The year was 1946, a turning point in the history of Italy. It was the year of the referendum in which citizens voted to replace the monarchy with a republic. The current President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, explains the significance of La Festa della Repubblica: “It is the symbol of the discovery of freedom and democracy by our people. After more than 20 years under a dictatorship and 5 of war, that early day of June 1946 was the beginning of a new era in our history and of a new lease on life for a country that had suffered like no other during the first half of the century.”
Recently, an article appeared in Corriere della sera written by the former mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. In it he describes discovering a telephone directory of Rome from 1946. He said that it was a time of rebirth of a wounded and divided country that found the strength to start again and that would see Italy become a world power in 15 years. At that time there was no fear of putting one’s telephone number and address in the directory “because democracy and freedom were so beautiful and no one would think to abuse it. There had been enough hatred and violence.”
Veltroni found in the thousands of surnames organized in alphabetical order, many of the protagonists of the political and cultural history of the twentieth century. Alcide De Gasperi was prime minister at the time. In fact, he was the last prime minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the first for the Italian Republic. He served in 8 successive coalition governments from 1945 to 1953. Although his name isn’t in the directory, the address and phone number of his wife, Francesca Romani De Gasperi, is. As is one of De Gasperi’s protégés, Giulio Andreotti. He achieved cabinet rank at a young age and served in numerous ministerial positions over a forty-year political career. He was prime minister from 1972-73, 1976-79, and 1989-92. “Divo Giulio” was quite controversial in terms of his relationships with the Vatican and organized crime and his alleged role in the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, as depicted in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Il Divo.
Other political figures listed in the telephone directory with both addresses and telephone numbers include Giuseppe Di Vittorio, an influential trade union leader at the time, Ugo La Malfa, who held important posts in the governments of Ferruccio Parri and Alcide De Gasperi, and Giovanni Gronchi, who served as the third President of Italy from 1955 to 1962.
Federico Fellini was only 26 when this telephone directory was published. After the liberation of Rome, he and a colleague opened the Funny Face Shop in Rome drawing caricatures of American soldiers. Roberto Rossellini met him at the shop and a long relationship began with Italian Neorealism, starting with Rome, Open City and Paisà. Fellini directed his own films starting in the 1950s.
Other cultural icons in the directory include Cesare Zavattini, a screenwriter who produced about 20 films with Vittorio De Sico, including Sciscià (1946), Ladri di biciclette (1948), Miracolo a Milano (1951), and Umberto D (1952). Alberto Sordi was also 26 at the time; his career spanned seven decades, starting with parts in Fellini films like The White Sheik and I vitelloni. Alberto Moravia was best known for his debut novel Gli indifferenti and for the anti-fascist novel Il Conformista, which became the basis for The Conformist, a film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
Veltroni notes that in the directory there is no trace of the fascist hierarchy, nor are there the names of the Jews deported from the ghetto in October 1943. Walter Veltroni concludes his article with a personal story that is very moving. In the 1946 directory, he found the name, address, and telephone number of his grandfather, Cyril Kotnik, a Slovenian diplomat to the Holy See who helped many Jews and anti-fascists escape Nazi persecution after 1943. He lived in via Salaria 72, where he was taken by the Nazis and then tortured in Via Tasso. Several pages later there is also the name and telephone number of the person in the black shirt who reported him for five thousand lire.
Walter Veltroni served as Mayor of Rome from 2001 to 2008. At the time, he was widely considered one of the most popular center-left politicians in Italy. In 2005 he met in Washington, DC, with then-Senator Barack Obama and was one of his earliest supporters overseas. He wrote the preface to the Italian edition of The Audacity of Hope in 2007 and has been referred to as “Obama’s European counterpart.” In September 2014 in Venice, Italy,the former mayor performed the wedding ceremony for George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin.