THE GHETTO OF VENICE by Riccardo Calimani


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This detailed study traces the Venetian Ghetto from its 16th-century beginnings to the Fascist depredations of 1943-45. In the telling, Calimani not only untangles the complicated social, religious, political, and cultural strands that make up the story and weaves them into a colorful tapestry, he brings to life scores of scholars and scoundrels, financiers and fanatics who made their home in the crowded walled enclave. In addition, he explodes many of the popular myths that have grown up about ghetto life. Calimani points out, for instance, that ""ghetto-ization"" was not exclusively an anti-Jewish phenomenon. German residents of Venice during the early years were also confined to a special quarter, and in Alexandria, Egypt, Venetians themselves were forced to live in an area separated from the Moslem population, and were locked in at night. Calimani also lays to rest the concept that life for Jews during earlier centuries was an unremitting round of persecution and vilification. To the contrary, in many periods Jews enjoyed privileges denied to non-Jewish Venetians. Calimani is most evocative when he is recounting the lives of ordinary Jews like the 16th-century Marrano, Elena de Freschi Olivi, who got into trouble with Christian authorities by, among other things, making a few blasphemous comments about the Virgin Mary. Among the other topics: messianic expectations, money lending and usury, the Inquisition, and anti-Semitic propaganda, all of which Calimani handles with exemplary thoroughness and lack of sensationalism. Aided by Katherine Silberblatt Wolfthal's smooth and lively translation, and presumably by an (unseen) introduction from Elie Wiesenthal, Calimani has here rendered Venice's Ghetto in distinctive, memorable style.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Evans