Speakers Susan Zuccotti, Eric Mayer, Shaul Bassi
Olga Tarcali, Return to Erfurt, Story of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945, Preface by Serge Klarsfeld and an introduction by Susan Zuccotti (CPL Editions 2015)
Roberto Bassi, Skirmishes on Lake Ladoga, Introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn (CPL Editions 2015)
“The power of this book derives from the immeasurable tragedy of the Shoah, viewed through the plight of the Spiers, a German Jewish family from Erfurt, Germany, flung into the heart of the violent anti-Semitic persecution.” –Serge Klarsfeld
The book is a tour de force, written in the first person by Tarcali, who brilliantly relates the story from the point of view of Marianne Spier-Donati, who was 5 years old when the story begins. The narrative follows the family’s flight from Germany to Brussels, through the grim French camps in Gurs and Saint–Cyprien, to the Cote D’Azur. After the capture of their parents, Marianne and her brother were taken under the protection of the Italian Jewish banker and philanthropist Angelo Donati. The Spier children lived in Nice with Donati —a key figure in the underground Jewish rescue efforts in Southern France— until September 1943, when he brought them into hiding in Italy. The Spier parents perished in the deportation—and after the war Angelo Donati adopted the children and gave them his name. The point of departure for the book is the crucial moment in 1999 when Marianne Spier-Donati, who had been living in Paris, is contemplating a return to Erfurt, at the invitation of the city’s mayor.
“Every morning in the kitchen I used to read – and comment upon – war bulletins for my grandmother. When everything was quiet, it said that there had been “skirmishes on Lake Ladoga”. The word ‘skirmish’ and the name of that far distant lake must have made a particular impression upon me. I can still see myself sitting there at our wooden kitchen table as I read them out of the newspaper.
The ghosts of my uncles and my cousins, my friends and classmates, little Sara G., all killed by the Fascists and the Nazis, have populated my childhood and youth and conditioned my whole life” writes Roberto Bassi, a professor of Dermatology, former president of the Jewish Community in Venice and founder of CDEC (Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation) in this riveting memoir that covers his early childhood in 1930’s Venice, up to the liberation of Rome in June 1944.
These are the anguish, fears and tribulations of a middle class Jewish family in Venice during Fascism and their flight to the Capital right after the massive Nazi roundup of the Jews of Rome, seen through the eyes of a child.
Against the backdrop of war-torn Italy we follow one of the many stories of daily terror, uncertainty and loss of those who survived the systematic attempt to to wipe out European Jewry. At once personal and finely nuanced, Bassi’s story is emblematic of the experience and need to bear witness of those whose life was forever shattered by the Nazi Fascist persecution.