I experienced some significant history during my visit to Italy (it's hard not to, really), especially in Venice. Close to my hotel there were two very ordinary-looking but profoundly moving sites.
The Jewish Ghetto
|Arches, Jewish Ghetto, Venice|
I was surprised to find that there's a Jewish ghetto in Venice. I was even more surprised to find that it begins right behind the hotel in Venice where I stayed.
Today the Jewish Ghetto is mostly a quiet residential area. It has a few night clubs and some excellent restaurants, but it has remarkably few traces of what it once was. One very visible exception is the synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto that has served its residents courageously over many difficult centuries. Otherwise, though, the Jewish Ghetto looks very much like other sections of Venice ... but with lingering ghostly hints of oppression and anti-semitism. A moving place to be, in part because its past is so understated today.
But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Back in high school I learned the Shakespearean lines:
I am a Jew! ... If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
|Bridge to the Jewish Ghetto|
Spoken, of course, by the character Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. So, even by Shakespeare's era, the relationship between Venice and its Jews was already complicated, to say the least.
As it turns out, Venetian Jews were forced to live in the Jewish Ghetto starting in 1516, some 80 years before Merchant of Venice was written.
It also turns out that the Jewish Ghetto in Venice was the first-ever Ghetto anywhere. In fact, our English word 'Ghetto' comes from the Venetian word 'geto' which (according to this site) means 'foundry.' The Jewish 'geto' in Venice was located on the site of an old foundry.
And another stunner in the story: the liberator of the Jews from Venice's Jewish Ghetto was - of all people - Napoleon, in 1797. I would never ever have guessed that!
|Synagogue entrance, Jewish Ghetto, Venice|
I took this photo in Venice because I thought the building's architectural details were pretty, especiallyits front door and the 'arch' (for lack of a better word) around and above it. I called the photo "The House at the End of the Bridge" because, as the sign to the right of the door says, it's at the end of Ponte Ubaldo Belli ("Ubaldo Belli Bridge") where Ubaldo Belli is a guy's first and last name.
But then I got curious: somewhere along the way, someone or some group named this ancient bridge after a guy named Ubaldo Belli. Who was he?
During World War II, Italy under Moussolini was an Axis power (along with Germany and Japan). Late in the war, in 1944, Nazi soldiers basically occupied Venice. That was fine with the fascists in Venice, but the Venetian anti-fascists opposed the Nazis either passively or actively.
On July 6, 1944, Nazi Marshal Bartolomeo Asara was killed by persons unknown. The Nazis were not exactly keen on due-process legal procedures; their policy was to strike back 10-to-1 and kill ten enemies for every one Nazi killed. So on the night of July 7-8, ten teams of three plainclothes Nazis were each dispatched to find and kill one anti-fascist. Their method was simple and brutal: in the dead of night, they would pound on the front door of their target's house, and then shoot in the head whoever answered the door.
Ubaldo Belli was one of the people killed that night by the Nazis.
He was felled instantly by a single gunshot right in the doorway of his own house, the doorway in the photo.
Every year on , Italy remembers its liberation from Fascism. This year marked the 70th anniversary of that liberation. In Venice, part of that remembrance is honoring those murdered, including Ubaldo Belli, in the "Massacre of Cannaregio". Cannaregio is a district within Venice, in the northwest corner of the island, that includes the Jewish Ghetto. My hotel in Venice was in the Cannaregio district, and this photo was taken a few blocks from where I stayed.
The plaque to the left of the door reads, roughly:
On the night of July 7 1944
Under the cup of Fascist barbarism / In testament of his death / The immortal idea of liberty
From the people of the city
I was just photographing a pretty doorway.
I had no idea.
Requiescat in pace, Signore Belli. Your courage and sacrifice have not been forgotten.