I just finished the second of three books my husband and boys bought me for my birthday this weekend -- A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell.
The book was set in Italy during WWII. The main theme of the book was the experience of Jews and how warm and caring the Italian people were, hiding them, feading them, welcoming Jewish refugees from other countries. Although fictional, the author stated:
"... my intent was to present an accurate portrayal of the 1943-45 German occupation of northwestern Italy. Hundreds of histories, memoirs, and published interviews contributed background, but I must single out the two books that provided impetus for this novel. ... "The Priest, the Rabbi and the Aviator" in Alexander Stille's historical study Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism... (and) Alfred Feldman's memoir One Step Ahead: A Jewish Fugitive in Hitler's Europe."
I was very touched by the tale she wove of the loving and generous nature of the northern Italians and their acceptance of those who needed help. Also touched upon as a thread in the novel was the question of the value of human life. The idea of the 'Uebermensch' and 'Uentermensch' in the Nazi idealogy... the belief that the handicapped and unproductive persons being nothing more than a drain on society's resources held by that regime (and, of course their response to it being forced euthanasia) was contrasted with the attitude of a mother of a child with Down's syndrome and her care and love for the child in a time when the syndrome was not understood...
The author , Mary Doria Russell, attended Catholic schools as a child and is a big supporter of one of them in the Cleveland area, but has recently converted to Judaism.
This book was another winner, in my mind.