Alessandro Cassin (Centro Primo Levi) in conversation with Hans von Trotha (author) and David Kertzer (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Pope and Mussolini). REGISTER HERE A fascinating novel illuminates the chasm between
Alessandro Cassin (Centro Primo Levi) in conversation with Hans von Trotha (author) and David Kertzer (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Pope and Mussolini).
A fascinating novel illuminates the chasm between civilization and barbarism by spotlighting a little-known figure devoted to knowledge and the power of artistic creation: Ludwig Pollak.
Born in Prague in 1868, Pollak was an archeologist, collector, antiquarian who lived in Rome for almost 50 years. A profound connoisseur of Mediterranean cultures, he traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire: the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. He is known above all for his discovery of the original arm of the statue of “Laocoön” (Vatican Museums) and for the identification of the famous “Athena Stroganoff” (Liebieghaus in Frankfurt). The Pollak family was among more than one thousand Roman Jews who were arrested on October 16th, 1943, and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The novel’s plot re-enacts in a fictional form Pollak’s last evening before the round-up: October 16, 1943, inside the Vatican as darkness descends upon Rome. Having been alerted to the Nazi plan to round up the city’s Jewish population the next day, Monsignor F. dispatches an envoy to a nearby palazzo to bring Ludwig Pollak and his family to safety within the papal premises. But Pollak shows himself in no hurry to leave his home and accept the eleventh-hour offer of refuge. Pollak’s visitor is obliged to take a seat and listen as he recounts his life story: how he studied archaeology in Prague, his passion for Italy and Goethe, how he became a renowned antiquities dealer and advisor to great collectors like J. P. Morgan and the Austro-Hungarian emperor after his own Jewishness barred him from an academic career, and finally his spectacular discovery of the missing arm from the majestic ancient sculpture of Laocoön and his sons. Torn between hearing Pollak’s spellbinding tale and the urgent mission to save the archaeologist from certain annihilation, the Vatican’s anxious messenger presses him to make haste and depart.
Von Trotha’s main narrative device plays with a controversial topic that was recently reignited by the opening of the Vatican Archives. What did the Vatican know about the plan to deport the Roman Jews and what did they do or didn’t?
While setting the stage for a benevolent attitude of the Church and their attempt to save Ludwig Pollak and his family, Von Trotha also implies something quite radical: that the Church knew and let the round up of over 1,000 men women and children proceed. The author and David Kertzer, one of the main experts of the history of the Vatican and the persecution of the Jews will discuss fiction and history with Alessandro Cassin.