The first good news of 2021 is delivered by the Superintendence for the Archival and Bibliographical Goods in Emilia-Romagna: the restoration of the 96 books of Villa Emma’s kids is completed. I remember when news of the finding spread out. The books were found in 2002 in an attic in Nonantola, near Modena. A primary school teacher had saved them. This library, made for unaccompanied, fleeing minors might be a resource for our present.
At the time of the finding, I was overwhelmed with emotion. World War II is also an adventure novel made of lost papers, burnt papers, as well as rescued papers. I remember writing about it as soon as I was informed on the matter: I had a first list of those volumes, which were for the most part written in German (Hamelin, Storia e Storie 27, 2011). A library like no other, a rescue of books that would need a Tribunal of the Righteous. The Righteous ones aren’t just those who save a life: saving a book deserves recognition just as well.
I recall being impressed by the substantial presence of literary texts, as well as M.H. Levy’s books of biblical stories for schools – the illustrated volume “Zweimal zweiundfünfzig biblische Geschichten” (Fifty biblical short stories, 1906). Also of notice, the “Hebrew Grammar and Reader for Schools and Selfinstruction, with a Key and Vocabulary. Being the first practical Handbook for Teaching the Spoken and Written Hebrew Language. Introduction in the Literature” by M. Rath (1920-1921).
What do teachers bring along when they have to run away with their students? Who finds books for students during rough times? In Nonantola, Italian books arrived through Genoa’s Delasem (Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants), which availed themselves of the “Gerco Circulating Library, via XX Settembre 10, opposite Oriental Market”, as the stamp reads.
It’s just nearby the street vendors close to the station we all remember fondly. Pedagogy books have a considerable presence in the collection, especially Ellen Key’s. As far as literature goes, there are Maeterlink and Hauptmann; obviously Zweig and Mann; surprisingly Tagore and Sterne.
These books will find hospitality in the forthcoming Villa Emma Museum, and they will serve as a cautionary tale for future visitors: you can overcome hardship by reading ad studying. Life rises from the ashes of destruction. From a seed found in a pyramid, today can grow a ripening harvest, an ancient Egyptian legend told. The same will happen to the seeds found in a teacher’s attic in Nonantola, a teacher who was able to ensure a future for our memories.
Translated by Silvia Bozzo and revised by Antonella Losavio, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.