Memory of Kindness: Growing up in War Torn Europe
This personal account chronicles the story of a young Jewish girl growing up in Fascist- and, later on, Nazi-occupied Italy. More than a personal account, it is a testimony that amidst the horror and the deprivations of war kindness and humanity could prevail.
As seen through the eyes of a young child, the book gives a brief account of the Nazi annexation of Austria, the ensuing drastic measures undertaken against the Jewish community in Vienna, and, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the fathers deportation to Dachau Concentration Camp. In February 1939, armed with temporary entry permits to Italy, and having obtained the fathers release from Dachau, young Gerti and her family leave Austria, giving up all their possessions, and make their way to Italy and an uncertain future.
As foreign Jews and political refugees, the family settles in Milan as wards of the Jewish community. In June 1940, with Italys entry into war, Gertis father is imprisoned once again and, two months later, interned in a remote and isolated village in central Italy. It is not until 1942 that Gerti and her mother are also interned in the same rural community and reunited with their father and husband. It is in this little village, Castilenti, where eight-year old Gerti finds, for the first time in her young life, acceptance, kindness, and gestures of humanity. Notwithstanding the many deprivations, lack of food, her mothers near fatal illness, and insecurity about the familys ultimate fate, Gerti finds a haven, not only among the humble farmers, but also among the leading fascist families in the village.
With the 1943 Armistice and in the wake of German occupation, Gertis family is alerted by the village fascist secretary that orders had been received to have the family transferred to a collection camp in Modena for a final resettlement in Poland. Aware of the dangers and the tragic fate awaiting them, Gerti and her family, with the fascist secretarys blessing, go into hiding in the forested and mountainous areas of central Italy. Living in stables, suffering from the inclement weather and malnutrition, the family makes its way into hiding, under threat of being apprehended by the German occupying forces.
Liberation comes in June 1944; Gerti, by now eleven-years-old, spends the next four years in various displaced persons camps. By 1949 the family had to separate once again as Gerti and her mother obtain permission to come to the United States. Her father must wait another two-and-a-half years before being able to rejoin the family in the United States.
Gertis first years in her new homeland were years of adjustment and hard work, but they also offered the opportunity to resume a normal life and obtain an education. Reminiscences of hardship and deprivations suffered while growing up, are always tempered by the benevolence and compassion extended to Gerti and her family by the Italian people.