Received an IM from my young Dutch friend Friso: Stumbled upon an Italian copy of one of your books in the Ghetto of Venice… along with the attached photo he kindly took, the cover of a new Italian edition of Memories of Anne Frank (Mi ricordo Anna Frank) I hadn’t yet seen.
Lucky Friso! Wandering through Venice in March. I’ve been in that Ghatto too and eaten (unforgettable) Carciofi alls Giudia* (deep-fried artichokes Jewish style). Long ago (beginning in 1516), Jewish people were confined to this neighborhood until Napoleon (1797) opened it up for people to move freely. But, the ghetto was closed again when but occupying Austria occupied the area until Italy became Italy (1866) and Jews were no longer confined but were permitted to integrate into the general population. That is until Mussolini reinstated “racial Laws” and Jewish residents who could began leaving the country. When WWII began, around 1,500 Jews remained there. Some were able to escape before the Nazis deported the final 247 Jews. At war’s end, a mere eight returned. Eight!
Am struck by the irony of a book about ghettoized Jewish people found in the world’s oldest Jewish ghetto. Following, a chapter from that book that has been translated into more than 20 languages in which the characters in the book found in the ghetto have been forcibly deported into the ultimate ghetto, a concentration camp in Germany called Bergen-Belsen :
Time passed and again it was dark in the morning when the prisoners stood freezing at roll call. Everyone dressed and undressed in the dark. It got so cold in November that clothes were sometimes frozen solid, so cold that half a sleeve might break off in someone’s hand.
Hannah knew it was November, but didn’t know the exact date If it was the twelfth, it was her sixteenth birthday. But she didn’t know for sure.
One day a terrible rain and windstorm blew all day. The wind was so strong that the women had to link arms with each other in order to walk. All day the wail of the wind gainst the flimsy planks of the factory walls could be heard.
When Hannah returned to her barracks in the evening, she saw in the distance that the huge tents [recently erectly to house new prisoners] were blowing into the air. The wind blew big gusts and suddenly the tents collapsed. There was a great commotion where the tents had blown down. When Hannah entered her barracks Gabi rushed to meet her and wrapped her arms around Hannah’s legs. Hannah bent down to hug Gabi. She pressed her frozen lips against Gabi’s cheek. Despite the cold int he barracks, Gabi’s cheek felt warm against Hannah’s nub lips.
Gabi pointed out men in zebra-striped pajamas who were at work in their barracks. They were working on the wooden bunk beds. The wooden tables and benches were taken away.
A third bunk was added so now the bunks were stacked three high. When they finished, everyone pushed to claim a bed when hundreds of new inmates arrived. Where three hundred people had been housed, now were six hundred.
From then on, everyone shared a bed with someone else. Hannah and Gabi shared one narrow bed.
Outside, metal poles were placed in a line and barbered wire was suspended between the poles. Alballalager was divide down the middle into two cramped camps. New transports were arriving night and day and everyone in every camp was sleeping two in a bed, sometimes three.
The rumor was that Polish prisoners in poor condition who had been living in the tents were now living beside them. The barbed wire that divided the camp was covered with bunches of straw. Hannah could hear sounds made by the new arrivals, she could smell the filth, but the faces of the prisoners couldn’t be seen at all through the think layer of straw.
Of course, it was forbidden to speak to those people anyway.
All day and night guards with rifles looked at them from the watchtowers. The penalty for speaking across the wire was death. Nonetheless, a few of the women in the barracks were curious about their new neighbors. At night they hung around near the barbed wire and straw fence trying to pick up a little news. But not Hannah. She never went near the fence.
At the same time that their camp was devided and crowded to the point of bursting, the food rations were cut down. Before, the food had been bad and meager, now there was almost none. Everyone talked of nothing but food. They could think of nothing else. Some people stole bread for the hungry children, but others stole from the children for themselves.
At night the prisoners stood close to the makeshift stove where a few bits of wood were burning and gave off a little heat. The talk always turned to food. Mrs. Abrahams confessed that she was thinking of soup, of chicken soup with fat matzoh balls.
Another woman dreamed about holiday cakes and cookies with powdered sugar sprinkled on top.
Gabi and the other small children didn’t know what cookies and holiday cakes were, nor did they know what chicken was anymore. When someone tried to explain to the children what sugar tasted like it was hopeless because no one could find accurate enough words to describe the glorious taste of sugar or cookies or cakes.
Hannah dreamed of a big breakfast, the kind of breakfast she and Anne had had after a sleepover First she dreamed of a warm bath, then a breakfast in bed under a feather eiderdown. She would like an egg. She would like it to be boiled. She would like Toast. The toast would be hot. Best of all the toast would be coated with thick, melting butter.
And hot coffee with real cream, Hannah thought, almost swooning.
How could Hannah Goslar know at that moment that her best friend, Anne Frank, and Anne’s sister, Margot, whom Hannah thought were safe in Switzerland, were among the prisoners in poor condition in that new lager beside hers. Nor, could she know that she and Anne would shortly reconnect. One last time…Carciofi alla Giudia]