The Neppi Modona Diaries: Reading Jewish Survival Through My Italian Family

Kate Cohen

  Dartmouth College (Hanover), Hanover (NH) 1997
This fascinating tapestry of four interwoven voices documents the experiences of each member of an Italian Jewish family during World War II. Kate Cohen, a distant relative, masterfully juxtaposes the memoirs of Aldo, the Neppi Modona patriarch, his son Leo's "fictionalized" account, and the oral histories of the mother, Rachel, and the daughter, Lionella. The result is both rich and revealing, an account of a perilous and disturbing period that also illuminates how each individual lived a different war and kept conflicting memories of it.
An academic by profession, Aldo is also a member of the Fascist Party at the time his memoir begins. Cohen seeks to unravel this seeming paradox and finds that for Jews in Italy, who by the end of the First World War had experienced several generations of freedom and prosperity, Fascism was a way to express love for the Fatherland and opposition to the Bolshevik upheaval. But Aldo's nationalist loyalty cannot ward off the anti-Semitism that follows with terrifying speed Mussolini's alliance with Hitler. The family's initial recollections of the heartache created by the "racial laws" soon expand from discrimination and suppression into real hardships: displacement, deprivation, bombings, blackouts, rationing, to hiding for their lives during the German occupation. The polyphonic voice of the narrative communicates with wrenching vividness the Neppi Modonas' pain and strength, and at the same time, through Cohen's mediating consciousness, provides insights into being a Jew in a post-Holocaust world.

    The Neppi Modona Diaries, cover


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