STORIES THAT NEED TO BE TOLD
Even though the atrocities of World War II happened nearly 80 years ago, the stories of what happened must continue to be told. We still face threats from the rising power of authoritarian regimes and that makes the recounting of history more important. Accounts of the Holocaust and the Nazi efforts to eliminate Jews and other people they considered undesirable for inclusion in the master race must continue to be presented.
There have been movies and books on these subjects. Anne Frank’s diary is well-known and the attempts of her family to stay alive have been burned into the consciousness of anyone trying to understand what happened in Europe during World War II. There is another diary, written by Leo Berman, when he was 14 years old and living in northern Italy. His first entry was an account of September 8, 1943.
Berman and his wife Simi lived in the Brattleboro area for many years (Simi still lives in Brattleboro) and when he died in 2003 Simi remembered that he had written a diary while he and his mother and brother experienced life-changing events as the Nazis began to occupy northern Italy.
Simi had the diary translated and she has made efforts to have the diary published. Most recently she has collaborated with author Vincent Panella to produce a new version of the English version of Leo’s diary.
Simi and Panella will be hosting a webinar as part of the Brattleboro Literary Festival on December 9 at 5:00 p.m. to discuss the diary. If you want more information about the book or attending the webinar go to: Literary Cocktail Hour – Brattleboro Literary Festival (brattleborolitfest.org)
Leo’s father realized in 1939 that the world was not going to be a safe place for Jews and he sailed to America leaving his wife and two boys behind. Leo’s mother Anna decided that even thought they had left their town of Merano in northern Italy, that she felt she should return because of her family’s connection to the area. But the German forces were marching in and restrictions were being placed on Jews.
Leo’s account of his time fleeing from the Nazi’s is powerful and he comes across as a prescient and precocious boy of 14 whose writing displayed a wisdom beyond his years. Children who grew up during Nazi occupation had to leave their childhood behind as they tried to make sense of a world that had seemed to lose all sense of morality.
Leo’s brother Ralfi had health problems and he was able to be treated in a hospital as the fighting took place around them. The hospital where Leo and his mother took Ralfi also treated wounded soldiers. This is what the 14 year old Leo wrote in his diary after he witnessed the results of war while they were at the hospital. It is from an early translation of the diary.
“My mother did not want me to see all these wounded people. Now however I realize it was a good thing that I looked.
When all the wounded had been taken, in the large hall there wasn’t anybody left. There were only bloodied stretchers pushed up against the wall. On the floor the blood stains were coagulating. I have just said that it was a good thing that I looked. Yes, it was a good thing! I will never forget those wounded people, those arms, those legs, broken and bleeding, that flesh torn apart by the bombs. I will never forget that blood that was coagulating on the marble floor. That blood was a warning. That blood should have been seen by those responsible for the war, but not just by them. Above all it should have been seen by those who perhaps in the near future will want a war.
Then every time they look into a mirror they should see written on their forehead with that blood: “Murderer!”. Every time they were to wash their hands they would feel that they are stained with the blood I saw flow from hundreds of wounds: and no soap can wash away that blood. If the ministers, the presidents, the kings want to make war, why don’t they kill each other? Who gives them the right to kill women, old people, children?”