Tedeschi, Giuliana (Brunelli)

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TEDESCHI, Giuliana (Brunelli)

Nationality: Italian. Born: Milan, 1914. Education: Studied linguistics, University of Milan, 1932-36. Family: Married Giorgio Tedeschi in 1939 (died); two daughters. Career: Prisoner, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944-45. Teacher in Turin, Liceo Cavour, 1945-47, Liceo Alfieri, 1947-48; Magistrale Regina Margherita, 1948-55, Magistrale Berti, 1955-56, and Liceo V. Gioberti, 1956-72.



Questo povero corpo [This Poor Body]. 1946; revised and expanded edition, as C'é un punto della terra: Una donna nel Lager di Birkenau, 1988; translated as There Is a Place on Earth: A Woman in Birkenau. 1992.


Lingua, grammatica, stile. 1971.

Spazio umano: Problemi in prospettiva: Le dimensioni del raccontare: Per il biennio delle Scuole Medie Superiori, with Fausto M. Bongioanni. 1972.

Come comunichiamo: Grammatica italiana ed educazione linguistica (grammar textbook). 1979.

France et étranger dans la "Revue de littérature comparée," 1921-1980, with Pier Antonio Borgheggiani (bibliography). 1983.

Uomo e ambiente nei continenti extraeuropei: Testo/atlante, with Andreina Post (geography aid). 1993.

Memoria di donne e bambini nei Lager nazisti. 1995.

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Guiliana Tedeschi was born in Milan in 1914 and educated in the middle-class milieu of Turin. She completed an honors degree in linguistics as a student of the noted linguist Benvenuto Terracini and worked as a teacher. Married with two small children, she was arrested on 5 April 1944 and deported together with her architect husband and mother-in-law to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her two girls, one a baby, survived in hiding cared for by her Roman Catholic housekeeper. The Jewish population of Italy had remained relatively safe until late in the war and relatively few (8,369 out of 44,500) were deported; of those who were sent to the camps, little more than 10 percent survived; of Tedeschi's family, both her husband and mother-in-law were killed.

On Tedeschi's return she resumed teaching and was the author of school texts for the study of Latin and Greek, a manual of Italian grammar and usage, and other texts in ancient history and geography. She wrote one of the first memoirs of camp experience, published in 1946. Involved in the survivor community and its organization, the National Association of Ex-Deportees, she reworked her 1946 text in the context of burgeoning 1980s interest in the Holocaust, published in 1988 as C'é un punto della terra and translated into English as There Is a Place on Earth in 1992.

Although providing a narrative of experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the main focus of her writing is on the experience of the deportee. Her work is unusual in having almost no reference to life before deportation (or subsequent to liberation) and its attempt, primarily in its first stage, to depict feeling rather than a precise description of place and detail of events. Carole Angier has written that "more than Primo Levi, she makes us see, feel and smell the bodies, the disgust of dirt, disease and diarrhoea, of rags and sores and rough blankets." It has been said that her book is one of the few works of testimony with literary value, in parts poetically written.

In common with many women's accounts, Tedeschi is concerned with the nature of relationships and less concerned to analyze and explain a system whose reason is constituted by unreason, "the systematic organisation of disorganisation," the impossibility of logical deductions. Her interactions with—and descriptions of—the women whose fate she shares are heavily influenced by stereotypes of national character and social class, seen by one commentator as a reflection of Tedeschi's relatively privileged background. She generalizes from her own experience to supposed characteristics of all Italians: their "open southern nature, so alien to brutality and hardship, so tenderly unprepared for camp life." She is drawn to the cultured French, disdains the Greeks and Hungarians, and is revolted by the Poles.

The account of relationships is focused on nurturing cooperation and bonds of unity, not the fierce competition for survival. The system seeks to strip women of their femininity but does not invariably succeed; memories return, maternal feelings remain, there are fleeting, unexpected reminders of home. This situation is, however, radically transformed during the brutal struggle for life that marks the last stages of the war, when friends who acted as "anchors to each other" had "moments when they were overcome by bestiality."

—Andrew Markus

See the essay on There Is a Place on Earth: A Woman in Birkenau.