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The Girl from Bologna – a story of a restless past.

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Siobhan Daiko to my blog as part of her book tour organised by The Coffee Pot Book Club. Ms Daiko’s book, The Girl from Bologna, is set in this ancient city, and as I am rather partial to La Citta Rossa ( “the red city” – which is not only beautiful, it also has a couple of impressive medieval towers that still stand AND it has the best ravioli in the world) I was intrigued.
Ms Daiko’s book is partly set in the 1940s, when the Nazis are rounding up the Italian Jews to send them north to the gas ovens in Auschwitz. Jews fared relatively better in Italy than in other areas controlled by Nazi Germany, and I am more than pleased that Ms Daiko has chosen to write her guest post about the Italian Jews during WWII.  But before I set Ms Daiko loose with her post, here’s a brief intro to the book!


Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp.

In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.

Soon Rhiannon finds herself being drawn into a web of intrigue. What is Gianluca’s interest in a far-right group? And how is the nefarious head of this group connected to Leila? As dark secrets emerge from the past, Rhiannon is faced with a terrible choice. Will she take her courage into both hands and risk everything?

An evocative, compelling read, “The Girl from Bologna” is a story of love lost, daring exploits, and heart wrenching redemption.

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Personally, I am already wondering just what secrets Rhiannon will unearth 🙂

Now to that guestpost: allow me to turn you over into Ms Daiko’s capable hands!

Thank you, Anna, for inviting me to write a guest post on the Italian Jews and their fate during World War II.
(Anna: You’re welcome!)

The fact that more than 40,000 Jews survived the Shoa in Italy is largely due to the Italian reluctance to hand them over to the Nazis. Lidia, the heroine of my novel, “The Girl from Venice” is sheltered by a farming family in a small village near Monte Grappa in the Veneto region. My parents bought a property in that area in the mid-sixties and it became our second home. The farmers next door hid a Jewish couple during the war, and I based Rosina’s family in “The Girl from Venice” on them. Lidia’s father was one of the unfortunate Jews deported to Auschwitz. I visited the memorial to the Shoa in Venice before I wrote the book. I remember stepping into the sunshine of a square in the middle of the Venetian Ghetto. My eyes were drawn immediately to the monument on a red brick wall to my right. With heavy feet, I walked up to it and gazed at the image of a train spilling out its cargo of doomed human beings, sculpted in bronze but looking as if it were wood. The faces and the details of the scene appeared to have been intentionally blurred. Behind the relief, I discerned large boards lined horizontally behind an iron gate, looking just like the wooden slats of cattle trucks. My stomach fluttered as I read, carved on the surface of the slats, the first and last name and the age of each victim, many of them only children. 246 in total. Jewish names of old blending with Italian. A fusion of religion and culture. Each name spelt an entire life lost, and my heart wept for them.

Shoa memorial Venice

Rebecca, Leila’s friend in “The Girl from Bologna”, is deported to Auschwitz with her parents. She is detained at first in the San Giovanni in Monte prison in the centre of Bologna before being sent to the Fossoli transit camp. Adjoining the central train yards on Via Matteoti, a spacious plaza holds a tall monument dedicated to the Bolognese victims of the Shoa. Inaugurated in 2016, this memorial consists of two massive blocks of steel that converge to form an increasingly narrow path. That narrowing is meant to convey the sense of confinement experienced by those deported to the camps.

Shoa memorial Bologna

The Italian Jewish community, one of the oldest in Europe, numbered about 50,000 in 1933. Jews had lived in Italy for over two thousand years. By the 1930s, Italian Jews were fully integrated into Italian culture and society. There was relatively little overt antisemitism among Italians. Although there were fanatical antisemites among the Fascist leaders, such as Achille Stararce and Roberto Farinacci, Italian Fascism did not focus on antisemitism. Until 1938, Jews could join the Fascist Party.

In part under pressure from Nazi Germany and in part fearing that their “revolution” was not perceived as “real” by the Italian population, the Fascist regime started passing antisemitic legislation in 1938. This legislation covered six areas: definition of Jews; removal of Jews from government jobs, including teachers in public schools; a ban on marriage between Jews and non-Jews; dismissal of Jews from the armed forces; incarceration of Jews of foreign nationality; and the removal of Jews from positions in the mass media.

Although reflected in harsh language on paper, the Italian authorities did not always aggressively enforce the legislation, and sometimes interpreted provisions for making broad exceptions. Even in the internment camps for Jews of foreign nationality conditions were bearable in comparison with those set up by the Nazis. In Italy, families stayed together and the camps provided schools, cultural activities, and social events.

Meanwhile individual members of a highly integrated Italian Jewish minority, which hitherto had reasonably good relations with non-Jewish neighbours, colleagues, and business associates, found the psychological insult and real economic disadvantages of discrimination eroding their quality of life. Thousands of Italian Jews emigrated from Italy, primarily to the Americas, between 1938 and 1942.

The German occupation of Italy after the Italian armistice with the Allies in September 1943 radically altered the situation for the remaining 43,000 Italian Jews living in the northern half of the country. The Nazis occupiers quickly established an SS and police apparatus and started deporting Italian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In October and November 1943, the German authorities rounded up Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Trieste, and other major cities in northern Italy. They established transit camps at Fossoli di Carpi, approximately 12 miles north of Modena, at Bolzano in north-eastern Italy, and at Borgo San Dalmazzo, near the French border, to concentrate Italian Jews prior to deportation.

Overall, these operations had limited success, due in part to advance warning given to the Jews by the Italian authorities and the Vatican, and in part due to the unwillingness of many non-Jewish Italians, including Mussolini’s police authorities, to participate in or facilitate the roundups. For example, of the approximately 10,000 Jews in Rome, the German authorities were able to deport less than 1,100. Sadly, from the police transit camps in northern Italy, the Germans deported 4,733 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, of whom only 314 survived.


Thank you, Siobhan, for an informative post!

Author Bio: Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time indulging her love of writing and enjoying her life near Venice.

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3 thoughts on “The Girl from Bologna – a story of a restless past.”

  1. The Coffee Pot Book Club

    Thank you so much for hosting today’s tour stop for The Girl from Bologna.
    All the best,
    Mary Anne
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

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