by Walter Wolff
(Excerpts from the book and web design by Franco Giannotti, www.ItalyStl.com)



 

...My grandfather would set aside a portion of each day for my brother and me. I treasured those times together, listening to grandfather tell us a Bible story and relating it to a personal experience, or simply conversing with him...

 1920. 
 Grandfather Kalman Wolff
 with Cousin Carlo on left, 
 brother Bruno in front and 
 Walter in the rear.
 

This book is dedicated to the memory of
Steven Reinheimer
President of the Holocaust Committee of Long Island
and
My Belowed Wife
Vittoria Wolff, nee Fubini,
of blessed memory

Walter Wolff

Walter Wolff tells the neglected story of how the Italian people courageously expressed their basic humanity and goodness despite the Nazi opposition. Walter's youthful innocence died during the rioting of Kristallnacht. After an unlikely release from Dachau, his family fled to Italy.  There he survived time and again because of the willingness of strangers to risk their lives on his behalf. Now living in New York, Walter is much sought after lecturer on the Holocaust.  His survival in Italy taught him what is his closing refrain after every speech.  " You should love thy neighbor as thyself." Through all his travels Mr. Wolff kept a remarkable collection of photographs and official documents which give his narrative  a chilling sense of reality.

"Walter Wolff has written a narrative that embodies one man's belief in God, family, and the godness of the common person in the midst of history's worst nightmare.  His story chronicles the refusal of the ordinary Italian citizen to participate in the Final Solution, which was in stark contrast to their counterparts in Germany and occupied Europe, This wonderful book explodes the Nazi Myth of universal acquiescence to the Final Solution.  The Torah states: "He who saves one life, saves the world." Eighty-five percent of Italian Jewry survived the Holocaust because of people who had the courage to care. Mr. Wolff is a coraugeous, witty, and resourceful man.  His adventure resemble a circus highwire act where one miscalculation could be fatal.  The author weaves a tale of action and intrigue which leaves the reader with a sense of exhilaration. Mr. Wolff is a man with an indominable spirit who personifies the quality of courage, optimism, resourcefulness, and a love for all mankind.  His narrative should be required for young and old alike."  -Vincent E. Marmorale, New York State Order Sons of Italy in America

"Walter Wolff eloquently relates the story of his survival and triumph over the Nazis.  He has masterfully transformed the pain and suffering he has endured into a message of hope, tolerance and faith for future generations to cherish.  Mr. Wolff continues to live and breathe his past by integrating his unique life experiences into an ever blossoming tomorrow."  -Dr. Chaim Wakslak, Rabbi, Young Israel of Long Bach

The Italian and Jewish communities of St. Louis found a common link in Walter Wolff, a savvy and likeable retiree from Long Island (N.Y.) who came to promote his book “Bad Times Good People” and to recount his past as survivor from Dachau, saved by an entry visa to Italy and by the humanity of Italians encountered during the dark days of the war and the military occupation.  By arrangements of the Consulate General of Italy in Chicago and the midwest office of NIAF (National Italian American Foundation), the Italian community of St. Louis (Missouri) welcomed Walter Wolff, a former detainee in the concentration camp of Dachau, who, together with his mother and brother obtained an entry visa to Italy from an Italian Consul in Germany.  Other countries, including the United States, had refused such visa request. Walter Wolff who was born in Aachen in 1917 and who lived in Frankfurt until the eruption of anti-Semitism (Cristalnacht) is the author of a collection of memories by the meaningful name of “Bad Times Good People” from which half a century later his life as a war refugee in Italy comes to light, at first in Genova and later in various sites of internment and controlled residence (Campagna, Ferramonti, Casale Monferrato, Ponte Chiasso e Milano) all of which were stops of a precarious voyage toward survival, reached with great courage and creativity but mainly thanks to the humanity of many Italian men and women, common citizens, but also clergy and police officers who in direst moments risked their own lives by helping the Wolff family escape arrest and deportation to the Reich’s lagers.  In St. Louis, on June 6, 2001, at a meeting organized by “Italiano Per Piacere” www.ItalyStl.com, a unique forum in the United States for the cultors of the Italian language, Walter Wolff recounted his life of racial prosecution in Italy during the war and under the enemy’s occupation, and of his fortunate employment with AGIP of Milano under the fictitious name of Valter Monti up until he met his wife to be, Vittoria Fubini, at the end of April in 1945 and subsequent emigration to New York in 1947.  The following evening, June 7, 2001, the Italians in St. Louis accompanied Walter Wolff to a meeting with the local Jewish community for a conference, this time in English, at the “Jewish Holocaust Museum” of Missouri.  During the two days in St. Louis the aging survivor gained the admiration of all of those who were able to get close to him and to appreciate his composed and coherent remembrance of a painful past, overcome by a series of fortuitous and providential circumstances.  His audience appreciated his exceptional humanity and his exhortation to fight any form of prejudice and racial discrimination as well as his gratitude for all Italian men and women who risked their own lives to help him , according to the biblical precept of do unto others… Walter Wolff is a member of the Social Justice Committee of the “Order Sons of Italy” in New York. CONSULATE GENERAL OF ITALY IN CHICAGO



...The school I attended was officially a German public school, but operated under the auspices of the Frankfurt Jewish community. Parents were obligated to pay the school a “culture tax” for the privilege of sending their children there...

