Last week, Terry Gross interviewed the David Kertzer, the pulitzer prize winner and author of The Pope Who Would Be King. Kertzer’s book discusses pope Pius IX – who was the pope of the Roman Catholic church in the mid-19th century. Pius was pope during a major transition period in the history of Italy and in the Vatican. As Kertzer discusses, he was the last pope who ruled with king-like power over Rome, prior to the establishment of the modern Italian nation-state in the 1870s.
I listen to Fresh Air regularly. It didn’t cross my mind that this story would relate to the Holocaust – but it did.
A significant portion of Kertzer’s book is dedicated to the treatment of Roman Jewish under papal rule, and, as I found out, the Roman Catholic Popes – over the span of centuries – were responsible for confining Jews to overcrowded and diseased-ridden ghettos in Rome. Later, Kertzer discussed his Jewish identity as the impetus for writing about papal history. When Terry Gross asked if he had personal story or experience that prompted his interest in Rome and the papacy, Kertzer explained:
“Well, there is a personal story here. My father was actually a rabbi. And he was a chaplain to the American troops who landed at Anzio in the beginning of 1944 seeking to liberate Rome, which was then in Nazi hands. And he was with the troops that marched into Rome a few months later in June. And a few days after that, he together with the chief rabbi of Rome conducted the first service in the Great Synagogue of Rome after liberation.
“It was an incredibly dramatic scene because thousands of Jews of Rome had been in hiding. Many, of course, had been carted off to Auschwitz to their murder. So those who remained came out of hiding and looking in the synagogue that evening to see who had survived. And so as I grew up and hearing these stories from my father, this certainly influenced both my love for Italy but also my interest in some of this history.”
I listen to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on a regular basis. I found this interview via podcast.