A library of exile: Edmund de Waal on Venice's Jewish Ghetto

Photo of A library of exile: Edmund de Waal on Venice's Jewish Ghetto

In 1516, Venice’s Jewish population was forced into one small area of the city. Now the writer and artist has created artworks expressing a history of displacement and loss

My day begins in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo. It is early morning and I am nursing a cup of coffee and the first of my bag of almond dolci ebraici veneziani, still warm from the bakery. They are rather too good, a hardness that gives way to almond crumbs. It is quiet but I can just make out the sound of the water from the fountain as the children clatter on their way to school and the metal shutters go up across the canal.

This Venetian square is a very special place. There is no church, there are no public buildings, there are no grand thresholds with runs of stairs; everything seems held back, contained. You notice that there are five taller arched windows in one wall, that you can just see a modest domed skylight that indicates the apse of a synagogue. You notice the stone embedded in the wall has a Hebrew inscription from Psalm 32: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him.” The tablet high up on the wall commemorates the deportations of 1943. This is the ghetto.

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