Child of the Ghetto / The Three of Us

As is well known, WWII did a number on Italy. Here are two books that described the experiences of females during and after the war.

The First Book of the Week is “Child of the Ghetto, Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: A Memoir 1926-1946” by Edda Servi Machlin, published in 1995.

Born in February 1926 in a small village outside Rome, the author was named Edda, after Mussolini’s daughter. Her father was the community’s rabbi. The family was actually anti-fascist, but used her name as a cover for avoiding trouble. The Italian government began its abusive treatment of Jews starting in the late summer of 1938. Jewish teachers and public-school employees were fired.

Since the author was no longer allowed to get an education, she spent her adolescence up until her late teens in real-world job training, as a maid, bookkeeper and seamstress. Signage in retail outlets’ windows stated, “This is an Aryan-race store.” Everyone was required to show ID cards that stated his or her religion.

Mid-July 1943 saw a change in Italy’s government but not in its war alliances, pro-Fascism bent, or treatment of Jews. Even though in September it pledged to stop fighting against the Allies. The author’s two older brothers went to hide in the woods to avoid conscription. Because they were Jews, they were denied admittance to an anti-Fascist youth group.

According to the author, in October 1943, the Germans who were sociopathic sadists with weaponry, descended on Rome in the middle of the night to abduct via truck, more than three thousand Jews. Luckily, in the next two months, when a roundup began in neighboring regions, the author, her brothers, and younger sister had been on the run in an area spanning hundreds of miles of countryside around Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, etc., hiding in various homes of benevolent farmers willing to risk their lives. Her parents and younger brother, however, were taken away.

The author heard “through the grapevine” that two American soldiers had bailed out of a warplane and parachuted into her village. That was exciting, because she had been rooting for the Allies all along. Her mentality was, “America, the mythical country of our childhood dreams, was so far away… And Lello [her older brother] had met two of her children! We were enthralled.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the author’s family members, her prewar existence, her adventures in the forests and farmyards during the war, and of her later endeavors.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Three of Us” by Marisa Giardina, published in 2012. This is the suspenseful, depressing story of a female whose girlhood ended before she turned three years old, due to WWII.

The author, her mother and older sister fled on a ship bound for Italy from their native Libya with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They left her father and her two older brothers behind. The goal in their travels was to reach Fiuggi, where her grandfather was being held as a prisoner of war.

They spent an inordinate amount of time in a bomb shelter and their diet consisted of dried bread crumbs when they could get them. As their situation worsened, refugees such as they, resorted to prostitution, thefts of crops from farms, black-market trading, and illegally occupying abandoned, rubble-strewn buildings, among other tactics to stay alive.

“Italy was in chaos after the war and the Italians lost their compassion for their fellow men.” Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and CARE handed out food and sweaters, which were acquired after days of waiting in a queue.

Read the book to learn more about the countless hardships endured by the author, and her incredible will to live, considering her circumstances.