The Girl Who Escaped By Angela Petch



The Girl Who Escaped

By Angela Petch


Italy, 1940. The girl sobs and rages as her father tells her the terrible news. “Italy is entering the war alongside Germany. Jews are to be arrested and sent to camps. We have to be ready.”

As fascists march across the cobbled piazzas and past the towered buildings of her beloved home city, twenty-year-old Devora’s worst fears come true. Along with her Jewish parents and twin little brothers they are torn away from everything they love and sent to an internment camp huddled in the mountains. Her father promises this war will not last long…

When they are offered a miraculous chance of escape by her childhood friend Luigi, who risks everything to smuggle vital information into the camp, the family clambers under barbed wire and races for the border. But Devora is forced to make a devastating choice between saving a stranger’s life and joining her parents. As shots fire in the moonless night, the family is separated.

Haunted by the question of whether they are dead or alive, all Devora can do for their future is throw herself into helping Luigi in the Italian resistenza in the fight for liberty. But posing as a maid for a German commander to gather secret intelligence, Devora is sure she sees her friend one night, in a Nazi uniform…

Is Devora in more danger than ever? And will her family ever be reunited – or will the war tear them apart?

An absolutely devastating but ultimately uplifting historical novel about how love and hope can get us through the darkest times. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Rhys Bowen and Soraya M. Lane.



Another beautifully written story by Sig Petch. It’s gripping, absorbing and emotive. I feel strongly that this book should come with a health warning “this story may upset you so have a box of tissues handy.” This is a book that you read, and then keep thinking about. You cannot even begin to imagine what life was like for the Jews and it’s hard to process the suffering, the hardships, the indignity and the loss suffered by many.

There are many stories about people who saved the Jews from the Nazi atrocities in WWII, many of which are still little known or even unknown. How remarkable that the author should discover that her husband’s Italian grandfather was an active partisan during the war and in fact, received a medal for it.

The story begins with a creased and faded black and white photograph dated 1938, of four characters, Devora, Sabrina, Enrico and Luigi.

'It showed four young people, one with a dog at his feet. At aged 18, everything seemed possible. On the back was scribbled ‘see you in fifty years’

The photograph represents youth, innocence, possibilities, hope and friendship. Of lives and loves yet unknown. Unwittingly, they get caught up in the politics and warfare of the second world war so what they experience is tragedy, danger and detachment from a world they knew.

The writing style of the author is just superb and including true stories in her fictional novels is her unique way of communicating with her readers. She has a duty to give the reader a brutal account. This is history, this is the reality of war and so her beautifully crafted characters draw you into the horrors they witness and the life-or-death choices they have to make to survive.

It is still not possible to explain definitively the motives that prompted Mussolini to initiate in the autumn of 1938 a racial policy strongly derivative of the German model. But for Jewish families living in Italy, like Devora, one of the young girls in the photo, life would change forever. It began with ‘ethnic cleansing.’  Mussolini’s Fascist government forbade Jewish children to attend public or private schools, ordered the dismissal of Jews from professorships in all universities and banned Jews from the civil service, the military as well as the banking and insurance industries. In the opening scenes, Devora’s father gives her devastating news. Immediately, the reader feels the heart-wrenching emotion of a family about to be pulled apart.

‘“This morning, my friend in the police department warned me that they are coming to fetch your mother and me. Foreign Jews are to be arrested and sent to internment camps.”  Fear gripped Devora. The world about her stopped still.

“I don’t understand. Why are we being sorted like this, as if we are a herd of cattle, branded with different colours because of our worth?” Her tears fell as life as she had known it cracked into tiny shards.

"Where will they take you papa? I can’t bear it.” She crept into his arms sobbing’

Devora’s parents are sent to an internment camp near Arezzo and her university studies to become a doctor are abruptly terminated. Fate alone will determine her destiny. The way that the author peels back the layers of her main characters to reveal the complexity and disparities of human behaviour in extreme circumstances is sublime. She uses the two young men, Luigi and Enrico to show the choices to be made. Fight for the fascist side or join the resistance as a partisan. How can they reconcile their personal conscience with their political conscience and how can we, as readers even begin to think of the consequences of either, that they faced?  Luigi’s double life must have been incredibly dangerous as an active and secret member of the partisans, while working for the local council, having to appear to be on the side of the fascists yet all the while, forging documents and identities to help those who were enemies of the state like the Jews. Carefree, privileged Enrico, the hedonist, simply does his duty, no more, no less. There is more to life than thinking about the political implications of Italy losing the war.

‘“With the allies on our doorstep, the Tedeschi or crucci as some call the Germans, will now flood into Italy. I fear we shall see much more bloodshed before life improves,” said Luigi. “Let’s change the subject,” Enrico interrupted. “Viviamo alla giornata! Let’s live for the day. I know a little trattoria in Civitella!”’

