(by Alessandra Baldini)
NEW YORK, APRIL 2 – Peter Tannenbaum will fly in from California, Felicia Wax, Sara Guttman and Haim Frenkel from Israel. A fil rouge weaves through the lives of the ”Grugliasco children” who will meet as adults for the first time on Thursday April 6th on the playground they shared long ago as infants. Organized by the City of Grugliasco, the reunion wishes to bring to life a page in history that has seldom been opened; a story dating back 70 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, which echoes the modern-day plight of migration in the Mediterranean.
Born in Genoa in 1946, Peter Tannenbaum who is now a mathematician at the University of California, was only a baby when he arrived at the Displaced Persons camp set up by UNRRA (which subsequently became IRO and then UNHCR) in a former psychiatric hospital for women in Grugliasco. During the Nazi occupation, his parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in a cellar in Budapest. He recalls that “For more than two years they lived in the camp with other Hungarian refugees, all of them friends. They liked to talk about those times, about how beautiful it was, about how my mother took me out in my stroller in a big park. About the Grugliasco years, and how they had great memories of the Italians they met there. It was a good period in their lives, especially when considering what they had been through”.
Haim Frenkel’s family was fleeing Poland: his parents Israel and Dora passed away (his mother as recently as four years ago) but his aunt Rachel, who was also in Grugliasco, is among the few living survivors who witnessed those years. “Everyone knows of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people during the war and that many of them were successful in rebuilding their lives. But is there is a missing link in survivors’ stories between the time of liberation and their return to a more or less normal life?” The question is advanced by another “Grugliasco child”, Eli Rubinstein, in the book “The Italian Renaissance” dedicated to his family’s journey from the Shoah, through Piedmont where he was born in 1948 at the Maria Vittoria hospital in Turin, to Canada.
Historian Sara Vinçon addressed Grugliasco and its “Lives in Transit” by focusing on Judith, Eli’s mother, as an example of the sweeping migration that ensued after the end of the war and drove more than 70 thousand jews through Italy in search of a new ‘promised land’. More than 200 children were born in the Grugliasco ‘limbo’ as their parents struggled to “learn how to live again”. Peter’s and Felicia Wax’s families settled in Uruguay; the United States and Palestine, where the state of Israel was being created, were the most sought-after destinations.
The event on April 6th wishes to come full circle. The local government, led by Mayor Roberto Monta’, wishes to celebrate the journey of rebirth that, against all odds, survivors were able to complete by organizing a reunion and an exhibit of documents and photographs. Documents will be provided by the UN and photographs will mostly be furnished by the protagonists of this story: the children who were born in the camp or welcomed there as babies. Some of them will meet again for the first time on Thursday, on the very same lawn where their picture was taken as children, sitting in a semicircle, so long ago.