As readers of this blog know, I have just returned from a few months in Rome. While there I made contact with Paola Castagno who wrote me a very moving email after my trial. Below is the story of that enconter.
About a week after I arrived in Rome I began trying to find Paola Castagno. Paola is the young woman who sent me the incredibly moving email which I include in my book. She talked about her grandfather Aldo having been in
I sent her an email but heard nothing. The email did not come back. So I tried again. Still no response. Then I asked Flavia, our secret weapon, to help. She sent her an email in Italian. I am not sure if it was Flavia’s email that did it, but shortly thereafter she called the office.
I immediately called her and she said she would try to come to
A few days later I received an email that she was coming down from
They were coming on a Tuesday when I teach. It was the day we were scheduled to discuss Primo Levi’s Se Questo e un Uomo [If this is man]. I told her we would be doing so. She emailed me that she was excited about being there for that.
I told them to have the receptionist call me when they arrived. I immediately went down to find them. As soon as I walked into the area I spotted her. She is a tall, dark haired, long legged beautiful young woman with large dark eyes. Her mother is also a beautiful woman. She has a great spirit about her – but I knew that from the fact that she went to the trouble to find my email address after the trial and wrote me that beautiful email.
We got some coffee and I showed her that I had included her email in my book. She was touched. Her mother seemed quite proud. Turned out that Aldo was not Jewish and that they truly know virtually nothing about his
The mother brought a picture of Aldo. He was a stunningly handsome man. The picture was taken about six or seven months after he came back from
At one point I asked her if she came to
Paola told me how in life he suffered terribly from stomach problems which he attributed to his time in the camp and the terribly poor nutrition there. She stressed how he never told them anything. She described how she would ask him to come to her class to describe his experiences, as other Italian survivors did, but he refused adamantly. Every April 25th, the day on which the Italians mark the Holocaust, he would sit in front of the TV and cry. When she talked about it was as if she was relieving it.
I was struck by the fact that she talked in the present tense and as if she had personally experienced. “When he came back he was so much sadder than when he went.” “When he came back he was so much skinnier.”