May 11th, 2020
Welcome to Story Well, where we dive into life's mysteries, beauties and complications. I'm over the moon excited to begin this adventure!
Before I start today's blog post, I'd like to share with you the three blog series' I have planned for the next few months. The first is DEVIANTS, short biographies of exceptional women that dared to be more than normal, and changed the world because of it.
The second is UNBEARABLE CROSS, an in-depth discussion of the Christian faith's treatment of mental illness through a historical, biographical lens. I hope this series sparks much needed discussion about how we view both faith & mental health.
The third series is ARTISTS, which spotlights creatives, past & present, to tell their life story and how it shaped their art. ARTISTS is a celebration of creativity & those that are brave enough to fully embrace it.
My posting schedule will look like DEVIANTS one week, UNBEARABLE CROSS the next, and ARTISTS the third week, to keep it interesting! This will be for about 9 weeks, after which I will begin a new blog series!
I hope you enjoy - and now, onto the first-ever official Story Well post. This is the incredible tale of Luce D'Eramo.
Deviants: Luce D'Eramo's Story
Liberation was her creed -
freedom from the physical and mental constraints that bind so many of us. She spent her life searching for this elusive emancipation, and indeed, her writings leave behind many clues.
1925, Reims, France. Lucette Mangione, lovingly nicknamed 'Lucetta' by Italian parents, is born. She is the youngest of three sisters, but the eldest is long gone, having died in infancy, her memory forever haunting the family.
Her father's work as a painter leads the family to Paris, where Lucetta grows accustomed to the big-city whirl of political thought and rampant modernity. In fact, a left-wing worker's movement holds demonstrations just below her house.
The Mangiones, however, are the opposite of the worker's Front Populaire. They are Italian, and middle-class, and sympathetic to Il Duce. Mrs. Mangione works as a volunteer secretary for the Italian Fascio, a political group lead by dictator Benito Mussolini.
When she is 14, Lucetta and her family move back to Italy. Lucetta's ancestral Central Italy is a world away from the revolutionary Paris she knew. It is rural, backwater, a land of bread, olives and wine. It is a place with priests and nuns on every corner, brimming with barefoot religious pilgrims, who clap and sing at the top of their lungs. It is the antithesis to sophisticated city life.
Lucetta is a fish out of water. She feels like an outsider, separate from the world - rootless.
Then, World War II erupts.
For the second time in 21 years, Europe is turned upside down. Germany is hungry for world domination, hidden horrors lurking beneath its' polished surface. France and Britian are scrambling, and failing, to protect Poland and keep their promise. Men traumatized by the trenches in the first Great War are terrified of being called up once again. It had been called the war to end all others, and yet, a fight had begun anew.
And in Italy, the Mangiones find themselves on the winning side - for now. The father joins the Air Force, and eighteen-year-old Lucetta joins the GUF, the Association of Fascist Students.
In 1943, her father becomes the undersecretary in the Italian Republic of Saló's Ministry of Propaganda. The Republic of Saló is nothing more than a fascist German puppet state, but Mr. Mangione is deeply devoted. So too, is Lucetta, who finds herself at a university filled with German-sympathetic revolutionaries.
But Lucetta doesn't care about revolution. A devout Catholic, she believes in a new world of peace and provenance, and believes Mussolini, and by extension, Hitler, can deliver that. Until she hears something.
Lucetta is told horrific tales of what is taking place in Germany. Unable to believe what she has heard, faithful in her upbringing, she decides to find out the truth for herself.
Against her father's wishes, Lucetta leaves home and joins a volunteer labor camp in Nazi Germany.
What she witnesses there will change her forever.
The stench of death and illness surrounds the camp. The backbreaking work never ends; the portions are meager; people are bitter, deprived and exhausted. The 19-year-old girl is doubting everything she once knew. She drops the Italian '-etta,' and simply becomes Lucie, no longer the darling daughter of a patriotic father, instead - herself.
Lucie joins the French laborers in a strike against the unfair conditions. She is captured, imprisoned, and in sheer desperation, attempts suicide. She survives; survival against all odds is to be a common theme in her life.
When the Nazis discover her identity, she is sent home from the labor camps. But Lucie knows she cannot go back. She can never be who she once was; home is no longer home.
Home is no longer home.
