City Library – Renato Maestro’s Books, Venice Ghetto
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Thick yellowing pages sewed within leather-bound volumes. Ancient threads escaping out of cracked spines. Centuries-old letters tucked inside spotlessly white envelopes. Bundles of very old newspapers. And boxes after boxes marked ‘Fragile’.
This is a world of Judaism that lies safe behind the bullet-proof windows of Renato Maestro Library and Archive–the building lies almost unseen in one corner of the Jewish district of Venice. The world’s first ghetto is observing its 500th anniversary this year.
The Delhi Walla recently spent a long afternoon in the library, randomly taking out these old books from their metal shelves, feeling their heavy weight, turning over their antique pages and moving the eager fingers over Hebrew characters that were printed ages before the Holocaust.
This collection of about 12,000 books lies within aluminum vaults. Owned by the Jewish community of Venice, the library got its name from its principal donor, a Venetian Jew who gave away his collection in the early 1980s.
“It’s not only a store of books but also of old manuscripts and letters and even scrolls,” says Barbara Del Mercato, a Catholic atheist who works for the Jewish community and is in charge of events that are being planned to commemorate the ghetto’s 500 years. “I have seen people coming here to offer letters they received from Jewish families during the Fascist period. Last week a man in his 80s arrived with some infamous anti-Semitic periodicals that were issued during the Fascist rule… he said his father was a Fascistissimo (super Fascist).”
Unfortunately, this precious library lacks a librarian, though it had one. Chiara Camarda’s contract expired in December 2015 and could not be renewed because of the shortage of funds. This is no enduring loss to her, however. The subject of Ms Camarda’s PhD thesis is this library.
A world preserved
2. (Barbara Del Mercato)