Hidden Moments of Humanity

Every now and then I come across something in my research that stops me in my tracks. A moment raw and human lying forgotten amongst the enormity of history that somehow still manages to speak for itself with quiet unassuming dignity.
I found a moment like this recently. A few lines in a diary from 1943 that made me pause and assess everything I knew, or thought I knew about the morality of World War Two.
By December 1943, Rome had been under German occupation for three months and the religious houses all over the city were full of refugees. In the early hours of December 22, the sheltered peace of the men hiding in three of these houses was shattered when, in flagrant disregard of the Lateran treaty that protected all pontifical property, a group of armed fascists forced their way in to search for patriots and Jews. Many got away, some were caught.
One of the properties raided was the Russicum, the college for Russian Church students. Three men were arrested, and as the fascists were leaving the leader turned to the Rector and asked him: ‘Why did you hide these men?’
He answered: ‘For the same reason for which I shall probably be hiding you before long.’
The humanity of this response has stayed with me. Such a simple response, such powerful compassion behind it. In that one sentence the politics, the bloodshed and the importance of everything the government argued about and the soldiers enforced slipped away. For this Rector nationalism, religion, political creed, guilt or innocence didn’t matter. For him all that mattered was the fact that there were fellow human beings in need, men that he was in a position to help.
At first, I must admit, I found the Rector’s response a bit counter-intuitive. The fascists, the Germans, they were the enemy. Why would you hide them? Why would you shelter them from the consequences of their own evil deeds? But as I thought on it, and I did think on it because that simple response stuck with me throughout the day, I realised it was not the Rector’s intention to save a man from answering for his crimes. He was not talking about hiding a man from justice. He was talking about protecting a human life, and maybe even giving a second chance to a damaged soul. No matter what. Perhaps, in a spiritual sense, the fascists and the Nazis needed his help more than anyone else, and he was clear-sighted enough to realise that.

I wonder if the Fascist commander realised that too?

Have you come across any hidden moments of humanity in your reading or research? Tell me about them in the comments below, and if you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
On another note, tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, a challenge that writers all over the world participate in to try to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I’ll be trying to get my historical novel finished during NaNoWriMo this year, and probably not sleeping a whole lot in the mean time. So, if you’re also NaNo-ing, good luck! I’ll be burying my head in 1943, trying to keep my heroine out of trouble (while at the same time pitching her into it) and getting my head around just what could and couldn’t be purchased in a city that was cut off from the southern end of their country. If you’d like to know more about the novel I’m working on, you can check it out here. Until then, I’ll see you next week!

8 thoughts on “Hidden Moments of Humanity

  1. Well… Have to say that like you my first thought was the Rector was being counter-intuitive with that comment. But the more I thought about it the more I understood it, he was in the business of saving lives and it did not matter to him what they had done, so long as they had the chance to redeem themselves. Profound, but also idealistic I think. Still, it is people like him that give hope and make the world a better place. Thank you for sharing, I like things like this that make history real.

    Good luck with NaNo and hopefully you won’t be too lacking in sleep by the end of November! I have no doubt you will finish your novel and I can’t wait to read it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sam! I love your support, I feel a little overwhelmed by the job ahead!
      I love writing historical fiction so much, finding the detail amongst the drama. There’s a whole new field of history on this ‘little’ history called the history of emotions. I get my arts student sister to keep me updated 🙂
      I like what you said about the Rector’s idealism. I think people that can be idealistic under such circumstances are incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t realize there is a new field called history of emotions, that’s awesome and something I so would have studied at uni.
        And I think it’s natural to feel overwhelmed 🙂 Do you find it easier having to work with details? Personally I like being able to make stuff up considering I’ve created an entire world. I think I would constantly screw it up if I had to be conscious of history as well as the story line. But I suppose that’s why you plot things?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I was not much of a plotter until I got into the historical aspect of the novel and then I plotted my life out! I kind of like the challenge of making it all fit- like a jigsaw 🙂 do you have a big book of all the details of your world? How do you keep track of it all?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I write some things down. I have a pink folder were I started to keep notes but honestly I suck at it. I should really do it as it will save me time in the long run. In reality I try to remember the details, which is a bit of a hassle when I take break from writing 🙂
        What I’m planning on doing when Nanowrimo is finished is going over my first book, taking notes and then doing the same with the current WIP. Hopefully that will show up any inconsistencies.


  2. Lovely post. I always find history relating to that period intriguing.
    I also liked the NaNo reference at the end of your post! Everyone is one week into it now (7 Nov) and thanks to NaNo, I’m a little behind on my blog reading…
    Hope you’re ‘winning’ NaNo so far! Good look for the rest of the month.


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