Passing through Verona, she escapes, impulsively throwing away her documentation and blending in with a bunch of ragged German prisoners crammed in a cart headed to destination-who-knows-where. This decision will haunt her until she dies.
Picture this: the cart bumps violently along a dirt road. Long trails of smoke curl like dark ribbons up through the gray sky. Half-dead human skeletons wander the barracks, a hopeless, haunted look in their empty eyes.
This is Dachau, the first concentration camp.
The centerpoint from which all Nazi horrors radiate, the death camp where torture is on ever corner - humiliation, starvation, typhus, euthanasia, nakedness, medical experiments.
They are Communists, unionists, Jehovah's witnesses, homosexuals, Roma, political prisoners, Jews. And one of them is a young Italian woman who once ran away from home to prove Hitler right.
Lucetta Mangione was a dreamer, a bright-minded, beautiful girl.
Lucie has no family, no name, and no hope.
The suffering that surrounds Lucie is too much for her to bear. One afternoon, when the air raid sirens scream, Lucie escapes. She can brave British bombs. She can't face another day in Dachau.
Things don't get much easier away from the death camp. Lucie is stranded in an apocalyptic Germany far from the paradise Hitler promised.
Alone in a strange land, the memory of Dachau overwhelms her mind.
Eventually, these memories will be repressed, and it will take years for them to surface. Lucie hides her identity and takes on difficult, underpaying work to survive. Germany is riddled with Allied bombs. The air raid sirens are simply the soundtrack to everyday life.
The country is desolate from north to south. No longer an Aryan dreamland - was it ever? Still Lucie cannot bring herself to go home. Though she would be welcomed with relief and open arms, she can't return to the life of Lucetta.
Still Lucie cannot bring herself to go home.
It's 1945, and the war ends with Hitler dead in a bunker and a nation paralyzed. Lucie barely notices. Her latest job is to repair a building that's been bombed hollow. It's risky work. When the building crumbles, Lucie is pinned underneath the rubble. Her spine is crushed. She is rushed to the hospital, where she drifts in and out of feverish delusions.
Once more, miraculously, she survives. The hospital's nuns are astounded. As she recovers, so does her witty, encouraging personality, and she quickly becomes a favorite among the staff and fellow patients.
Despite her protests, she is sent to Italy to further heal. In the clinic, she meets Pacifico D'Eramo. The two get married and by 1947, have a son, Marco. Lucetta Mangione has become Lucie has become Luce D'Eramo. Finally a name that carries no scars.
Although the couple lives in Rome, where Lucetta attended college, she will never see her family again. She's unable to face them. However, as time goes on -
Luce D'Eramo finds peace through writing.
Her first story, Thomasbrau, describes the confusion and disarray of her early days in the labor camps. In 1963, she writes a short novel confronting the trauma of being confined to a wheelchair at age nineteen.
Three years later, Luce meets Ignazio Silone, an influential Anti-fascist novelist. The two quickly become friends for life. She publishes a critically acclaimed review of the unfair reception Silone recieved from the press, examining how the Italian culture resisted him despite his meteoric rise.
Her career is growing as her hasty youthful marriage to Pacifico falls apart. They divorce, but Luce keeps the name. She has no other to turn to.
Her stories examine the suppression and liberation of the human body and spirit, the darkness of her past threading through each sentence. She writes of loneliness and alienation. How it feels to be an outcast. She sympathizes with everyone - the elderly, the mentally ill. She even manages to capture the inner mind of a Nazi skinhead.
After thirty years of writing, her masterwork is published, an autobiographical novel entitled Deviation.
Both Thomasbrau and the wheelchair story are included, along with other segments. Deviation slowly, hauntingly unwinds Luce's past, delving into her repressed and mysterious memories. It is a dramatic rendering of her youth, but it also therapy. Through Deviation, Luce reconciles the fragmented pieces of herself and becomes whole.
Deviation, considered an essential piece of Holocaust literature, cements Luce D'Eramo in Italian memory. Her writing is a dizzying journey through the mind and heart, and it captivates the public.
In 2001, Luce D'Eramo, a deviant, an artist and a survivor, dies. She is buried in Rome nearby the poet John Keats.
Although she struggled with her past throughout her life, Luce died at peace, and her art changed lives for years to come.
Her birth name, Lucette, meant Graceful Light. And into graceful light she returned.
May her memory, and the memory of all shattered by Hitler's crimes, live on.