Silvia Marchetti

In La parola ebreo Rosetta Loy traces her own becoming of the word ‘ebreo’ by juxtaposing it with the transformation of this word in Fascist Italy up to the mass deportation of Italian Jews in 1943. Narration splits into two voices: the child narrator, who is ‘blind’ to political events and understands “la parola ebreo” through the filter of her domestic and familiar realm, populated by her Jewish neighbors, and the adult narrator, who attempts to fill the child’s lacunae through historical research. In the process, Loy is able to show how the child’s blindness reflected a collective, purposeful refusal to see and indifference on the part of Christians, including Pope Pious XII himself, thus underscoring the need to acknowledge and assume collective responsibility for the Shoah. The tragicity and absurdity of Jewish persecution is dramatized by the fact that Loy, in returning to her childhood, explores the time before the Shoah, during which no separation and difference existed between Jews and non-Jews. The adoption of a greater temporal dimension allows Loy to bear witness, without being a witness, to the Shoah and her indirect relationship to the event – being Catholic and having never experienced discrimination and persecution – underlines the importance of maintaining a certain distance from it. As a matter of fact, by providing her familiar and yet distant view, Loy challenges the mode of Holocaust representation that, through overly repeated phrases and images, leads to familiarization with the Shoah and gives the illusion of directly knowing it. Through her account of Giorgio Levi’s story, deported to Auschwitz, which culminates in an unverbalizable silence, Loy bears witness because, as Giorgio Agamben would claim, her language gives way to a non-language, thus showing the impossibility of providing complete testimony.

Keywords: Private memory, public history, Rosetta Loy, testimony, familiar distance