The War is Over (La Guerra è Finita) is a compelling, newly-released, eight-part Italian miniseries produced by RAI (the Italian national public broadcasting company), now streaming on MHz Choice in Italian with English subtitles.
The TV series is based on the true story of young, Jewish children rescued from concentration camps and ghettos across Europe between 1945 and 1948, after World War II. A group of anti-fascists, Jewish youth workers, and British soldiers (collectively called Bircha), brought the children to an abandoned estate in Selvino, a small Alpine town in northern Italy (in the province of Bergamo, in the Lombardy region).
Suffering from malnutrition, abuse, and emotional scars left from the loss of friends and family (parents, grandparents, cousins, etc.), the children were fed, clothed, educated, and helped to recover physically, educationally, and spiritually so they could eventually be safely relocated to Palestine for adoption (before the creation of the state of Israel).
The War Is Over TV series: The storyline
Most of the drama takes place on the grounds of an abandoned countryside estate owned by a wealthy marchioness, who we learn has also suffered a war-related loss. The miniseries was actually filmed in three locations in northern Italy—Modena and Reggio Emilia in Emilia Romagna and Sabbioneta (Mantua) in Lombardy.
The now dilapidated estate once housed a school Mussolini created to educate children of Fascist officers. A small group of rescuers, which includes a pediatrician, teacher, psychologist and soldier from the Jewish Brigade (part of the British Army), has now taken it over to create a temporary home for child survivors of the Holocaust.
The cast features Davide Paria (an engineer played by Michele Riondino, who also starred in The Young Montalbano), Giulia (a psychologist played by Isabella Ragonese), Ben (an ex-officer played by Valerio Binasco) and an incredibly talented cast of supporting actors, including young children, from tots to teens, who will steal your heart away.
Each of the adults has a reason for their commitment to this heart-wrenching effort. We learn that Davide’s wife and young son were taken away to a concentration camp; he remains tormented not knowing whether they might still be alive.
Giulia, a psychologist, has been disappointed by (and is now estranged from) her father, a successful Italian businessman who was imprisoned after the war for having made ammunition for the Germans. Although not Jewish herself, Giulia is outraged by the atrocities of the war.
Ben, a former soldier in the Brigade, oversees the running of the haven, and is fiercely committed to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine to keep future generations safe.
As a psychologist, meetings between Giulia and some of the children are used as a dramatic mechanism to elicit stories of their past, which are complemented by painful flashback scenes depicting their horrific experience in the camps. These innocent children were known by numbers rather than names in the camps. One of them, five-year-old Giovanni, has been left mute from the trauma of his past. Another older girl tells of rapes and humiliation by German officers. Many of the children were starved, given “soup” made of water and sawdust. Others were pursued by wild dogs when they tried to escape.
Celebrations and stories of romance between the adults and some of the teenagers punctuate the drama, allowing the viewer to recover and breathe after feeling the heaviness of the plight. We begin to see smiles and the happiness of a more normal existence. Throughout the acting is superb and the cinematography by Stefano Palombi offers stunning views of northern Italy and its small towns.
List of episodes of The War Is Over
- Episode 1: Davide takes shelter with the children in an abandoned estate.
- Episode 2: Giulia learns the children’s backgrounds and Davide gets clues about his missing wife and son.
- Episode 3: After they’re served an eviction notice, the group scrambles to devise a plan.
- Episode 4: During his trip to find his family, Davide uncovers clues about Mattia.
- Episode 5: The Marchioness’s lawyer falls for Giulia and tries to stop the eviction.
- Episode 6: Sara learns about the man who betrayed her family.
- Episode 7: Giulia is less than diplomatic in her meeting with the Marchioness.
- Episode 8: Giulia visits her father in prison and the children get ready to take their exams.
The war is over: Is it truly?
During the war, the small town of Selvino, like much of Italy, was dominated by townspeople who were downtrodden, hungry and impoverished. Afterwards, many people didn’t want to look back, just wanting Italy to move forward.
Although the war was over, in some ways it wasn’t. Many Italians supported the Jews but others were tainted by the Nazi propaganda. The Jewish Chronicle estimates that some 70,000 Jewish refugees were fortunate to have found safe haven in Italy after World War II.
Today, in an era of rising fascism and anti-semitism across Europe, and amidst a growing number of homegrown Holocaust deniers in the U.S., it is more important than ever to tell, record and remember the stories of the persecution and murder of more than 6 million Jewish people (as well as Russians and gypsies) by the Nazi regime.
I highly recommend watching The War Is Over. This often forgotten story of the young children who were tortured, left orphaned or killed in the Nazi’s “final solution” to rid Europe of all Jews, is a story of strength, resilience, and compassion that you’ll long remember.
IF YOU GO
When travel restrictions across international borders loosen, you can visit Selvino, which is only one hour and 15 minutes from Milan.
Corso Milano, 19, 24020, Selvino BG
In October 2019, with the support of the Italian government, Sciescopoli Ebraica opened as a museum in the municipal town hall of Selvino, about 43 miles north of Milan. The museum has collected the names of all the Jewish children who once resided in Selvino and the underground routes they took to get to Palestine. The hope is that in the future, the museum will be able to move into the building where the children actually lived.
Because these children were orphaned and left without family ties, many stayed in touch with each other, feeling much like a family, until their deaths. The museum hopes to organize traveling exhibits to keep these stories alive.
YouTube Video on Sciesopoli – the Children’s House of Selvino
Read the Book
Each episode of the TV series gives credit to the 2002 book, The Story of the Selvino Children: Journey to the Promised Land, upon which the story is loosely based. It’s hard to find a reasonably priced copy, but I have my local library trying to track down a copy.”
Is the miniseries faithful to the book? Read my post:
- The 800 Jewish Holocaust Victims of Selvino
- Jews in Ferrara: The New Italian Museum of Judaism and The Shoah
Other Italian TV Series Well Worth Watching
How to Watch The War Is Over
- Find out more about MHz Choice, an American streaming service that specializes in international television programming. Promo code WINTER2021 offers 50% off one month for new subscribers, good through March 30th.
First Look at The War is Over