Linda Ganzini is the author of the upcoming novel “Lilia” based on the story of her mother Lilia Meneguzzi whose coming-of-age in an Italian village was overshadowed by the fear of Nazi soldiers and the sorrow about the loss of her brothers’ lives. One had died on the Russian front. One in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Linda’s experiences attending the 73rd anniversary of the Flossenbürg concentration camp iberation made her decide to include what she knew about her uncle Arturo and his imprisonment in the Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camps in the book about her mother.
For the Reflections Blog Linda answered some questions about the effects of the war tragedies on her and her mother’s life, remembering her uncles and how her family’s story can help others better understand why we should all work on making this world a peaceful place.
1. Linda, what was it like for you to learn about your family history even as a little girl? When did you really understand the extent of oppression and persecution your relatives had had to endure?
At a young age, I learned of my mother’s struggles growing up during World War II from the stories she shared with me. I never knew the extent of the tragedies surrounding my mother and her family until I reached adulthood. Despite my mother’s latency in opening the doors to her past, it was her, and my ancestor’s omnipresent courage and determination that has inspired me throughout life.
My mother has been my beacon of light and strength from the moment I entered this world. Her lifetime of bravery instilled in me that anything is possible despite the obstacles. Through my mother’s example, I have learned to appreciate the virtues of what it is to be a good human, namely that of being compassionate and kind. Never knowing the path people have walked to get to where they are, we must respect each other above anything else.
Spending many summers with my grandparents in the northern Italian village of Mussons, I listened as they spoke of the hardships they endured as a family. Too painful to divulge, they shared very little regarding my uncles that had died in the war – one on the Russian front and one in the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany. It was all too visceral for my grandparents to relive their heart-wrenching past as it still lived in their present – memories that could never quite find a peaceful resting place. I could see from the pain in my grandmother’s eyes, and by her hardened nature and silence, she survived through worlds of suffering, more than one person should ever endure.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I learned about my uncle Arturo’s imprisonment in Buchenwald and his death in the Flossenbürg camp. I have always wanted to write my mother’s story, but it wasn’t until I interviewed her for this book that I learned of her brother’s persecution. As my mother opened up to me, tears pooled before her.
I watched and listened as she revisited the daggers that penetrated her heart so long ago. My heart broke wide open. The more I learned of Arturo, the more connected to him I felt. It was then I knew I had to travel to the concentration camp that stole his beautiful life. I wanted to uncover the path he was forced to take to bring some closure to my family. My grandparents never knew where the Nazi’s had imprisoned their son until months after his demise.
A young man of twenty-four was slaughtered at the hands of evil – his parents left without a grave to place a rose or offer prayer. I wanted to pay my respects to an innocent, and gentle, kind-hearted man, who had died a senseless death. I wanted him to know his spirit is loved and that he was and will always be alive in our hearts. When I learned the extent of not only my uncles suffering but the suffering of thousands, I knew I needed to include his story in my book.
It was my calling to experience his final resting place. And through my writing, I am being called to give Arturo back his dignity, and his voice so his life can live forward and never be forgotten. He saved his family by surrendering to the Germans. His last words:
“Mama, if I don’t go with them now, they will kill us all.”
Arturo gambled his life for the ones he loved.
2. What decisions have you taken in your life that have been directly or indirectly influenced by your family history?
I firmly believe my family’s strength is embedded in my spirit, as it stewards me through life. Although shy and introverted, I have always taken risks with a never-give-up attitude. Whether failing miserably or coming up spades, I never lose faith in who I am. My family’s courage and determination precede me, and the pride I derive from that instills in me never to lose sight of my dreams. Hailing from immigrant parents, I have carried on their quest for change, new opportunities, and more fruitful life. I have transplanted myself in more than one country throughout the last twenty years, unafraid of challenges and excited to explore new adventures.
Whenever I feel beat down by life, I only have to look at what my family endured, to never lose appreciation and gratitude for how lucky and blessed I am, and for all, I do have.
My family history directly influenced my decision to write this book. They are one of the many families that endured senseless suffering during World War II. Their story is one that needs to be shared with the world. Its importance is not just for my family, but culturally too – a story that resonates today. This book, which is part of a series, will be the most significant creative expression in my lifetime. I’m not writing this book. The book is writing me.
3. How do you incorporate commemorating your uncles into your daily life?
I commemorate my uncles in my daily life by being mindful of all my blessings. My uncles Erminio and Arturo were not destined to embrace the freedom to choose the life they wanted. They had hopes and dreams as we all do. I can’t bring them back, and I can’t erase their suffering, but I can manifest the best life for me and do good unto others.
