossing story.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    There are good people in the worst times.

    The book is a good story about a very bad time in history. It shows that anything you do to help someone can alter lives. It also shows that there is good in people even in the most horrible times.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    A Fascinating Story

    As a voracious reader of World War II social history I knew that Jews in Italy were better off than they were elsewhere in Europe. I picked up "It Happened In Italy" and could not put it down. Elizabeth Bettina's passion for this subject is truly inspiring. The first person accounts of Holocaust survivors is very touching. The book presents a different view of the Holocaust, one in which many were saved by the kindness and humanity of others. This is a story that needs to be told and I hope the word spreads far and wide. It does nothing to minimize what happened throughout the rest of Europe, nor does it ignore the fact that Italy passed racial laws in 1938. It does show how basic humanity can trump inhumane rules passed by governments. A good read and an important story.

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  • Posted September 22, 2009

    It happened In Italy, Or did It?

    If you are interested in the subject of Jewish survival in Fascist Italy, please look elsewhere!
    In this  book Elizabeth Bettina exploits the personal stories of a few foreign Jews  that survived in Italian Internment camp into the most outrageous, inaccurate, romanticized misrepresentation of fact.
     Fascist camps are portrayed as " summer camps", the Italian people who did not object to Mussolini's  racial laws, and cheered in mass for Il Duce and the Führer, are loving saviors of Jews. Not a word about the relentless anti-Semitic campaign carried out by the government and the press, no mention about Italians who spontaneously denounced their Jewish neighbors, nor of the thousands who were deported. 
    Bettina confuses interning Jews with "saving" Jews. What she does not grasp is that  if circumstances allowed a large percentage of the Jewish population to survive, it does not follow that the Italians "saved" them. The grotesque implication of the author's reasoning is that  since "only " 20% of Italian Jews were deported, the fact that the lives of all Jews in Italy became hell ( expulsion from schools and university, loss of jobs, property, dignity) was some negligible fact. If what happened to Jews in many other countries was much worse, it does not make the persecution of the Jews in Italy something that country can be proud of. Neither the presence of the Pope nor the fact that Jews had been living in Italy since ancient times, prevented thousands to be killed simply because of their religion. Generalizations such as "the people of Italy defied the horrors of the holocaust" are a first step toward revisionism.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An interesting view on Jews and Holocaust

    It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust - By Elizabeth Bettina

    The book tells us the Holocaust story through a completely different view of the conventional history about Jews. We are used to read or hear about the Nazi fields in Germany then we are challenged to a really opposite reality. Jews in Italy are treated in a complete special way, far from stripped pajamas as prisoners and from the mistreats and punishment received in Holocaust. The author takes a familiar story and from point establishes a much more profound investigation about the Second World War survivors. Through interviews and researched documents a portrayal of an unexpected atmosphere of one of the most important events of the first half of last century is presented.
    The book language is extremely accessible, with a nice presentation in and out of the book. The book, for introducing us new analysis of a history event established in a canonic view for historians, appears as a riveting, important source as well as theoretical foundation for present or future researches about the analyzed theme. So much the better because it is essentially constituted of veridical material. Photographs are another important resource used to recreate in fragments a piece of our history and taking us to the event portrayed in the book, where feelings and emotions in the survivors' faces tell us more than words. I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity of reading this book as well as Elizabeth Bettina for the excellent book and research.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Resurgence of the Shopworn Myth of Italian Benevolence During Fascism

    Readers may want to check the detailed review by Alessandro Cassin published by I-Italy (http://www.i-italy.org/10288/brava-gente-resurgence-shopworn-myth-italian-benevolence-during-fascism) and also consult history books on the topic.

    The complex and often contradictory story of what happened to the Jewish population in Italy during World War II is little known to the American public. Elizabeth Bettina's "It happened in Italy, Untold Stories of How People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust" belongs to the category of non academic attempts . Unfortunately it falls short on most accounts.

    Ms. Bettina is an Italian American Catholic who works in marketing. Her family came originally from the town of Campagna, (Salerno) in Southern Italy. The author spent her vacations there visiting her extended family. For years no one ever spoke to her about what had happened in the town during World War II, nor about the presence of a Jewish detention camp. One day she accidentally stumbled upon a photograph from Campagna in the 1940's. It pictured a group of locals posing in front of the Church of San Bartolomeo, including a policeman, the Bishop and a rabbi. This picture triggered Bettina's investigations, carried out with the help of Professor Vincent Marmorale Vice President of of the Holocaust Memorial Committee of Long Beach NY. Meetings with former internees from Campagna followed, and so began the journey which provides the narrative of her book. As she learned more about the detention camps in Campagna and Ferramonti and met survivors who had fled to the United States after the war, the author felt compelled to tell their stories. The book is a history of her induction into the history of the Holocaust. She befriended a few of them and arranged for some to return to Italy for a visit. Bettina proceeds in her investigation with the dogged determination of an oral historian, the resourcefulness of Indiana Jones and the enthusiasm of a neophyte. As word spread about her research into the heart -warming story of Southern Italians saving Jewish refugees, she was granted access to the highest echelons of the Vatican. This progression led to personal visits with Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Ruini and culminated with a group audience, with Pope Benedict VXI. The surprising silence over how these survivors were persuaded to go back to Italy is saddled with another more disquieting silence: how and why these survivors ended up being granted such an audience. Not once does the author wonder why her story, particularly the role of the Bishop of Campagna, was so readily embraced by the Vatican.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Fascinating Account of the "Good" Humans Are Capable Of..

