History Silvano Arieti The Parnas

ISBN 13: 9780465054527

The Parnas

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9780465054527: The Parnas

"The psychiatrist's insight and the storyteller's skill offer an absorbing tale."—Elie Wiesel

"A book to read again and again with the same piety with which it has been written. A rare event in publishing: at once an accurate and documented historical study, and in the interpretation made by one of today's greatest psychologists of a strange and symbolic disease."—Primo Levi

The Parnas recreates the final days of Giuseppe Pardo Roques, the lay leader, or parnas, of the Sephardic Jewish community of Pisa, Italy, who was killed in his home by the Nazis in August, 1944. Pardo was a mentor to the author, and, indeed, he was a figure adored and celebrated not only by the Jews of Pisa but by the Christians as well. He was learned and generous, but he was also profoundly phobic. Animals terrified him: so much so that he almost never left his house—except to go to the synagogue—for fear of encountering stray dogs or cats. At the outbreak of World War II, Arieti fled to America where he became a renown psychiatrist. But the parnas, despite a wealth of connections that could have helped him escape, was too phobic to flee Pisa. On the morning of August 1, 1944, Nazi soldiers, searching for Pardo's fabled riches, entered his home. The soldiers found neither gold nor silver, but they did find the parnas, along with six fellow Jews whom he was sheltering and five Christian neighbors. All were murdered. In The Parnas, Arieti imagines what took place in the home, and in the mind, of this devout, kindly, and tormented man in the last days of his life, providing, in the process, an overview of Italian Jewry. Arieti hopes to show "that tragic times have a perfume of their own, and smiles of hope, and traces of charm, and offer olive branches and late warnings that may not be too late."

"This is one of the most extraordinary stories yet to reach us from the bitter ashes of Nazism...Dr. Arieti weaves his story so beautifully that to unravel it would mean losing its dramatic effect. Suffice it to say that God, Jews, Christians, fascism, cowardice, and bravery are discussed throughout the story in such a way that the reader is at once shaken and enlightened as the plot unfolds. It is like a parable, suffused with the dignity of both the parnas and the author...a work of art."—New York Times Book Review

From the Foreword by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner: "In this brief, deceptively simple narrative, Arieti has told the story of Giuseppe Pardo, parnas (lay leader) of his native community of Pisa, and of his death at the hands of the Nazis. Pardo was the leading citizen of a small Jewish community that produced more that its share of distinguished Jews. He was a learned man, familiar with Bible, Talmud, and secular subjects. He was a wealthy man, and charitable to Jew and non-Jew alike. (He ultimately met his death together with six fellow Jews and five gentiles who had sought the protection of his home.) And he was a profoundly neurotic man, who had an irrational fear of animals, especially dogs. When he walked in the streets of Pisa—which was not often because of his fears—he would swing a cane from side to side behind him to drive away the imaginary animals. The distinguished psychiatrist tells of his strange life and equally strange death."


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About the Author:

Silvano Arieti (1914-1981) was born in Pisa and immigrated to New York in 1939, where he lived until his death. He enjoyed a distinguished career as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, with a particular interest in schizophrenia and depression. He was the editor-in-chief of the American Handbook of Psychiatry, and the author of numerous books on schizophrenia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction/Silvano Arietis The Parnas

Since the title of this book may strike readers as unfamiliar, they may have no inkling of what the book is about. To begin with, I must make it clear that most of what I am going to report is fact. I have known the main character of the story since my childhood. The other characters in the bookthe guests, the servants, neighbors, and the strange visitors on that eventful summerwere people who really existed. The names by which they identified are their real names. Only one character has been add a young man I have named Angelo Luzzato. He is a composite of several people, all real, and all known to the community I describe.

The events I am about to recount took place in my hometown, Pisa. When I returned there after an absence of many years, I interviewed witnesses to the events of my story, questioned people to verify what I had heard, and ascertained the truth of most of the things that I am going to report. When the people in my story speak, I have had to put into their mouths the words I thought they would be likely to say. In the case of the main character, whom I knew so well, this was easy. And in the thirty years more since I first heard the facts, began to collect the details and meditated over the meaning, these words have always been with me. Time and time again they have echoed through my mind.

This is a story of suffering and fear, but it is also more. It is the account of a discovery I made by means of that suffering, one that has deeply affected my life and my work. I have been a psychiatrist for many years, and the discovery concerns the nobility and greatness that are at times hidden within mental illness. Yes, I have come to believe that mental illness may hide and express the spirituality of man. It is my wish here to acquaint readers with my discovery by introducing them to the man who was called the parnas.

Central to my story is another illness, the epidemic of evil that seized Europe in the 1930S and 1940s and was the most ferocious of its kind ever to appear on earth. Since this illness swept over the Western world in our lifetime, it is incumbent upon us to expose it in the most minute detail. Each of us who survived has the obligation to reveal what he came to know. Sometimes one moment, fully understood, can shed light on the whole.

But I hope this book will show something else: that strange bond which at times links the nobility of the first and personal illness to the perversity of the second and social one. I hope the reader will join the main character of the story, and its author, in the search for this mysterious connection.

I have asked myself why I waited so long before writing this story. Why did I let long stretches of time pass during which I refused to think about this subject, so that several times I had to reattune myself to a story I knew so well? Whatever the answer, each time my mind and heart went back to the episodes narrated in this book, I saw new possibilities for meaning, and the hope was renewed that the day would come when I could share my understanding with others. That day has now come. It is now my duty to tell the story as I have come to see it. It is my sacred duty to do what I can so that the story and its characters will be remembered, and so that its meaning can be pondered.

I feel as if I had written this book not only with ink but also with blood. On page after page I could not evade the claims being made on my soul. It was not easy to return this way to a time that I might have been caught in but avoided, and that I now have to live over and over again. It was not easy to collect tears that I neither shed nor saw in others but that still burn in my eyes.

I hope this short book will also show that tragic times have a perfume of their own, and smiles of hope, and traces of charm, and offer olive branches and late warnings that may not be too late.

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Silvano Arieti
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