Posted by: 4initalia | September 30, 2012

If These Walls Could Talk

In Europe, I read the walls.  Historians stack facts, organize events, and bind them into books, but the history of ordinary people is hanging on plaques all over Europe. As I walk in Italy, I search the walls for their memories of what happened here, where I stand.

Plaques – in iron, in marble, in stone – mark the homes of politicians, poets and painters, but also the places where lives were lost, so every generation will forever remember the people who lived and died for Italy. But the people who died were  also the people who once read the walls. So these walls not only stand for remembrance, they span history, and unite generations.

Strolling through the small Italian town of Ferrara, history murmurs from every facade. On a street that has been a neighborhood since the Renaissance there is a simple villa of grayed stone.  An elaborate marble plaque nestles next to a small square window that holds the entrails of a long-dead potted plant. According to the plaque, the poet who lived here quite literally captured the imagination of Italy.  But I didn’t write down his name, and an internet search tells me only that in 1602, Ferrara bustled with wandering poets. Imagine a town of poets, wondering at walls.

On another street, another tribute hangs in silent sunlight:

A devoto ricordo

di tutti coloro che sotto

questa mura cercando

refugio persero la vita

per bombardiemento aero.

28 gennaio 1944

Here is the translation:

“Devoted to the memory

of those who under this wall

lost their lives seeking refuge

from aerial bombardment”

January 28,1944″


People died, here. They crouched against this wall while bombs fell. Ten years later, in 1954, their grieving families etched those lives into history.

A third plaque hangs on the wall of the Ferrara train station. This one buckles my knees.

“Oh, $(#*!” I blurt, and my son is shocked. But this is what it says:

In questa stazione

il 19 Ottobre 1943

Sosto il treno della Shoah

con 1023 Ebrei di Roma

Diportate dei Nazi

verso lo stermino di Auschwitz

In this station, on October 19, 1943,  the Shoah Train stopped, carrying 1023 Roman Jews who were deported by the Nazis and taken to extermination in Auschwitz.


These walls have shadowed poets, strolling lovers, lagging children. Sometimes they offered refuge, from sun, from rain, from bombs.  The Ferrara train station has always been crowded with families. But sometimes Roman neighbors – parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents – were fighting for breath in a cattle car, rolling toward death.

If these walls could talk? They do. You just have to know what they say.


  1. Oh, my. I am crying with you at the words of the wall. Such stories behind those words.

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