Mem­o­ries of Jew­ish Life: From Italy to Jerusalem, 1918 – 1960

Augus­to Seg­re; Steve Siporin, trans.
  • Review
By – December 12, 2011
In this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book, new­ly trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, Augus­to Seg­re recounts his life expe­ri­ences with insight, phi­los­o­phy, and grace­ful­ly told anec­dotes. A Jew­ish his­to­ri­an and sto­ry­teller, Seg­re brings the read­er into all he and his fam­i­ly, espe­cial­ly his rab­bi-father, expe­ri­enced, offer­ing the read­er a tapes­try whose threads orig­i­nate in the insu­lar Jew­ish world of the Com­mu­ni­ty” — the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Casale Mon­fer­ra­to with its col­or­ful char­ac­ters and pet­ty pol­i­tics; he inserts the fate of this or that char­ac­ter when the Nazis lat­er invad­ed. The strongest sto­ry­telling is about his expe­ri­ences as a stu­dent schol­ar and young man.

He explains that Ital­ian Jews had such strong feel­ings of belong­ing to Italy and the House of Savoy that many grew angry when their young peo­ple became Zion­ists. The Zion­ist attach­ment, how­ev­er, helped many of them escape to Pales­tine in the war peri­od, espe­cial­ly groups of orphaned chil­dren that Seg­re sent to a kib­butz in Pales­tine; he met them ten years lat­er, new­ly mar­ried with chil­dren of their own on their kib­butz. Zion­ism also fos­tered a par­ti­san men­tal­i­ty that served them, includ­ing Seg­re, well dur­ing the Nazi inva­sion of Italy; Segre’s fam­i­ly spent eigh­teen months in the hills among the peas­ants, evad­ing Ger­man and Ital­ian Fas­cist soldiers. 

Seg­re inter­weaves his mem­o­ries with those of his rabb­i­fa­ther, and also uses news­pa­pers, pub­lic doc­u­ments, and let­ters to reveal the emo­tions and moods of the peo­ple and the times. The tra­di­tion­al reli­gious and vibrant work­ing-class Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that Seg­re describes, alas, no longer exists but will live for­ev­er in the pages of this won­der­ful book. Index, notes, reference.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions