My Mother's Family
Introduction Foreword and Sources
Part One My Memories of my Grandmother, Nonna Caterina
Part Two My Grandmother's Birthplace, Gorizia
Part Three My grandfather, Nonno Giulio, and his father and mother
Part Four My Mother's Autobiography: growing up in Palermo and Tirana
Parte Quarta Versione italiana
Part Five Epilogue
Part Six Documents
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An account of the Madriz family of Gorizia, the Schiff family of Mannheim and northern Italy, and the experiences of my mother during the Second World War in Albania.
I planned to write this booklet about my mother's family, until the end of the Second World War, about ten years ago, when my nieces Amanda and Nina came for a short holiday, and asked me why I was Jewish. Although they knew their grandmother was Italian, for good reasons they were unaware of their Jewish heritage.
I was fascinated with my family from an early age. The contrasts between my English family and my Italian family were great, so great that I could not but notice them, and begin to ask questions. Why were they different? Why did they behave in certain ways? Part of the answer was in European history, in particular in this century the effects of two world wars. Part of the answer I began to discover through the 80s popularisation of Family Therapy, in particular John Cleese and Robin Skynner's book Families and How to Survive Them. It was one of those books where I began to recognise many things about my own family and their behaviour, to realise why it was so, and to understand myself a little better, and to be a happier human being in consequence. And why I am Jewish.
So this is the real reason for exploring my family's past. Not just a record of events, but also a small attempt to discover why they behaved and reacted to situations in certain ways, and why that is true also of me and other members of my family. I hope it is of interest, and perhaps of help, to them.
As children we were fascinated by my mother's anecdotes of her childhood, especially during the war years. We always asked her to write them down one day, and I am glad I encouraged her to do so. Most of the work for this booklet was done by my mother: she wrote her account of the war years, she interviewed my grandfather several times, discovering about his childhood and youth, she contacted her cousin Ada in Gorizia in pursuit of birth certificates to reclaim her Italian nationality. My grandfather died soon afterwards, but it gave him pleasure remembering the past with my mother. His aunt, Zia Elsa, gave me generously of her time thirty years ago to give an account of her parents' families, also remembering the Finzi coat of arms: 'Un albero di pepe fra due leoni.' A pepper tree between two lions.
Many of the photographs I copied twenty years ago from my grandfather's album, and they are reproduced here. I apologise for the poor quality, but at least this way they can be shared by all, and I have the negatives.
For all the help I have received from my family I am very grateful, and I hope future generations will also receive some pleasure and satisfaction. Of course, a work such as this is never complete. I should be grateful for any further help my family can give me, and I hope they will continue the story for themselves.
This account is based almost entirely on oral accounts and traditions. I met Zia Elsa in 1966, and she told me much. How I wish it was more, especially about her years as a partisan. My uncle Umberto Schiff in Salò let me have copies of information about Guglielmo Schiff of Trieste. My grandfather shared much with my mother, in response to my promptings, in the last two years of his life. My mother's cousin Ada in Gorizia provided certificates from the local parish church which gave some barest bones of family history, but very exciting. I have yet to research more fully about the family history in Jewish communal archives, in the Austrian Imperial archives, and in other sources.
Two films which I have on video helped to bring the past alive for me. Firstly, the film of Ernest Hemingway's book 'A Farewell to Arms' gave the feel of the Italian Front against the Austrians in the Great War, set, as it is, in Gorizia. Secondly, Vittorio de Sica's film, based on Giorgio Bassani's book, 'The Garden of the Finzi-Continis', recreates the world of the Italian Jewish bourgeoisie. in the 1930s.
Books have helped too, not only Hemingway and Bassani. Luigi Barzini's book 'The Italians' I read long ago, and it gave a good introduction to this other world. My mother gave me the useful 'Storia degli ebrei italiani' by Luciano Tas, but it is, of course, in Italian. 'The Italians and the Holocaust' by Susan Zuccotti spelt out for the first time what happened to Jews in the special case of Italy. I have yet to discover anything about the Italians in Albania. Other books on the same period include one by Alexander Stille, 'Benevolence and Betrayal'. It includes a chapter about the wartime experiences of Massimo Teglio, my grandfather's second cousin. Curiously, Massimo's brothers owned a factory in Polperro, Cornwall, which produced and exported salted pilchards for the Italian market. Vittorio Segrè's 'Memoirs of a Fortunate Jew' also take us into the world of the assimilated, Jewish intelligentsia, persecution and resistance. Most of all, the books of Primo Levi, especially 'If This is a Man' and its sequel, 'The Truce', were an inspiration lifting horrific individual experiences onto a higher plane. Not surprisingly, my mother has all these books, and many others.
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