il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

The only daughter, side notes

By Gadi Luzzatto Voghera*

Reading The only daughter (Einaudi 2021), the last present that Abraham B. Yehoshua gave us, can’t leave us indifferent. This short story was immediately translated into Italian by the talented Alessandra Shomroni. It couldn’t be otherwise, given that the main theme seems to be the Italian Jews’ identity during the second post-war period. It has been said and written that this is an affectionate homage to our country from the great Israeli writer, and it is probably true. I am not a literary critic, so I will not do an analysis of the text nor I will place it within the rich production of Yehoshua.
The topics addressed in the story are many, from the only child status (in the title), to the illness of a loved one, to a consideration on social disparity and family dynamics (in Yehoshua’s writing, the continuous reference, through many quotes, to the book “Cuore” by Edmondo De Amicis).
Not being an expert, I do not intend to and will not delve into these subjects. However, I must intervene with regard to a passage that – even though it is part of the narrative fiction – risks providing incorrect historical information to the Italian readers. I am talking about the brief excerpt of few pages where is described the paradoxical meeting between the Jewish lawyer, protagonist of the book, and the old doctor from the Italian region of Alto Adige, who is said to have delivered him on Christmas Eve in 1943, hiding him and his mother in a mountain village throughout the entire war.
Yehoshua introduces the figure of an openly Nazi-sympathizer doctor who claims, in the story, that his intentions were not to act “righteous” by saving the mother and the son, but rather he hoped for the victory of the Wehrmacht in Russia, in order to leave them both to their destiny of extermination, but at the same time he hid them in order to preserve a sort of pass of salvation in the possibility of Hitler’s defeat. It is a fictional invention that goes beyond fantasy and is not confirmed by any actual experience or testimony. It could dangerously lead to the confusion between fiction and historical reality. In Liliana Paciotto’s book Salvarsi (Einaudi 2017), where she summarized the dynamics of the Jewish rescues in Italy between the autumn of 1943 and the spring of 1945, all the routes and the experiences were meticulously catalogued and described. No Jew would ever think of going for their own safety to the Operationszone Alpenvorland in December 1943, currently provinces of Bolzano, Trento and Belluno that, although they still officially belonged to the Italian Social Republic, were in fact annexed to the Reich. Indeed, the first Jews being arrested were exactly in that region, and there is no sign of people hiding, especially in small villages. Not to mention the very concept of hypothetical post-war merit for actions aimed at saving the Jews. Although many of the Jews, who were saved by the selfless help of civilians, wrote letters of thanks after the war that later became useful for the recognition of “the Righteous among the nations”, it is really difficult to imagine that such a dynamic could even be conceived by a convinced Nazi doctor in the middle of the war. All of this is an overall judgment on the narrative work, which of course responds to dynamics and languages that have no need of historical reality.

* Director of CDEC Foundation

The novel The only daughter by A.B. Yehoshua elicited many reactions among our contributors.
Here the columns by Anna Segre and Alberto Cavaglion.

Translation by Alice Pugliese, revised by Gianluca Pace, students at the Secondary School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.