The Epistolary Diary Of Rita Levi Montalcini

Some terrible pages by a gentle girl who was the victim of racial laws:  Rita Levi Montalcini.

audrey_sel / CC BY-SA

Some terrible pages by a gentle girl who was the victim of racial laws: Rita Levi Montalcini.

Very beautiful, fragile, with a gaze identical to the one we are acquainted with thanks to the photographs of the centenarian woman born in Turin in 1909 who died in Rome in 2012.

She was appointed Senator at the age of 102, after having been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1986. The girl who wrote this terrible yet tender collection of correspondence was a writer similar to her peer Anne Frank, whose state of being in hiding has been immortalized on the pages of her diary.

The epistolary-diary by the Jewish girl has been brought to light by Leonardo Coen and represents a literary work of outstanding human and civil eloquence. It contains some letters where the young Rita expresses her gratitude to Ferruccio Galducci’s family from Florence, as she was given shelter in their apartment in Via Cavour 54. That is where she was hidden while waiting for the “great storm” to pass — a storm that had been unleashed by Giovanni Preziosi, with the support of Telesio Interlandi, against the Jewish people who were guilty of being as such.

In fact, three Jewish girls had found refuge in the apartment in Via Cavour; in the guise of Catholic girls from Apulia who were on their way to reuniting with their families.

There’s one question that is especially resonant in this epistolary-diary written by the child: and that question is “why?” Why is it a crime for a child to be Jewish, to the point of risking deportation in extermination camps? Why does race have to be defended against the presence of adolescents who, due to their age, cannot represent a threat for “Aryan society?”

Rita’s dress was never branded with the shameful star. The three “different” girls never wore the star of David on their dresses, nor did they attend the schools or have friends belonging to the master race. They all lived together in a small room, while waiting for a continuously deferred journey towards Apulia and their families.

Rita wondered: “What have I done to deserve this? Why can I not play and study along with the other girls? Why am I to blame for my parents having Jewish blood? Why can I not attend the Cascine park and its school, just like the other girls?”

Since she could not attend public school, the little girl had to make do with the lessons given by the landlady. The girl was practically self-taught, an  unauthorized schoolgirl, waiting to reach her family in Apulia; she dreamt of becoming a teacher or a doctor, which was rather improbable as the dreams of this little fugitive clashed with her being different.

The Nobel laureate had no idea of what toys actually were since books were her pastime. A vocation for medicine slowly dawned on the young girl during her period of hiding in Florence; along with a humanitarian penchant that caused Montalcini to become one of the most significant women of the twentieth century. She was in the midst of a scientific revolution without compare: decoding the genome, the use of increasingly technologically-advanced tools for a clear image of our organs, transplants, the creation of artificial tissues.

Medicine has developed both culturally and socially, the right to health is the conquest of civilizations that characterize the development of modern societies. Vaccines, antibiotics, new treatments, life-saving procedures, transplants, DNAs, artificial insemination: new medicine, new genetic horizons even beyond the limits of what seemed like science-fiction.

With all of the aforesaid acting as a backdrop to this scenario, genetics have taken colossal strides forwards and will help the children of our own children in defeating most diseases. Thank you, Rita Levi Montalcini, for teaching us that there is only one race in this world of ours: the human race.

Transaltion by Vittoria Anna Farallo

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