    "It Happen In Italy," provides an interesting array of accounts of how the Italian population defied the horrors of the Holocaust, by not allowing members of the Jewish population to be taken captive by the Nazi's. Usually when we read of Holocaust accounts, we are bombarded with the evil's of human beings instead of the opposite kindness. Through Elizabeth's stories, we are give another dimension of human beings during a time where all human beings seemed sadist at their core. Reading this enlightens the reader to how God works within all disasters, providing relief while not intervening with the free will of human choices.

    There were several slow parts within this story as not the whole story completely riveted me. But from nearly all nonfiction books I've read; there tends to be a few stories or accounts that do not completely compel the reader. Maybe that lies more with the story and less with the writer. Or it could potentially lie with the readers. As different people find different things more or less interesting or fascinating to read.

    I'd definitely recommend this as a supplemental read for all those who are interested or partially interested within anything pertaining to the Holocaust. Each one of these stories boasts a true account of the potential good of all human beings. And proof there's a God working within all of us, attempting for us to act upon our good halves rather than our bad halves.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    very informative- new insight on World War II and the Holocaust

    This book opened my eyes to things happening outside of the German control during the war. The focus on the Holocaust victims in Germany has allowed the "good things" that happened when ordinary people stand up to authority get buried and lost in history.

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  • Posted July 26, 2009

    A Truly Inspiring Novel

    It Happened in Italy is the story of Elizabeth Bettina's research on Holocaust survivors who were in concentration camps in Italy. Theres type of camps were very different from the the "death" camps the most of us have heard of. The Italian camps were more detainment camps where the Jewish people were allowed to carron their normal lives with the confines of the camp. In here research she comes in contact with families that were saved under Giovanni Palatucci who was murder/marytred for what he did to save them. He is was refered to as the "Italian Schindler" because he saved so many Jews for certain death in the camps such as Auschwitz. Each of the storytellers have their own stories and some of them intertwine.

    My thoughts on the book were of sadness and yet I found their stories inspirational. I learned that some Italians saves some of the Jews for the the Nazi while others did not. The journey the author took in this book took her back to the homeland of her relatives who traveled to America several years before. Along with her on this journey were some of the survivors of the Holocaust who were in Italy at the time. The stories were so vivid that you felt like you were their with them along with the pictures that helped to enhance the visual.

    The appendices provide gave you insight into what life was like and their or list for see if your relatives were saved under Palatucci.

    I would recommend this to anyone who wants like to see stories of inspiration and hope despite being persecuted by the Nazis. It has a lot of positive stories. Most of us when reading material about the Holocaust her stories of sadness but this is not the case with this book.

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  • Posted July 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Learn What Happened in Italy-It Was a Miracle

    What a wonderful book to show that there was a bright shining light in the people of Italy during a very dark and dangerous time in WWII. Elizabeth Bettina weaves her personal search with the lives of some survivors to tell of the story of the Holocaust in Italy. It was a fastly different experience with a significantly different outcome for some 32,000 Jews. If you are a history buff specifically of WWII, then this is a must have for your library.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    It Happened In Italy

    In Elizabeth Bettina's book It Happened In Italy, (ISBN 978-1-5955-5102-3 Thomas Nelson Publishing) she begins an unlikely journey into an unlikely and almost unknown past where Jews in one "concentration camp" did not suffer the torture and mass murder by Nazi captors.
    In fact, the particular "concentration camp" that is the subject of the book was nearly the opposite of what one would imagine. Bettina searches and finds the "story of goodness amidst evil" where the Italians of Campagna in southern Italy held the Jewish prisoners of the Nazis and treated them with dignity and kindness, often risking their own lives and those of their families to save as many as possible during the Holocaust of WWII. She discovers another "Schindler" though nearly unknown, in Giovanni Palatucci who, with his Catholic bishop uncle, arranged for the Jews in Italy to other camps where they would find safe haven during the war.
    There was no "murder assembly line" and in fact the "prisoners" of this particular camp were free to roam the city during the day, to return at evening, and even perform music in a band they formed! There are photos of Jewish women dressed well and shopping freely. Bettina draws the portrait of a hidden, unspoken segment of history which can and is now told and of her personal link to the Campagna camp via her family's life in the then-tiny village. The stories are many, the kindness and courages great.
    It makes one wonder if this type of bravery and goodness could be found in today's world. Perhaps there are hidden stories today, that will be told tomorrow to let us know that humanity still really exists. One can only pray.
    I recommend this easy interesting read for those who love history and the humanity that creates it.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Stories of courage and survival

    The Holocaust: a monstrous time in the world's history. Yet, the people of one country stood against the death and destruction, quietly saving Jews from slaughter. It Happened in Italy tells the stories of survivors and those who helped them. Many Italians opened their hearts and homes, putting their lives at risk, for their neighbors and refugees from other countries.

    From the moment I opened this book, I was captivated by the stories Elizabeth Bettina uncovered. Her journey began with a photo of a group of people which included a Rabbi. She knew Campagna, Italy, but didn't realize that the city was such a place of safety during WW II. My favorite story deals with Walter and his glorious return to Italy. The things that fall into place for that visit are amazing!

    Ms. Bettina weaves her stories with maps and pictures. The pictures are remarkably clear, and each is labeled with who is in them, many with the place. The reader is also able to experience some of the Italian culture with the language (which is also translated).

    Come, journey back to WW II and meet some of the Italian saviors and those they helped save. It is an unforgettable journey!

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