The day that changed my life

Written by  Cesare Moise' Finzi

The experiences of a Jewish boy from Ferrara in a children's bookCesare Finzi and his yonger brother Manlio, dressed for Purim in ferrara (1938).

It is 3 September 1938 and I am a happy little eight-year old boy. I walk towards the town centre of Folgaria with 30 cents in my pocket. Papa arrived yesterday evening, and my job today is to go buy the Corriere Padano, the local Ferrara newspaper. I can't find it because holiday villages don't get the regional papers once August has ended.

All they have are the national newspapers, so I buy the Corriere della Sera and start off for home. As I make my way, I open the paper, and notice a large headline, taking up the whole page. Unfortunately, by now I'm old enough to read: JEWISH TEACHERS AND STUDENTS no admittance to State or officially recognised schools. I immediately understand that this is something thatA newborn Cesare Finzi  with his wet nurse. concerns me: I am due to start fourth class in October at the Umberto I primary school in Ferrara. What do these words mean? I won't be able to go to school any more? Why not? Yes, I'm Jewish, but what difference is there between me and the other kids? And even if there were a difference, why does that mean I can't go to school any more? To tell the truth, I've never really been a particularly brilliant student, or even liked school all that much, but honestly, I can't even go back? My eyes mist over. Am I going to cry? No, maybe not, but when I get home I throw myself into my mother's arms. The adults gather around me, dismayed, confused, offended. Even incredulous. They read and re-read the headlines, than all the articles. [...] And still life goes on. It has to go on. We go back to the city. Our parents try to play it down, to reassure us - what do you think is really going to change anyway? What does anybody know? We don't have the word Jew written on our foreheads. And anyway, what difference does it make? [...] I go to Massari park one afternoon with my mother and brotherIn 1934, in Ortisei,  with his mother and father Manlio. When I get there I see my friends playing on the grass. As my mother sits on an empty bench, I run towards them to play. Then a friend of my mother's calls her son and walks off without even greeting my mother. This lady has been to our home a few times and we often visited her nice house. Following her example, other ladies call their children and head off. I am left alone. So mamma, who acts as if nothing has happened, calls me, gets up from the bench, and brings us for a long walk in town. I don't immediately understand what this episode means as my parents do everything to spare me from having to experience the anguish of discrimination. However, it just takes a few days for me to relate this episode to the rapid changes happening in our lives. We won't return to Massari park for a long time after that. Now we go to the other park in the city, Montagnone, when mamma wants to take us out. There are other benches there and you can see the surrounding Po plain from the top of the wall, but there's no comparison with our beloved Massari park. [...]The Finzi’s family shop  in via Mazzini 93. Even before the schools go back, I become aware of other changes - since we have come back to the city, we have never gone out alone or with the maid again. We're always with mamma. However, our walks are getting shorter and shorter, and generally have a specific purpose. Either we go to visit other Jewish families, relatives or acquaintances, or we do the shopping, almost always in the shops in Via Mazzini or in Piazza Trento e Trieste - at any rate close to the old ghetto area. The only shop that we go to outside of this area is the fabric shop. It is owned by the Mazzilli family and is at the corner of Via Bersaglieri del Po and Via Gorgadello. One of the Mazzilli brothers came to greet us very enthusiasticallyThe pupils of the  jewish school of Ferrara, in their fascist uniforms. Cesare is the first  from left in the second row. the first time we went there after the introduction of the racial laws. This made an impression on me and touched mamma. However, the Mazzillis aren't the only acquaintances that don't' shun us. The barber continued to cut my hair; the butcher Artioli continued to sell us meat; Vencenzo Serra and Tito Felletti, two boys who live in our building that are the same age as Manlio still come to play with us in the courtyard; Anna and Grazia Meletti, daughters of William, our tailor, a fervent fascist, but a good friend of papa's, play with us as if nothing was wrong. "So, not all Christians are equal" I say to myself. I am veryCesare Moisé Finzi Il  giorno che cambiò la mia vita Collana “Gli anni in tasca” Milano,  Topipittori, 2009 Cesare Finziconfused and often find myself thinking "fascists aren't all equal either, there are good ones and bad ones, just like everyone". How will I be able to recognise them and how can they recognise us? Of course I was circumcised and I noticed the difference between myself and my Catholic friends (a small difference really). But how can they tell who I am when I have my trousers on? A short while later I come across a few cartoons: the Jews are shown as ugly, animal-like creatures, almost devils. But I've never seen anyone who looked like that, at school or at the synagogue. It seems that I don't know anything any more: in fact, it isn't easy to understand.