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Story of a Jewish Boy with Simi Berman and Vincent Panella

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  • The Story of a Jewish Boy ( Storia di un Ragazzo Ebreo) by 14 year old Leo Berman (1931-2003), recounts the horrors and fleeting hopes of a boy and his family trying to survive the final days of World War II in Italy. In their community, the Bermanns were an important family. Leo’s grandfather, Maximillian, became a doctor and opened a private health sanitorium. There, his son Siegfried met and married Anna, a young woman from Poland. Leo’s brother Raffaele was born in 1929. In 1935, Friedl (Siegfried) moved the family from Merano to Milan where he opened a detergent factory. During the next seven years, Mussolini’s policy turned more aggressively racist as his alliance with Hitler strengthened. The edict of 1938, among other restrictions, both forbade Jews from attending schools and Jewish teachers from teaching in them. In 1939, with a sense of impending disaster and a growing distancing of himself from his wife and sons, Friedl Bermann sailed for America, leaving his family behind. Anna decided to go back to Merano with the boys; it was a place where she knew people and had personal resources. Though Merano was not safe for Jews, they were relatively safe, until in 1943 the German army took over unleashing all its fury upon everything in its retreating path, including its former allies, the Italians.
  • Merano became a place of extreme danger for Jews, and Anna had to use all of her wits to save her family by getting them out of their city quickly. Leo’s brother Raffaele  had become very ill, and her first thought was to get the family to Bologna, to an institute specializing in diseases of the bone. But they managed to do it. The trio then fled from Bologna to Perugia and thence, finally, in August 1944, to a displaced persons camp in Rome at the film studios, Cinecittà.
  • This is where Leo, at the age of 14, penned his diary, Storia d’un Ragazzo Ebreo ( Story of a Jewish Boy.) As Leo tells us in his story, he sent a postcard to his father shortly after leaving the refugee camp which said; 
  • "This is the face of a boy whose youth was taken from him, who doesn’t know anymore how to cry or laugh, that life has crushed under the inhuman weight of cruel reality. In this photograph you see the mask of a face; if that mask were lifted you would see a mind troubled by life that too cruelly torments your son."
  • Leopold Berman was born in Merano, Italy in 1931. He arrived in America in 1947 when he began his studies in the civil engineering program at Cornell University. He and Simi were married in 1956 and moved to Israel. In 1957, they moved back to the States where he entered the 6-year program at the Columbia School of Architecture and graduated in 1963. He started his own architectural firm and worked on significant projects including the design and rehabilitation of Fort Greene Park in New York City. In 1981, he and Simi moved to a farm in New Hampshire and he opened an architectural office in Brattleboro, engaging in many projects involving historic preservation—also many community oriented projects. His work won the Vermont Award for Historic Preservation in 1992. Leo died in 2003.
  • Story of a Jewish Boy may be purchased at or your local bookseller.
  • “Storia di un Ragazzo Ebreo,” will be published in Italian this month from Raetia Press, Bolzano, Italy. You many subscribe for an alert when it is available.  Please see link: 
  • More photos of Leo and his life before and during World War II may be viewed at
  • Simi Berman was born in New York City but has lived in the Brattleboro area for  more than 40  years. She married Leo Berman in 1956 and lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a time. They moved to the area in the early 1980s. Berman is an artist who works  on small scale in watercolor, gouache and oil pastel. The paintings are non-figurative, which allows the viewer to make his/her own ever changing discoveries. She also illustrated two books (At Grandmother's Table - Fairview Press) and (Buon Natale, Natale - Franco Maria Panini).
  • Vincent Panella is the author of the novel, Sicilian Dreams, published in 2020. His other works include  the memoir, The Other Side, Growing up Italian in America, a story collection, Lost Hearts and the  novel, Cutter's Island, which received a ForeWord award. He is a Pushcart nominee in short fiction, and Primo Magazine said of his story collection that it ". . .calls to be included in every Italian-American's library." Vincent is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and the former Writing Specialist at Vermont Law School. He grew up in Queens and lives in Marlboro, Vermont with his wife, Susan Sichel.
Production Date: 
Saturday, December 10, 2022 - 16:45

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