PartFive

 

After rebuildingtheir lives together after their unhappy childhood experiences mygrandparents lived through the difficult experience of war, ofpersecution, of fear and death. My mother never was able to reclaimher lost years of adolescence. My grandmother survived, but deeplyhurt by the experience. My mother had a flashback memory of anincident in Albania of her mother spraying her mouth with perfumebefore her husband came home. Already she was finding some solace inalcohol from the unbearable pain of life. She loved my grandfather,and protected him from the knowledge of her suffering. She paideventually with her life, with a large tumour in her womb, with themassive internal haemorrhage that followed its removal.

 

SilvioSchiff 

As for myJewish-born great grandfather, he survived the whole war living inSalò. Initially the fact that he had been one of the earliestmembers of the Fascist party in Salò helped protect him. Thismembership seems surprising to us now, but at the time many Jewishpeople and other ordinary citizens were committed adherents,believing in the then equivalent of 'law and order.' My great uncleUmberto told me that whenever there was any threat to his father, hewould be hidden in the local hospital on strict quarantine. The truthis that he was still lucky: after the Italian armistice, Germany tookcontrol of Italy, and there was no longer any hesitation in removingthe sick or the elderly from hospitals and sending them to death inGermany. No doubt it helped that my great grandfather's sons by hissecond wife were in the armed forces. Gino fought towards the end ofthe war, steering minisubmarines to attack Allied boats. Umberto waseventually knighted, becoming a Cavaliere della Reppublica for hiswork for seamen and their families. He was in the navy before thewar, and naturally continued through the war.

I met his Aunt, GinaCoen, his mother's younger sister, when I visited her at her home atthe beautiful Villa Eucedros at Salò in the summer of 1964.She lived on the first floor of the large building, approached by amagnificent and impressive staircase in the Italian style. She wasmost genteel, in the same manner as my Zia Elsa, and made me verywelcome. Her husband, also presumably from a family of Jewish origin,ran a business producing a liqueur - I think one was called'Pierrot.' Gino and Umberto worked for this company after the war.There were other children: Albino was a musician, who never married,and spent his life on cruise liners. I never met him. Lina (bornItalia) was a lecturer at Grenoble University, and married to FernandHolbein, from Alsace. They have one daughter Michèle, who ismarried with two sons. Gino, almost the same age as my mother, ismarried, and has no children, Umberto, married to Idelma, has oneson, Valerio, who is himself married with two children, Federico andSilvia, and lives near Brescia. Lina, Umberto and Gino now live inSalò, still in the same home, and I have met themoccasionally, whether on a special visit to Salò, or mostrecently at my uncle Dino's wedding on 1st July, 1995. My greatgrandfather held my sister Valerie as a baby in 1947, a few monthsbefore his death at the age of sixty seven. His wife, Giulia, diedabout a year later.

Nonno Silvio andNonna Giulia in old age at Salò

My mother and herfamily were lucky to survive the Second World War. Of course, theynever realised that themselves. They were largely unaware, likeeveryone else, of the fate of others, and only thankful for their owngood fortune in escaping death so many times. And in the immediatepost-war period there was so much to do just to survive, to rebuildlives and fortunes, and, in my mother's case, falling in love andstarting her own family.

 


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