Mystery and documentary compounded one night at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.
Seated among those gathered in Levy Hall for Sisterhood Movie Night on Dec. 11 was Carmela Turi, a Greenfield resident of Calabrian descent who came to see “My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes of the Holocaust.” The 2014 film, which was written, directed and produced by Oren Jacoby, relates the story of celebrated cyclist Gino Bartali and other Italians who successfully rescued Jews, partisans and refugees from Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II.
The subject resonated with Turi’s past, and she decided to bring a related relic. But as the credits rolled, Turi realized the window of chance had closed, so she pocketed her treasure and returned home.
“I had it with me thinking I was going to share it with the audience,” she later explained.
The curiously small item which Turi clutched was a photograph her mother had received after the war. The undated colorless picture is of a woman and her son. On the back is an Italian inscription, which Turi translated as: “I remember you. We came with the refugees. My friend I think of you always. Maria. Via Bello. Tiderno. Marina.”
“My mother must have housed this lady with this little boy,” said Turi, who explained that her parents, John and Ida, would often recount the time they sheltered the pair “and how nice they were.”
Turi’s recollection of the events is hindered by the fact that she was born after the war. Her older brother, Frank, was born in 1939, but he too does not recall when the inhabitants arrived.
“It was probably around 1942 or 1943, when the Germans came into Italy,” said Turi.
In October and November 1943, German authorities rounded up Jews in northern Italian cities, including Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence and Trieste.
However, Turi’s family was located in Fossato Serralta, a southern village located near Catanzaro, the capital of Italy’s Calabria region.
“The Jewish families that lived in the cities knew that the bombing was going to start and expected the Germans to come in and round them up so they went out to the villages,” said Turi.
“I don’t know how many families came into our little town,” but they did not live there in secret, she explained. “It’s a very small town. You can’t hide anything there.”
Fossato Serralta’s current population of approximately 600 is similar to what it was during the war years, noted Turi, who has returned to the village several times since her family immigrated to the United States in 1958.
As for how long the woman and her child stayed or where in the house they slept, Turi said she has no idea. All she knows is that her parents were among a group who harbored fleeing Jews.
“My mother did the same thing these people were doing in other villages. … They were helping out as much as they could, with limited resources — everyone was on rations and they shared whatever they had.”
After the war, “the lady and her little boy” presumably returned to Catanzaro, Turi suspects. And apart from the photograph and inscription, there was no communication between the families ever again.
Nearly 70 years since the photo was taken, Turi knows that certain questions cannot be answered. But at this point, she really would like to know one thing.
“I just want to see if the little boy is OK,” she said.
Turi’s mother would be 97 now, and the woman photographed was probably of similar age, Turi speculated. “I’m sure she [would be] in her 90s and long gone, but the little boy could be alive.”
And if he is, Turi wants him to have the photo back. The picture, she said, is a bridge to an earlier time.
“Pictures are special, it’s the past,” she explained. “They show us what used to be.”
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