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David Kertzer – The Kidnapping of

Edgardo Mortara

Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science, Professor of Anthropology,

and Professor of Italian Studies at Brown University.


Pulitzer Prize Winner


Selected works:

  • The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Vintage 1998

  • Family Life in Central Italy, 1880–1910

  • Politics and Symbols: The Italian Communist Party and the Fall of Communism.

  • The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism New York: Knopf, 2001.

  • The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe Random House, 24 April 2018.

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Episode #1

Q: Professor David Kertzer – The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – Intro


  • Anthropologist & Social Historian

  • Focus Italian History

  • Heard about the Kidnapping

  • Surprised that historians were not aware

  • Interested in project for broader audience

Episode #2

Q: The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – Italy 1858


  • Tense Period

  • Time of Risorgimento – National Unification

  • Attempt to unify Italy

  • Patchwork of kingdoms & duchesses

  • Papal State from Rome to Bologna

  • Pope out of Rome for a year under Napoleon

  • French then back Pope

  • Jewish Ghetto Rome since 16th Century

  • Freedom for Jews in northwest Italy

Episode #3

Q: DP Camps – Jewish survivors placed with Nazi murderers?!


  • Papal State with political control

  • Italian Inquisition

  • Jewish afraid for their children

  • June 1858 knock on door of Mortara home

  • Police take away 6 year old Edgardo

  • Edgardo purportedly secretly baptized

  • Taken to House of Catechumens

  • Impact in Italian unification, Count Cavour

Episode #4

Q: The Kidnapping of Egardo Mortara – Italian Inquisition:


  • Different Inquisition over history

  • Spanish Inquisition earlier

  • Rome / Papal Inquisition from 16th century

  • Network of Dominican monks

  • Until 20th century

Episode #5

Q:  The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – Why Did The Pope get Involved?


  • Italian Jewish Communities gaining rights

  • Usually appealed to Pope in such cases

  • Kidnapping get press in Europe and USA

  • French protecting Papal Rome

  • Napoleon III sends ambassador to pressure Pope

  • Pope views himself as Edgardo’s new father

Episode #6

Q: The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – International Response?


  • International Jewry – Organized Response

  • Led to establishment of French Alliance Israélite Universelle 

  • Coming off of Damascus Blood Libel

  • Moses Montefiore attempts for Edagrdo’s release

  • Protests in USA

  • Anti-Catholic sentiment

Episode #7

Q: The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – Why were Efforts to Release Unsuccessful?


  • Could Church find excuse to release Edgardo

  • Perhaps he wasn’t really baptized

  • Servant girl claims she baptized 1 year old Edgardo

  • Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli favored release

  • Pope stood firm citing Church Canon Law

Episode #8

Q: The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara - How did it Impact on Power of Church?


  • Kidnapping contributed to unification of Italy

  • And to fall of Papal States

  • French Emperor took a hostile view to Papal States

  • Joined Victor Emanuel to end Papal States

  • 1 year to date after Kidnapping,  June 1859

Episode #9

Q: What Are the Lessons for Young People?


  • Separation of Church & State

  • Individual & family rights

  • No infringement by religious institutions

  • See this in contemporary issues

Episode #10

Q: Did Edgardo and his family reunite?


  • Family attempt to get Edgardo released

  • Taken to seminary; trained

  • Papal Rome falls in 1870

  • Edgardo now 19

  • Reunited but Edgardo firmly Christian

Episode #11

Q: What Archives were used?


  • Bologna Inquisition Archives

  • Criminal Case records from 1860

  • 700 pages of police notes

  • Vatican Archives

  • Jewish Community Rome Archives

Episode #12

Q: Will there be a Steven Spielberg Movie?


  • Spielberg read book twice

  • Hired screenwriter Tony Kirschner

  • Screenplay completed

  • Actors hired

  • 4,000 auditions for role of Edgardo

  • Spielberg not yet satisfied

Full Interview - David Kertzer

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