This research seeks to chart lives that were characterised by mobility, tracing the complex itineraries that were not only geographic, but which were also dictated by qualifications and positions, professional contexts and areas of academic discipline, relationships, ideas and modes of behaviour. The time span is that of the fascist period and beyond. Of the intellectuals who left Italy for political or racial reasons, some did so immediately the 1938 legislation was promulgated, a few having already left; others decided to do so later on, and from 1943 onwards many escaped to save their lives. As an ongoing consequence of what had happened in the dark years of fascism, there were also those who departed after the end of the war, either because they were unable to find appropriate reinstatement in Italy, or to join relatives who had already emigrated.
They left alone or with family members. They changed their lives, country, language and work at least twice. Hardly ever is there a single point of departure or arrival. If for full professors it is possible to identify the university from which they were expelled, this did not always coincide with their or their family’s last place of residence. Liberi docenti were deemed to have «forfeited» the title they had been awarded, but they were not formally expelled from any particular university, and untenured teaching staff may well have taught at more than one university. New graduates and students had as yet no place of work, and had lost their place of education. The German and other foreign intellectuals who had come to Italy to escape authoritarian regimes were forced by Mussolini’s legislation to depart once again for another country.
The choice of destination depended on various factors, as well as on previous experience of mobility which often characterised academic careers at the time. What was important, if scholars already had useful contacts and networks of help and support, whether family, academic or professional, was where these happened to be. Many different locations and movement between them were involved. This also emerges from the referees scholars listed in their search for employment abroad, and from the references that foreign colleagues in particular wrote for them. These were all the more necessary given that former colleagues in the universities from which scholars had been removed had not shown meaningful solidarity. Destinations differed among members of the same family, both close and more distant relatives, and also among colleagues; paths crossed and then diverged before meeting again. Destinations were often temporary, expired residence permits necessitated further moves, countries no longer considered safe were abandoned in favour of others nearby, lodgings and places of work were changed at speed wherever they could be found, whether in different institutions, cities or states, as happened above all in America. The search for a fixed position by those who had never had one, and also by former full professors who found temporary employment for some months and were then again unemployed, often lasted many years. This reality stands in contrast to the generally accepted picture and to the hurried assertions made in biographies.
Not all returned to Italy, and for those who did, their return could involve a change of place. Individuals were not always reinstated in their former university or position, but found themselves transferred or sought transfer because of «incompatibility in the workplace», or they took up new positions or failed even to return to academic life. If fathers who had been removed from professorships were able to return as supernumeraries or adjuncts to those who had substituted them, and were in any event likely to be close to the retirement age, their offspring had no positions to which they could return, and for them there were greater opportunities and incentives in remaining abroad.
It is indeed through the prism of the younger generation, rather than the smaller number of older, well-established academics, that the lasting consequences of the racial and political persecution for Italy’s intellectual life should be evaluated. For virtually none however was life easy.