When the fascist government collapses in Italy, Renzo Modiano is almost seven years old. The war is over, his mother tells him. At last, thinks Renzo, they will get their radio back.
On 10 September 1943 the dining table is crowded as ever, but the family eat in silence. When the meal is finished Renzo’s father speaks:
“Children, we have to leave the flat now. We won’t be able to stay together. We must leave immediately because the Germans are entering Rome and they’re taking the Jews.”
Less than two hours later, the Modianos are fleeing the capital, having abandoned their dirty dishes on the tablecloth.
Renzo’s story is a neglected fragment of the Holocaust. He tells of the Jews who evaded the horrors of death camps and gas chambers, and had to strive day in, day out for survival in Nazi-occupied Italy. It is the story of a young boy on the run, gradually learning the unthinkable reality of those words, “They’re taking the Jews.”
But the story is not without glimpses of hope and joy. In rural Italy a communal meal provides a lesson in humanity he never forgets; the bravery and sacrifices of family, friends and strangers affect him in profound ways. Told with spontaneity and charming honesty, this vivid memoir offers a different perspective on the Jewish plight, showing us just how perceptive naive eyes can be.