An internationally acclaimed novelist and journalist movingly chronicles her childhood in Rome during World War II, providing a rare account by a Catholic of Jewish persecution and Papal responsibility
In 1937, Rosetta Loy was a privileged five-year-old growing up in the heart of the well-to-do Catholic intelligentsia of Rome. But her childhood world of velvet and lace, airy apartments, indulgent nannies, and summers in the mountains was also the world of Mussolini's fascist regime and the increasing oppression of Italian Jews. Loy interweaves the two Italys of her early years, shifting with powerful effect from a lyrical evocation of the many comforts of her class to the accumulation of laws stipulating where Jews were forbidden to travel and what they were not allowed to buy, eat, wear, and read. She reveals the willful ignorance of her own family as one by one their neighbors disappeared, and indicts journalists and intellectuals for their blindness and passivity. And with hard-won clarity, she presents a dispassionate record of the role of the Vatican and the Catholic leadership in the devastation of Italy's Jews.
Written in crystalline prose, First Words offers an uncommon perspective on the Holocaust. In the process, Loy reveals one writer's struggle to reconcile her memories of a happy childhood with her adult knowledge that, hidden from her young eyes, one of the world's most horrifying tragedies was unfolding.
Born in 1931, Loy (The Dust Roads of Monferrato) grew up in a prosperous Catholic family in Rome, happy with her friends, her school, her orderly life. Now one of Italy's leading novelists and journalists, she looks back on the years between 1936 and 1943 to write a memoir in which she alternates between poetic memories of her privileged childhood and an embittered account of fascism in Italy, an evil to which she was then oblivious. While she played with her dolls and vacationed at the seashore, terrible events gradually overwhelmed the country--a press campaign to get the Italians to think about "race," stringent laws restricting the activities of Jews, Italy's entrance into the war, and its acceptance of the Final Solution. Loy's own family shifted between German-occupied Rome and the countryside; her father, an engineer, closed his office rather than collaborate with the Germans; food and clothing were scarce; and order disappeared from her life. But Loy writes that, as a child, none of these events made an impression on her. She was never really unhappy: life went on blissfully. She remembers especially her Catholic school and the nuns who arranged for the children to have an audience with Pius XII, who seemed to her then to be "circumfused by a sacred halo." Yet as an adult, she condemns the pope, who, unlike his predecessor Pius XI, made no statements decrying the Holocaust and remained stubbornly silent even concerning the extermination of Polish priests and clerics. Loy explains that, as a Roman Catholic, she carries an "unbearable burden." Her scathing denunciation of the Vatican's support of Hitler and the willful passivity of Italy's intelligentsia forms a powerful act of atonement.