This Has Happened: An Italian Family in Auschwitz

Overview

Five years after her return home from Auschwitz, Piera Sonnino found the courage to tell the story of the extermination of her parents, three brothers, and two sisters by the Nazis. Discovered one year ago in Italy and never before published in English, this poignant and extraordinarily well-written account is strikingly accurate in bringing to life the methodical and relentless erosion of the freedoms and human dignity of the Italian Jews, from Mussolini's racial laws of 1938 to the institutionalized horror of ...
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This Has Happened: An Italian Family in Auschwitz

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Overview

Five years after her return home from Auschwitz, Piera Sonnino found the courage to tell the story of the extermination of her parents, three brothers, and two sisters by the Nazis. Discovered one year ago in Italy and never before published in English, this poignant and extraordinarily well-written account is strikingly accurate in bringing to life the methodical and relentless erosion of the freedoms and human dignity of the Italian Jews, from Mussolini's racial laws of 1938 to the institutionalized horror of Auschwitz. Through Sonnino's words, memory has the power to disarm these unspeakable evils.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In spare, beautifully translated language, Sonnino details her life in Genoa prior to 1938, when the racial laws went into effect.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A moving account of a family caught up in the Shoah….An important contribution to Holocaust literature...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.”—Kirkus, Starred Review

“The uniquely devastating quality of this book comes from the Old World refinement embodied by Sonnino’s parents and the systematic degradations their children see them endure. Sonnino also displays a propensity to dwell on human kindness.” — The New Yorker

"I have read any number of overwhelming and despairing works about the Holocaust, but I don't think I have ever read anything so simply structured, so clearly composed—so heartfelt a tragedy, especially from the pen of someone who never considered herself a writer—as the one that unfolds in this brief memoir."—Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent

"Our world of habit would suggest that little more can be said about the Nazi death camps and the horrors of the Final Solution. But a narrative with the dignity and concise elegant candor of This Has Happened is a pointed reminder that suffering is inescapably individual, unique, and present. Piera Sonnino's account of the terrible end of her family achieves a kind of classic starkness that makes it a living representation of human loss."—W.S. Merwin, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, National Book Award winner for Migration

"Piera Sonnino wasn't supposed to survive and she didn't expect anyone to read about her family's, her community's and her people's suffering. Aiming only for truth, using only the most beautiful of language, she's created an accidental masterpiece. This Has Happened is a stunning gift by a remarkable woman from an intolerable era."—Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of After, Strange Fire

"What can I say to make you read this book? That it is imperceptibly moving, encroachingly horrifying, utterly soul-wrenching? But you've heard that before, and won't believe me. Instead I will tell you this: reading this book is not at all like reading a book. Instead, it is like talking with a person, knowing a person, knowing an entire family—and then knowing, not through art but through life, what it means to lose everything, by knowing precisely what 'everything' is."—Dara Horn, award-winning author of In The Image and The World To Come

"A rare, beautiful and movingly written book. The simplicity and honesty with which Sonnino conveys her family’s experiences are gripping and heartbreaking. As a historical document, this book is particularly valuable in view of the fact that there are fewer records of the Holocaust experiences of Italian Jews than of most other European Jews. With the historical significance of this book comes an unobtrusive message of familial love and devotion, a message which will undoubtedly resonate for generations to come."—Nechama Tec, Holocaust Scholar and Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Connecticut in Stamford, and author of the National Jewish Book Award-winning Resiliance and Courage: Women Men and the Holocaust

"Consice, restrained, and tightly written, a look from the inside of the Holocaust out."—Entertainment Weekly

