Shoah, from the Anschluss to the unknown: story of a normal family victim of Nazism

The events of 1938, the story of a family: how millions of Jews were forced into a new diaspora at the dawn of the Second World War

The small shoe factory already started, a wife and two daughters to raise. The quiet life of the Finkelstein family is changed forever by a distracted reading of a newspaper front page: “Hitler is in Austria”. It is March 11, 1938, the announced invasion would have materialized the following day. And it is from the Anschluss to the unknown that Adriano Sconocchia, nephew of Michael and Salcha Finkelstein, tells the story of a normal bourgeois family victim of Nazism in a self-published book. Never more relevant, with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Semitism reignited amidst torn flags and burned stumbling blocks. “The protagonist of the novel is my mother’s family – explains Sconocchia – Viennese Jews who, like millions of other Jews, suffered the ferocious Nazi persecution”.

A story equal to that of other millions of Jews forced into a new diaspora at the dawn of the Second World War. From the announcement of the forced annexation of the Austrian capital to the desperate meetings in the Synagogue with the rabbi to imagine possible and rapid escape routes, that of a common family becomes the general urgency of saving what can be saved, of studying immediate solutions, of overturning one’s life, ready to give up everything and everyone. And it is also a common decision taken by the Finkelsteins to send their second daughter, just 12 years old, to London, safe with other children, while it remains to choose a new place to stay, far away Australia where a cousin lives or Italy where , naively convinced of the kindness that would have been reserved for them by a Mussolini still far from the racial laws, they would have taken refuge.

“My grandfather experienced the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, from which he miraculously escaped” says Sconocchia. And he will also get to know the internment camps where Jewish refugees from Germany were locked up in the no longer conciliatory Italy”. Michael Finkelstein initially ends up in Tortoreto Stazione, in Villa Tonelli. Finally in Atri, in Abruzzo, the last stop before the liberation by of the allies.

This, which the author of the ‘memorial’ book reveals with difficulty, among family documents and the few stories he has heard, is a story with a happy ending that rekindles the hope of reconciliation in a land of conflict and of a possible, peaceful coexistence between two peoples condemned, against their will, to bloody tensions.

“Finally my grandparents will also be reunited with their daughter Irene, who has returned from England. Once there, they will have to decide whether to emigrate to the USA, the Far East or Palestine, in the nascent state of Israel, or whether, instead, to remain in Italy – explains Sconocchia – the latter will be the final decision. They will give up asking for compensation for the damages suffered by the Jews, as established in the post-war agreements: they lost the small shoe factory and the house in Vienna, but they no longer wanted to have anything to deal with their past, which, in any case, would never again have their relatives exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps”. And then the last, chilling, anecdote: “I remember that my mother only answered my grandmother in Italian when she addressed her in German”. (by Silvia Mancinelli)