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Wednesday, 03 March 2010

What I Didn’t Know

By Claire Jean

I’m a fairly new member of a lodge whose main purpose is to celebrate one’s Italian heritage. We come together each month to have dinner, be entertained and to connect with others in the community.

Fitting in with groups doesn’t always work for me and this one is no exception. I vow at least every other month to quit. However, if I were to make a list of what I do support, it definitely would outnumber what I don’t. For instance, there are many worthwhile fund raisers throughout the year that help fulfill a need both in and out of the country.

As you might imagine, most of the members are seniors, probably 90 percent. While there is a desire to entice younger people to join, they either don’t have the time or interest which is understandable.

Just like any group, there are always some who, for whatever reason, stand out in your mind and I was fortunate to encounter two such people early on.

I was immediately drawn to one woman because when she saw first-hand the abject conditions of the American Indian children in the northwest, she made that her cause. Her goodness and determination are responsible for packages of new clothing, in cooperation with a major store in our area, to be sent to them periodically. The appreciation letters received back only make us wish we could do more.

Another woman I met, Clara, is from Italy. I had been looking for someone to translate my late father’s recipes that were written in Italian and she was more than happy to help and, in so doing, I was able to pass them along to other family members. We more or less formed a gentle bond over that exchange.

What I didn't know is that Clara is from Milan; her husband is a Holocaust survivor. She happened to sit by me at our January 2010 dinner and told me about a book that had recently been published. It contained stories of the Jews who fled to Italy from Germany and felt that their lives were saved by the Italians. Horst, her husband, stated that “for the Italians there was no difference; we were human beings.”

I stopped eating and quickly grabbed a napkin to write down the name of the book and its author. Clara advised me to buy it online since it was much more reasonable than buying it at Barnes & Noble. I had the book by the next meeting ready for them both to sign.

While reading these stories of survivors, I am amazed at how timing, perseverance and maybe just plain luck sometimes dictate who and where you are. The survivors, along with the author, made trips back to Italy visiting the towns of interest. During one of their trips in 2006, an arrangement was made through the incredible work of the author for some to meet with the Pope. Horst was one such person.

“So here were two German men - one Jewish, one Catholic - meeting on the steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. One had avoided Germans to stay alive, and one had become the leader of the more than one billion Catholics across the globe - something unimaginable many years earlier.”

Horst is now 90 years old. He enjoys speaking about his experiences and his passion on the subject is remarkable.

I feel that yes, we are all human beings which means we are all capable of doing good or doing evil. I suspect most of us would hope we would do the good and right thing in any given situation, but until and unless we are faced with such a situation, we’ll not know for certain.

I can’t help but wonder what else I don’t know about others in this group.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Claire,what is the name of the book?

Thank you for this account. And please give us the title/author of the book.

I too, would like to know the title of the book.
I agree with you and your aha moment about the perseverence of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. My husband survived that horrific time, and I marvel at his ability to accept challenges in life. There seems to be a random-ness of events that allowed some to survive, and others not.

Hope you will share the book title/author.

Claire - Che bella storia! Grazie! - Sandy

Thank you all for your comments and interest.

It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust ~
Elizabeth Bettina (Author)

Thank you for your story which points that there are stories behind each person we meet. Getting to know the stories makes life interesting.

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