This Has Hap­pened: An Ital­ian Fam­i­ly in Auschwitz

Piera Son­ni­no
  • Review
By – November 16, 2011

Over the past six­ty years, doc­u­men­ta­tion of the Holo­caust has tak­en many forms, includ­ing straight­for­ward his­to­ries, biogra­phies, psy­cho­log­i­cal analy­ses, and even nov­els. But one form of lit­er­ary genre, the per­son­al sto­ry, has great­ly enhanced our knowl­edge of this tragedy and put a human face on all the sta­tis­tics and cold num­bers. Some of those works have become well known, includ­ing those of Elie Wiesel and Pri­mo Levi. These ago­niz­ing tales have added per­son­al details and emo­tion to the detached descrip­tions of authors who were not there. 

To this canon should be added This Has Hap­pened: An Ital­ian Fam­i­ly in Auschwitz by Piera Son­ni­no. This slim vol­ume is impor­tant for sev­er­al rea­sons. It details the fate of an Ital­ian fam­i­ly in the con­cen­tra­tion camps, remind­ing us that Pol­ish and Ger­man Jews were not the only Holo­caust vic­tims. It is also told from a woman’s point of view, and describes how her fam­i­ly, like Spiegelman’s Mice, became pro­gres­sive­ly par­a­lyzed as the Nazis closed in. And final­ly, it forces us to con­sid­er ques­tions no fam­i­ly should ever have to pon­der: Are we bet­ter off as a sin­gle fam­i­ly unit, or should we split up? How should we try to escape? In the end, it did not mat­ter. Piera was the only mem­ber of her fam­i­ly to sur­vive the con­cen­tra­tion camps. In writ­ing this book, shar­ing her per­son­al sto­ry, she has giv­en a hand and a face to her par­ents, broth­ers, and sis­ters, and added anoth­er authen­tic voice to the Holo­caust literature.

Paul M. Arnold, MD, is pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery and direc­tor of the Spinal Cord Injury Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas.

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