Author’s Note & Bibliography
(This author’s note can also be found at the back of The Secrets Between Us, but I’m posting it here too for ease of sharing links).
The Secrets Between Us is a fictional work inspired by true events that took place in the Alpes-Maritimes during the summer of 1943.
From February to September of that year, the town of Saint-Martin-Vésubie, situated around forty miles from Nice, was designated an “enforced residence” for displaced Jews. Through a combination of sympathy, politics, altruism and the efforts of Jewish Italian banker Angelo Donati, the Italian Fourth Army moved thousands of Jewish refugees into Saint-Martin-Vésubie and the surrounding villages. For one summer, the valley became something of a safe haven, where the Jews were protected from persecution from German and French forces. It offered respite, relief and a degree of security for the refugees, many of who had already been fleeing for years.
With the announcement of the armistice, and Italy’s withdrawal from the war, the refugees’ safety vanished, and they were left with an impossible choice: stay in villages like Saint-Martin and await the German authorities, or take the perilous old salt roads across the mountain passes, into what they believed would be safety in Italy.
Over a thousand refugees made the crossing from Saint-Martin-Vésubie, not knowing that German forces were waiting for them on the other side. Some of those who escaped were aided by résistance members, anti-fascist groups, or French or Italian civilians, who hid the refugees in barns, attics and remote farms, even presenting Jewish children as their own during the round-ups. Many more of refugees were captured and interned at Borgo San Dalmazzo, before being sent to Drancy, and ultimately, Auschwitz.
In The Secrets Between Us, I decided to set the action in a fictional town named Saint-Antoine, rather than in real-life Saint-Martin-Vésubie. I chose to do this because – while I sincerely hope to bring this underreported area of the Second World War to wider attention – I did not want to conflate my work with the reality of what was experienced by those who were present in Saint-Martin-Vésubie.
For many individuals, that summer in the Alpes-Maritimes was just one chapter in a whole series of heart-breaking, remarkable events. The real-life stories of both the Jews and their French and Italian protectors are ones of bravery and suffering, endurance and survival that need no fictional embellishment.
The Secrets Between Us imagines only a tiny portion of what took place during Italian Occupied France. My research spanned everything from salt mines to crayfish catching, songs in Yiddish to first-hand testimonies, but these are the works I turned to the most.
Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vésubie and Their Flight through France and Italy, Susan Zuccotti (Yale University Press, 2008)
La pierre de Juifs, Danielle Baudot Laksine (Editions de Bergier) Book one of five on the subject.
A Pause in the Holocaust (1943: Le temps d’un répit), 2009. Documentary directed by André Waksman.
Mussolini’s Army in the French Riviera: Italy’s Occupation of France, Emanuele Sica (University of Illinois Press, 2016).
Wandering Star, J.M.G. Le Clézio (Gallimard, 1992. Translation: C. Dickson, 2009)
Marche de la Memoire, a yearly walk, held every September to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Saint-Martin-Vésubie.
APJN page on Saint-Martin-Vésubie: (Anonymes, Justes et Persécutés durant la période Nazie dans les communes de France – “The Unknown, Righteous and Persecuted of the Nazi period in French communes”)