The New Yorker
Sonnino’s story of her Genoese Jewish family’s deportation to Auschwitz was published by her daughters in 2002, in response to an Italian weekly’s call for readers’ memories. Born in 1922, Sonnino describes the family’s slow decline from middle-class respectability to “dignified poverty” (a situation that the 1938 racial laws made irreparable) and the proud isolation that forged a tight family unit, thereby making individual escapes inconceivable. The uniquely devastating quality of this book comes from the Old World refinement embodied by Sonnino’s parents and the systematic degradations their children see them endure. Sonnino also displays a propensity to dwell on human kindness. Although her family is betrayed by a fellow-Italian, she takes care to mention all who offer assistance along the way, even the elderly German woman who gives hot tea to her fainting sister.
Publishers Weekly
Published after Sonnino's death in 1999, this haunting memoir recounts the story of her Italian Jewish family, including her parents and five siblings, who perished in the Holocaust. In spare, beautifully translated language, Sonnino details her life in Genoa prior to 1938, when the racial laws went into effect. Within a lower-middle-class environment, her parents and siblings were "lambs, good people, ready to suffer many wrongs rather than be stained by a single one, eager to make as little noise as possible and occupy the least space possible on this earth." In 1943, when the Germans arrived in Italy, the Sonninos hid in mountain villages, but were betrayed, arrested and, in 1944, sent to Auschwitz. The author's account of the last night they spent together is eloquent. Her parents and two of her brothers were killed in the gas chambers. Sonnino watched her sister, Bice, succumb to dysentery at the Braunschweig concentration camp after the two were incarcerated at the Bergen-Belsen camp. After the war the author spent five years in rehabilitation centers and sanitariums and returned to Genoa in 1950. She married, raised two children and penned this searing testimony for her family in 1960. B&w photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 Jewsfared relatively better than their brethren in the rest of Europe. An important contribution to Holocaust literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230613997
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.26 (w) x 5.52 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Piera Sonnino was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. She was later transferred to Bergen-Belsen and Braunschweig. The sole survivor of a family of eight, she returned to Italy in 1950. She died in 1999. Ann Goldstein is an editor at the New Yorker. She has translated works by Roberto Calasso, Alessandro Baricco, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Aldo Buzzi. The recipient of the PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award, she is the editor of the forthcoming collected works of Primo Levi. She lives in New York.

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Table of Contents

Foreword; D.Denby

Translator's Note; A.Goldstein

This Has Happened

Epilogue; G.Papi

Afterword; M.D.Russell

Further Reading

Reading Group Guide for This Has Happened

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A book that shows the love of family

    This book "this has happened" by Piera Sonnino shows the true meaning of love between a family. While reading this book I think the author's purpose for writing this book is to show the true meaning of family and what happened to Piera and her family during world war 2. In the book Piera starts her story off telling how her family was struggling with money but they still had the household necessities. Piera was the middle of six children Paolo, Roberto, Maria Louisa, Piera, Bice, and Giorgio. As Piera's story goes on she tells about how her brother's and her dad had to hide from the German's while the sisters and mother had to act casual so they would not get deported. Once Piera and her sisters went to Auschwitz her oldest sister Maria Louisa treated Piera and her younger sister Bice as if they were her own children. Maria Louisa soon got deported one night and Piera and Bice never saw her again. Since Maria Louisa left Piera took her spot and watched over Bice. Through Bice's last days of being sick Piera begged Kapo's to let her stay with her sister. Piera would try to stay awake just to make sure Bice was okay. Even after the tragic happened Piera still went strong. Once she was liberated Piera went to the hospital where she spent ten years getting her life back together. After she was out of the hospital she went back to her home thinking some of her family would be there. As Piera says " I began to see clearly into myself and into the story of my family."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A book that shows love from a family

    This book "this has happened" by Piera Sonnino shows the true meaning of love between a family. While reading this book I think the author's purpose for writing this book is to show the true meaning of family and what happened to Piera and her family during world war 2. In the book Piera starts her story off telling how her family was struggling with money but they still had the household necessities. Piera was the middle of six children Paolo, Roberto, Maria Louisa, Piera, Bice, and Giorgio. As Piera's story goes on she tells about how her brother's and her dad had to hide from the German's while the sisters and mother had to act casual so they would not get deported. Once Piera and her sisters went to Auschwitz her oldest sister Maria Louisa treated Piera and her younger sister Bice as if they were her own children. Maria Louisa soon got deported one night and Piera and Bice never saw her again. Since Maria Louisa left Piera took her spot and watched over Bice. Through Bice's last days of being sick Piera begged Kapo's to let her stay with her sister. Piera would try to stay awake just to make sure Bice was okay. Even after the tragic happened Piera still went strong. Once she was liberated Piera went to the hospital where she spent ten years getting her life back together. After she was out of the hospital she went back to her home thinking some of her family would be there. As Piera says " I began to see clearly into myself and into the story of my family."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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