The exodus from Italy during the fascist period affected only some of the almost one hundred tenured or tenure-track professors who, defined as of «non-Aryan race», were officially expelled from Italian universities following the legislation of 1938. They are the easiest to identify in the institutional documentation, which, however, tells us nothing about what they did afterwards. It is much harder to identify the more numerous lower-ranked academics and non-academics, who were also those to emigrate in the greatest numbers, and whose removal took place almost invisibly. It is thus very complicated to trace who they were and the paths they took: teaching staff with a range of qualifications who were «released from service» or declared to have «forfeited» their rights; scientists, artists and scholars with temporary positions that were simply not renewed; professionals removed from companies or disbarred from professional bodies, whose work was then taken over by others of «Aryan race»; students who following their school leaving qualification were unable to go forward to university; recent graduates who could not look for employment.
Almost all were Jewish, whether observant or not, and not all were necessarily anti-fascist. Also those deemed «incompatible» with the directives of fascism, of whom only a few were Jews, found themselves suspended because of their ideas, as well as being isolated in their workplaces, spied upon, threatened, imprisoned and worse. It was intellectuals of both categories, but in practice above all Jews, with whom the principal aid organisations that emerged in the 1930s engaged, dedicating themselves, without distinction of race or religion, to helping those referred to as Displaced Scholars. Initially these scholars came from Germany, and later from other countries, including Italy.
The difficulties in classifying them were immediately apparent to the aid organisations. It was impossible to apply rigid criteria, even in the definition of scholar. For the London-based Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, «legitimate displaced scholars», those who had a right to their help because they had the requisite requirements, were confined to tenured academics; the same was true for the New York-based Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars. But these rescuers, who also acted in practice as recruitment agencies of low cost intellectual resources, were well aware that among the «illegitimate displaced scholars» were individuals of talent (including even some future Nobel Prize winners), and that helping them was a humanitarian mission as well as being a gain for the host countries. Thus, in the nearly 2600 files of the Academic Assistance Council (which in 1936 became the SPSL) and in the nearly 6000 of the ECADFS - to list only the two organisations already referred to - the names of scholars from all over Europe were registered although not all of them had the status of professor or even Privatdozent (the German title differed from the Italian Libera Docenza). The Italians are all «professors», complained the secretary of the American Committee, realising that those who presented themselves could be school teachers, referred to as professori in Italy, who did not hold university positions. For displaced teachers, and for practising physicians, as distinct from medical scientists, there were separate aid organisations, as there were also for psychologists, students, for university women and for Jewish women.
The records of these organisations range from a few notes to several hundred pages, depending on the length and intensity of the relationship. They relate to men and women who had already left their countries of origin, or who were considering how to do so. If they did indeed emigrate, even temporarily, their experiences in their new environments, which often brought them into contact with intellectuals from the host countries and elsewhere, represented a break in continuity with what they had done hitherto.
In this sense too their lives were on the move.