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.