More than a mere geographical entity, Europe is a civilisation firmly anchored in ancient Greco-Roman culture and Christianity, and its centre of gravity is the Mediterranean Sea. Europe is an open, multi-faceted world where multiple cultural identities have crossed paths, where East and West, North and South have met and permeated each other over the centuries. The “Rediscovering Europe” series leads readers through streets and venues that continue to reflect this shared heritage.
Rediscovering important Jewish sites means looking at Europe from the standpoint of a minority, the only one that, within a context of significant constraints and discrimination, was allowed to live in the Christian world – initially (in medieval and modern times) within strict social boundaries (including ghettos) and stratification, later in more unfettered circumstances as citizens of nation-states. From Rome, the cradle of the Jewish presence in Europe, to Auschwitz, the venue of a concentration camp, the book winds its way through the most prosperous and culturally significant communities in Europe throughout history: from Apulia to Toledo and all of Spain; from Cologne and Germany’s Rhine region, with its Ashkenazi communities, to Palermo and several other centres in northern Italy; from Lisbon to Venice and Amsterdam (diaspora destinations), to Berlin, the heart of Jewish enlightenment in the 19th century; from Hamburg to Paris, where Jewish emancipation encountered a significant setback during the Dreyfus affair; from Odessa to Weimar, the so-called “Republic of the Jews”, a major upsurge of Jewish creativity subsequently destroyed by Nazism.
Anna Foa formerly taught Modern History at the Sapienza University in Rome and is an expert on the cultural history in the early modern era, the history of mentality and Jewish history.