The ambitious aim of this research is to draw attention to intellectual emigration from the fascist regime in Italy. At present, there is little idea as to the numbers involved, the biographies of individuals and the paths they took, or as to what the outcome was at an academic and professional level.
Focusing research on this elusive phenomenon and its protagonists also means asking questions about their original home environments and the new settings into which they were received, about the networks offering support and showing concern, and about the strategies for promoting or squandering intellectual resources during and after the fascist period. Such research serves to foster awareness not only of the injustices suffered by those persecuted for political or racial reasons, whose story continues to be treated separately, but also of the damage caused to Italy as a whole.
Italy is generally considered to be a land of poor, uneducated migrants. During the fascist period however, in particular following the promulgation of the anti-Jewish legislation, academics, scientists, students and scholars left Italy, alone or with their families. In search of freedom and work, and ultimately safety, they emigrated to the United States, Latin America, Great Britain, Mandate Palestine (Eretz Yisrael), to other European countries while these still offered security, and to Switzerland.
The phenomenon constitutes an important, if numerically circumscribed, example of brain drain. As far as Italy is concerned, and with the exception of case studies on prominent individuals, this still awaits investigation and is difficult to reconstruct. The seriousness of the loss was of course denied by the regime as irrelevant. The resultant void was filled with greater regard for speed than appropriateness by the universities, which in August 1938 had already undertaken a census of Jewish staff and students that facilitated their immediate removal. Silence has engulfed them and their stories have been erased. After the war there was a prevailing need on the part of the those who had opposed fascism, and for different reasons, to turn the page and to forget, or to place in parentheses, what had happened.
In comparison with the horrors of deportation and extermination, dismissal from positions of work and study, a ban on publication, removal from membership of professional bodies, cancellation of the qualification permitting university teaching, seem of little consequence. And yet these injustices brought considerable suffering to men and women, families and children, disorientating them and changing their lives, and causing significant damage to Italian culture and the future of the country.
Far from playing down the consequences of racial persecution, this research sets out above all to document the many losses in terms of productivity and culture, and the many culpabilities that continued even after the end of fascism. It is important that these are known about. The forgotten stories that emerge also speak of resourcefulness and talent, commitment and determination, and recognise the value of the contributions made by exponents of Italian culture abroad.
This project Intellectuals displaced from fascist Italy, launched by the University of Florence on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the «racial laws», has received financing from the Regione Toscana (Bando Memoria 2018), and enjoys the patronage of institutions and organisations outside Italy whose support and resources have greatly facilitated research: The New York Public Library, the Council for At-Risk Academics in London, through which the papers respectively of the ECADFS and the SPSL have been made available, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, CUNY, and the Central Archives for the History of Jewish People, Jerusalem.