Contrastingly the fourth character in the photo is Sabrina a shallow opportunist. She and Devora met in the infants class at school yet their lives as teenagers divide when her friend distances herself from knowing a Jew and looks the other way. I think the dialogue is evidence of the author’s contempt of such ignorance and small-mindedness by creating this one-dimensional character, whose opinions are racist, prejudiced and discriminating.

Devora, you must not come here. It’s against the law. We are not supposed to frequent with Jews. I don’t know if we can see each other again.” “What are you talking about Sabrina? So much for friendship. Surely you don’t believe in all this rubbish about the Jews?”

“Papa says the reason why Italy is going through such difficulties is because of the Jews, It’s not just about religion, it’s about weakening the Aryan race.”  Devora spluttered. “You’re not serious.”

It is hard to choose a passage from the book which captures the descriptive ability of the author. She controls the pace, the mood and the tension so perfectly. She provides panoramic images of both background and foreground such as the Jewish ghetto of Via delle Stallacce where Devora lived with her family, the clandestine and perilous trek of the partisans and scouts leading prisoners of war out of Italy to Switzerland, the medieval walled city of Urbino and the twin towers of the 15th-century Palazzo Ducale. Her descriptions illuminate the emotion and state of mind in both the character and the reader.

‘Luigi looked at his beloved countryside. The contadini (Italian farmers) had been unable to harvest their wheat during the skirmishes. Pink and golden stalks lay crushed where tanks had rolled over the crops. A German semovente, lay twisted, a helmet perched on top of the assault gun, spent shell cases littering the parched grass. A dead cow lay in the hot sun, its stomach bloated, legs in the air. Luigi listened to flies buzzing in the distance, feasting on its rotting flesh. A barn smouldered in the distance, smoke curling into a perfect blue sky, mingling with battle fire in the distance. A perfect sky in an imperfect landscape, Luigi thought ruefully.’



Why I recommend this book

The Girl Who Escaped is an utterly convincing story with four main characters and heart-breaking events which pull you in and carry you along on an emotional rollercoaster. It is a compelling read and thought-provoking read. Essentially, this story is the narrative of the resistance and the incredible bravery and acts of kindness shown by many Italians who risked their lives to save Jews from certain death in Nazi concentration camps. However, an Angela Petch novel would be incomplete without love, sensitivity, tenderness and passion.  The love between Devora’s mother and father. Devora’s teenage crush on Enrico.  The love of a devoted housekeeper, Anna Maria, the love between friends forged from an act of kindness and an enduring devotion from Luigi.

Not only was the level of research done by the author to create this story so meticulously performed but the atmospheric fictional interpretation of loss, betrayal, courage and fortitude is highly charged with poignancy and sensitivity. This is a past that should not stay buried. The accounts of heroism and bravery of Italian individuals should be heard and honoured. As individual memories of the Holocaust have almost disappeared with the gradual passing away of the survivors and witnesses, the only remains are private artefacts from families which may become public and we have to thank the author and her family for translating such treasures into a cultural account.

What can we take from this story? Certainly, the reader feels uplifted by one girl’s resilience and resolve in the face of such hatred against the Jews. Should Devora let go of any bitterness and forgive? For me, I can empathise with the author who speaks through Devora to validate the phrase ‘Lest We Forget, ’ to remember always the service and sacrifice of people who served in the war.

 “If I were to forgive what was done to my family, then it would be like denying what they went through. The perpetrators would have to ask me for forgiveness and I can’t. The Nazi’s were pure evil. I need to hold onto the pain. It’s part of me. If I let go, then I let go of mother, father and my brother, not to mention all the other victims.”

In the author’s note, she tells us that she wrote the book as a kind of homage to the Italians, to their courage and their compassion.  Her mission was successful.  There are no victors in war, there is death and brutality on both sides but I feel her story provides a legacy of fortitude, strength of character and bravery that I hope continues in our world today.


"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." "We are most alive when we are in love."

― Lao Tzu




Angela Petch is a USA Today bestselling author and an award-winning writer of fiction and the occasional poem. Every summer she moves to Tuscany for six months where she and her husband own a renovated watermill which they let out. When not exploring their unspoiled corner of the Apennines, she disappears to her writing desk at the top of her converted stable.

In her Italian handbag or hiking rucksack she always makes sure to store a notebook and pen to jot down ideas. The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of her family live. When she’s not helping out with grandchildren, she catches up with writer friends.


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Published by Bookcouture  Available on Amazon




  1. Oh, wow, Wendy. Thank you so much. You absolutely got it xxx Sorry not to reply sooner - been a difficult two days, with Maurice ending up at Pronto Soccorso.


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