If I can leave this world a better place than I found it, raise smiles, touch and heal hearts, then I believe I will make my uncles proud. I’m not alone on this journey. My ancestors are with me every step of the way, and the older I get, the more attuned I become paying closer attention to their guidance – each day is precious.
I wish my uncles could have had more time to make their mark on this Earth.
I hope my book honors them making way for deeper awareness and love for the magical gift of everyday life.
4. What are people’s reactions (friends, acquaintances) when you tell them that you are writing a book about your mother and her family? Do their reactions change when they learn more details about the content?
This book is my first. Friends, acquaintances, and family members have expressed how proud they are of my writing this story in homage to my mother and our family’s history. Anyone made aware of this project has been tremendously supportive. When I share details of the contents, people are amazed that my family endured as much as they did. As the story unfolds, they describe it as though it were an epic cinematic film. Recounting my experience in Flossenbürg has touched many as they continue encouraging me on this heart-centered journey.
We get so wrapped up in the mundane minutia of life; we forget that these tragedies of war and immigrants fleeing their country for a better life wasn’t that long ago. And this reality keeps repeating decade after decade after decade. Divine timing has me penning this book. The time is now.
5. Do you consider the book to be a beginning or rather an end to dealing with your family history?
I think every beginning must come to an end and with every ending, there is a birth of something new. I feel this book to be both. It is an ending in that my mother’s past is out in the open and she can now release the pain it held. As quoted by Lucius Annaeus Seneca; “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” My family’s story will hopefully remind people the realness of history, repeating.
The circle of life begins and ends with us and how we treat one another, as a family, as people. War is not a solution.
This book will also open the gate for my mother’s voice to be heard. Her coming-of-age and life experience I hope will move and inspire people to look beyond the details of life’s obstacles, knowing endless opportunities are waiting at their fingertips. Our heartbeat reminds us every day we all have a purpose. Have faith in yours and watch new beginnings unfold.
6. How do you react to statements like “The past is the past” or “That’s ancient history. You need to look to the future.”?
I think it depends on the circumstance. In my life, I believe the past is the past. Looking back, I gather the lessons learned and use that knowledge to navigate forward with the hope of improving myself and making better choices. I choose to live in and experience the present moment while manifesting the future I would like to create. However, when looking at past tragedies, like World War II in this case, and the reasons why this war grew to envelop and destroy people, their families, and countries, we need to stop and think.
If we don’t learn from our past and wake up to the fact that history can repeat by the hands of our ignorance and unwillingness to fight for change, then the future is bleak. I hope collectively we battle for the need to create a peaceful world, free of hate – a world we feel is safe for us and the generations to come.
7. You met Stefan, another descendant of a former Flossenbürg prisoner, in May 2018. What does it mean to you to know other descendants? Do you stay in regular contact?
During my attendance at the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, I felt honored to meet not only Stefan, but other descendants and Holocaust survivors. It was impactful to see young and old alike researching what transpired there, to better understand what happened to our loved ones. Loved ones many of us have never even met.
The sense of union, love, and respect was palpable. I have never been so touched, by strangers, as when I was in Flossenürg – a bond was created that long weekend, one I will hold dear forever. The outpour of giving and kindness was overwhelming.
I do stay in touch with Stefan and, in particular, one of the prisoner’s family members. Their father, a Flossenbürg survivor, remembered my uncle Arturo in the camp. Sharing with me, his reflections on their days spent together were beyond any gift I could imagine. You can read the heart-warming story on the blog post (Arbeit Macht Frei “Work Sets You Free”) from my trip to Flossenürg.
8. What lessons from your family history would you like to pass on, both to people close to you and to society at large?
As this book centers around my mother’s coming-of-age during World War II, my wish is that her triumph over tragedy and her inner tribulations inspire you to keep forging on your journey with hope and courage. Stare down your doubts and fears, and life will propel you to find your voice and live heroically. I pray this story keeps the realness and tragedy of war alive in our hearts and minds. No soil is free from destructive hands. We need to unite and bind ourselves with love, not greed, or hate. We need to author a peaceful future by taking responsibility for each chapter.
Together we are more powerful than we are apart. War is not a solution.
May my family’s history also be a source of inspiration moving the younger demographic to share this story with their parents and grandparents, bringing together generations of understanding and bonding.
Note from the editor: You can watch a video of Linda’s novel’s main themes here: https://www.lindaganziniwriter.com