Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust

by Elizabeth Bettina

Thomas Nelson, 2009

384 pages, $24.99

To order:

(800) 251-4000

In Nazi-occupied Europe approximately 75% to 80% of the Jewish population was killed, while in Italy 75% to 80% survived.

In It Happened in Italy, Elizabeth Bettina unveils the unbelievable yet true story of how this was possible.

Writing with the fast pace of a detective novel, Bettina pieces together how she found out why so many Jews were able to survive in Italy.

Beginning with a mysterious, faded photo of a rabbi, bishop and policeman standing on the steps of a Catholic church, Bettina constructs the hidden and unknown story of this time.

The book opens with a study in contrasts. Edith, now in her 80s, relates her horrific story of survival in Auschwitz, comparing her experiences to her husband Fred’s and friend Walter’s in an Italian internment camp.

She says, “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 adds, “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.”

As Bettina’s story unfolds, she weaves together interviews of detainees and witnesses. She also introduces us to an interesting array of people. We learn about Giovanni Palatucci, “the Italian Schindler,” an Italian police official who saved thousands of Jews and was beatified. We meet Remo Tagliaferri, a policeman who smuggled Jews out of a convent and into the nearby mountains. We become acquainted with Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome, who “signed the papers for Giovanni Palatucci’s beatification.” We witness a historic encounter between Pope Benedict XVI and a small group of survivors, who met briefly with him and wished to express their gratitude for the Italian people who saved their lives.

Most fascinating of all are the firsthand accounts of the Jews who survived because of the generosity and help of others. With all the names and individual stories that overlap, it does get difficult to sort out at times.

It Happened in Italy is a story of hope and gratitude. Through these personal accounts, we uncover the hidden past, gaining insight into the human spirit transformed by love. We come to know that it is possible for people to do the right thing even in the midst of evil. It is possible for people to be kind, loving and self-sacrificing, even to the point of endangering their own lives, for the sake of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This story of courage needs to be told so that others will know that even in the midst of great evil not one but many had the courage to do what is right.

Elizabeth Yank writes from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.