1924. Miss Baer and class with
Walter in front row center with tie

.


...I also belonged to the German-Jewish Youth Group, an organization affiliated with the international Boy Scouts movement...

1934. Walter is to the left 
of the scoutmaster.
 




 

...Wednesday was “Sports Day,” and our afternoon was devoted to playing soccer on the huge ball field behind our school...

1934. 
Soccer game. Walter is standing center, rear row.




...the famous Jewish sage, Hillel, who when asked by a non-Jew to explain the Torah while standing on one foot—in other words, to quickly and succinctly boil it down to its essence—replied, “Love they neighbor as thyself is the most important teaching in our Bible. All the rest is commentary”... 

1934. 
In school yard in Frankfurt. 
Walter is 17 years old




 

1934-1935.
 Dr. Plaut's class with Walter third from right, first row. The small class size resulted from families fleeing Germany. It was in this class that the gramophone was used to teach  spoken English and  French, giving Walter the idea to learn Italian by attenting the cinema.




 
 

1937. 
Walter's first license to drive




 

1939. 
Walter's official identification card, or Kennkarte in German. Notice that after  Dachau his card was issued with the middle name "Israel".




 

...the Israelitic community hired me to be the director of the Anlemwerkstätte, a preparatory school for youngsters preparing to make aliya (immigrate to Palestine). I gave classes in Hebrew, and taught them about the Israeli kibbutz...

1939.  Walter (at far left) and his students




...In Campagna, the ratio of prisoners to guards was amazingly low: only two hundred to five. This was in stark contrast to Hitler’s death camps in which hundreds of guards outnumbered and tormented the innocent victims continuously...
 

1940. Group picture of the internees at Campagna. Walter is seated in the fifth row next to the man with the guitar.




 
 
 

...A choir was also assembled along with a  small orchestra. Since we had no access to sheet music, we had to create our own, writing down the notes from memory. We played Italian folk songs such as “0 Sole Mio” and excerpts from operas including Madam Butterfly and La Bohemè, among others...

1940. 
Walter's little string group. Walter 
is second from the right.




 

...I asked one of the employees for Giuseppe and he pointed me in the right direction. I approached him and barely speaking above a whisper, I told him that the local priest had sent me to see him. Knowing what that was all about, he nodded in agreement. Then, in a regular speaking voice, I provided him with all of the necessary information. He stamped a few documents and handed me a sheet of paper with my name, “Signor Monti” on it. He also handed me a booklet of ration cards. Nothing else was said. I thanked him and casually walked away...

1944. Walter's false identification papers provided by Giuseppe (Municipality of San Giorgio Monferrato, Province of Alessandria)




 

...I returned to the City Hall of San Giorgio Monferrato to see Giuseppe. I asked him if he could possibly issue me an identification card with my picture affixed to it. He replied that this was possible only if I had a legal document to prove my identiW I gave him the sheet of paper he had compiled a few days ago. He glanced at the paper, looked at me, and winked his eye. Nodding in the affirmative and acknowledging that my document was legal, he took my picture and stamped it with the official seal... 

1944.
Walter's phony ID card, issued 
in the name of Walter Monti.



...now that I had an “official legal” document, Giuseppe could provide me with the Libretto di Lavoro. Things were looking up. Even though Giuseppe and I encountered one another only twice in my lifetime, I owe him an immense debt of gratitude for risking his position as well as his life for providing me with the false identification papers...
 

1944. Walter's "working papers", without which one could not be hired.




...since my only means of transportation was my bicycle, I had to apply for a permit in order to bike to my job in Milan. I had  another document, written in Italian and German, declaring that neither the Italian nor the German Army could prevent me from doing my assigned work because I was considered “essential” for “the war effort.” In other words, if any officer or soldier of either the German or Italian Army were to interfere with my work, he would face court martial...


...then, my eyes made contact with an attractive young woman sitting alone at one of the tables. She had dark, wavy hair pulled back with combs and was dressed modestly in a taffeta dress. She looked vaguely familiar. I walked over to her table. “Buongiorno, Signorina, but haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” I asked her. “Did we meet in Rome or perhaps London—or was it Paris?” Smiling politely, she replied, “I rather doubt it. You see, I have not lived such a glamorous life. My only home has been a small town called Casale Monferrato. Perhaps you have heard the name. It is not far from Milan.”...

1945. 
Walter with his future bride Vittoria Furbini 



...since we had given up our passports
before entering Italy, we had to apply for affidavits which would take the place of a 
passport.  Finally, in June 1947, we received our affidavits, which fortunately had low quota numbers, and we were free to immigrate to the United States. We were ecstatic over the prospect of finally leaving Europe.  But we very much regretted leaving Italy. The Italians viewed the Jews  as human beings rather than “enemies of the Reich,” and they treated us well during the war. Italy was also a beautiful country blessed with picturesque vineyards, fresh sea breezes that drift in from the Mediterranean, and breathtaking mountains. The Italian people provided the ingredients for Italy’s inner beauty...

1947. This United States document was issued by the vice-consul as an affidavit in lieu of a passport, so that Walter could immigrate to the United States.

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