The reading of any book on the Holocaust strikes fear in my heart, and this one is no different, except that I also came away from it with even more respect for those people who managed to survive the inhuman cruelty, deprivation and madness of that time. I was not aware, before reading this book, of the Jews, and others in Italy, who had been exiled to small towns like Ospedaletto, most of whom were never sent to internment camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Theresienstadt, Dachau), and certain death, who survived due to the kindness and compassion of the often illiterate, impoverished residents of those towns.
The time is 1938 and the official declaration of war has not yet been made, but the abuse of Jews is well under way. There are many in Europe, only too ready to take up the mantle of anti-Semitism. Those that disagreed were not well tolerated, and often were consigned to the same fate as the Jews, homosexuals, infirm, mentally deficient and other victims of Hitler’s hateful racial laws. Those who stood by silently and said they had no idea about the atrocities, lied to their listeners and were complicit in the heinous behavior. It was impossible not to know that something terrible was occurring, even if one didn’t know the specifics, even without any news of the outside world. When strangers keep arriving and disappearing, within your midst, you have to wonder why. Those who stand by silently today, ignoring the signs of the very same anti-Semitism, rising in a miasma of hate, growing and spreading in all directions, simply lie to themselves and leave the path of destruction open for other enemies to follow.
Through the "child" eyes of Eric Lamet (born in 1930, and now 81), we experience his terror and confusion as he is forced to leave Vienna and all those he loves, at the tender age of eight. What could he be expected to understand when subjected to a brutal body search? What could he deduce from his beloved servant’s suddenly cold and cruel behavior toward him? How could he understand the random acts of unprovoked cruelty, encountered in the streets? He could not possibly fathom the nightmare that was to follow for the Jews, nor could he imagine a people, turned so inhumane with mass insanity, that they could stand by and not only let it happen, but participate in its fulfillment.
I wondered if I could read this story without wanting to get up and shout invectives at all those Holocaust deniers, at all those who do not think Obama’s incitement of the Middle East is naïve , and dangerous to the Jews, not only in Israel, but everywhere, even here in the United States. Hate is an emotion which thrives on ignorance and apathy. I am filled with a profound sadness for the lost souls of the Holocaust, for those, too, that survived, whose memory is even now being defiled as it is being diminished and forgotten. I am filled with a profound fear of what new horror may come to pass in the coming days, months and years, for Jews everywhere, if our leaders do not solidly support their right to have independence and freedom and also, a Jewish homeland. Jews are a people that people love to hate.
Many of those that escaped came from fairly well-to-do backgrounds, for who could gather the wherewithal to leave and resettle without ready money, without a certain amount of sophistication? Yet, overall, it was the kindness of strangers, fortunate moments of happenstance, which often meant the difference between life and death. For, after all, hardship was a given, but living was not.
Reading this book did not reassure me, that in spite of all manner of suffering, Jews will survive as they always have done, in the past. Yet it definitely reinforced my ideas about their resilience and courage, which has previously enabled them to thrive again and again, in spite of unprovoked attacks; it made me further understand that silence in the face of injustice makes one complicit in the process and enables it to spread. Silence is not always golden.