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“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Italians,” declared Holocaust survivor Lou Pechi, in his presentation at the House of Italy monthly board meeting on Sunday evening in Balboa Park’s Mallorca Room.
Peschi told the harrowing story of his serendipitous fortune and experiences during and following the bombing of Yugoslavia by Nazi Germany. His escape from his home land and arrival in the city of Treviso in northeastern Italy.
“Luckily for my family and thousands of other refugees, there were about two dozen cities like Treviso that sheltered Holocaust survivors,” said Peschi, who speaks with a slight accent.
Reflecting the famous Eli Weisel, who said, “Why do I write? To wrench those victims from oblivion. To help the dead vanquish them.” Peschi states that he felt “duty bound” to give meaning to his survival, “I knew the story had to be told. Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.”
The survivor shared a wealth of information at the Mallorca Room, ranging from his experiences of having lived in three countries, seven major cities, and being able to speak seven languages. He recalled that he “learned lessons that can’t be taught in school.” He was able to read in Italian at the age of 10, and later his governess taught him German-Croatian. He later learned English while attending an English school.
With the addition of photos and aerial footage of German planes dropping bombs, Peschi related how he narrowly escaped death while being caught in the bombings. This was during the German invasion of Yugoslavia-Croatia when Belgrade was destroyed by the Germans. “I can still see those visions, like it was yesterday,” recalled Peschi.
Curfews were set up where Peschi was living, and Jewish people had to turn in their cars. “Father took his car up a big hill, aimed it into a ravine and let it crash,” said Peschi. “My father said, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m giving them my car.’” The young survivor related other incidents about how his family converted to Catholicism as a means to get to Italy, and how they illegally crossed the Italia border.
“I was a good catholic boy, said Peschi, he recalls that an Italian priest in Treviso was “very impressed with me because I still remembered my catechism training,” adding that he was only seven years old at the time. A particular memory that was still vivid in the survivor’s memory was when he was jailed, awaiting being shipped to a German camp. “I was in a jail cell with women, because I was only a small boy, when suddenly we heard people marching or walking outside the jail. I was too small to see out the window, but one of the women helped me up and I looked at the people passing. I thought it was a parade, but later found out their awful fate.”
He was taken to a room a short while later, where he recalled a big man with a burly mustache indicated a chair and told him to “sit there.” The man was a German soldier in full uniform. He asked the young Peschi a few brief questions. “He told me, ‘I am going to go out for a few minutes; I want you to take your belongings, and slowly walk out that door. Walk slowly, do not run. Good luck.’” And with that, blinked at Peschi and walked out of the room. He recalled walking for what seemed “forever,” and then with tears streaming down his cheeks broke out into a frantic run for his home. His aunt was sobbing with joy when she opened the door to see him standing there, safe and sound.
Peschi fast forwarded to his final arrival in Rome. Reunited with his parents, who also escaped to Italy with the help of many friends and strangers, they occupied an apartment in Rome just in time to watch the allied forces moving through Italy. “The German soldiers were there in the morning, they moved out, and the allies moved in,” said Peschi. The allies arrived in trucks, jeeps and on the march. They were throwing chocolate candy to everyone, and the Italians were kissing and hugging them.
“I always questioned, why me; why did I survive when so many others did not? So I had to let it all out, I had to write the book and tell my story,” concluded the Holocaust survivor.