Patrizia Guarnieri

Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy.

Migrants, Exiles and Refugees Fleeing for Political and Racial Reasons

©2019-Author(s) Published by Firenze University Press
e-ISBN: 978-88-6453-872-3 | DOI: 10.36253/978-88-6453-872-3

Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy

Achille Viterbi (1881-1966)

Mantua 22 December 1881 - Los Angeles 5 February 1966

Lives on the move

Emigrant family members

  • Maria Luria Viterbi (Casale Monferrato, Alessandria, 29 April 1894 - San Diego 5 October 1986), wife: she belonged to a middle-class Jewish family. She emigrated with her husband to the USA in 1939, at age forty-five. To contribute to the family finances, she worked in the textile industry from 1950 to 1956. She went back to Italy with her husband in 1948 to visit her relatives, including her niece Lucia, who had recently married Primo Levi. She came back more often after her husband moved to Los Angeles in 1957. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Andrea (Andrew) Viterbi (Bergamo 9 March 1935-), son: he emigrated with his family to the USA in 1939. After studying at the Boston Latin School, he got his BS and MS degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1957 and a PhD at the University of Southern Carolina in 1962. In 1958 he married Erna Finci. He enjoys great success both as an academic and an entrepreneur, as he is the inventor of the "Viterbi algorithm" used in cellular phones. The first major award, the Cristoforo Colombo medal, came in 1975 from CNR, Italy. He never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Alberto Finzi (Ferrara 18 July 1910 - Pacific Palisades, California, 12 January 2008), nephew: son of Laura Luria and Flavio Finzi, held a degree in economics and ran a flour factory in Orte (Viterbo province). He was the first in the family to emigrate, first to the United Kingdom and, on the 24 May 1939, to New York, where he married Valeria and opened a mill in Wilson, Niagara County (NY). In 1950 he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked at an airline company. He never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Laura Luria Finzi (Casale Monferrato 18 February 1888-?), sister-in-law: she was Maria's older sister, widow to the chemist Flavio Finzi (1883-1933). Initially, she lived in Rome but emigrated to New York on 5 May 1940 with her son Franco and joined her firstborn Alberto. In the 1950s, they all moved to Los Angeles. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Franco Finzi (Ferrara 22 June 1914 - Ventura, California, 13 November 1997), nephew: he held a law degree and emigrated with his mother Laura to New York when he was 26. In the USA, he worked with his brother in Wilson. He went back to Italy in November 1946, hoping to return home and relaunch the family's activity in Orte. Unfortunately, as Allied bombings had destroyed the factory, he was forced to move back to the USA after a few months. He opened a construction company in New York State and later married Paola Luzzatti (Rome 1923 - Portland, Oregon, 2015); their children were Joyce and Martha. He never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Erna Finci (Sarajevo 20 January 1934 - San Diego 17 February 2015), daughter-in-law: in 1941, only seven years old, she and her family escaped to Montenegro, and then they found themselves in Italy, Gramizzo (a small village near Parma), where they were helped by various local families, who hid them and helped them escape. In 1944, she was in Switzerland with her family as a refugee. On 29 March 1950, when she was twenty,  she left Naples with her parents and her older brother Asher (they were all stateless) and reached New York, intending to live in Hoboken, New Jersey. The family later moved to Los Angeles, where she met Alberto Finzi and, thanks to him, Andrew. They had three children: Audry in 1959, Alan in 1961, and, ten years later, Alexandre (1971-2011). Audrey is the mother of Aaron and Michael. Alan is married to Caryn Rosen, a Deputy District Attorney specialising in child abuse prosecution, and is the father of Alexandra, Samantha and Danielle.
  • Josef Finci (Sarajevo 1895? - Beverly Hills 1967), son's father-in-law: he was the son of a rabbi and owned a shop selling books and stationery in Sarajevo. He was forced to flee the city with his wife, their children, and his wife's family. Using false papers, they reached Italian-occupied Montenegro and were declared "Civilian war internees". They were moved to Trieste and then interned in Gramignazzo, near Parma. Since September 1943, they remained in hiding until April 1944, when they reached Switzerland. He emigrated with his family, as stateless persons, to the United States in 1950.
  • Lenka Musafija Finci (Sarajevo 1896 - San Diego 1994), son's mother-in-law: fled Sarajevo and reached Italy with her family. At the time, she had two children: Asher, born in 1929, and Erna, born in 1934. After escaping again to Switzerland, she emigrated to the United States with her family in April 1950, when she was forty-five years old.

Support network

  • Alfred Vogt (1879-1943), Swiss ophthalmologist, a pupil of Carlo Reymond just like Viterbi, and professor since 1923 at the University of Zurich: he helped Viterbi get his visa to emigrate to the USA from the American Consulate in Zurich in June 1939.
  • Francesco Giongo, vice-questore of Bergamo during the 1930s: his wife was a friend of Viterbi's wife and Giongo helped him obtain a valid passport to move to the United States in 1939.
  • Alberto Finzi (1910- 2008), a nephew who moved to the United States a few months before the arrival of the Viterbi family: he received them when they arrived in New York.






  • University of Bologna
  • Student


  • University of Turin; he got his degree in 1905.
  • Student

First assistant at the ophthalmic division of the Ospedale Maggiore; then chief's assistant and eye doctor

  • Ospedale Maggiore Principessa di Piemonte di Bergamo
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist

Lecturing post

  • University of Parma; he will lose his position in 1928 in unclear circumnstances.
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist,Libero docente

Head Ophthalmolgist

  • Ospedale Maggiore Principessa di Piemonte di Bergamo; suspended from his post, effective since 2 March 1939.
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist

Transfer to Genoa

  • Unemployed

Transit in Switzerland

1939Le Havre

Transit in France

1939New York

Emigration to the United States

  • Unemployed

Private ophthalmologist

  • Freelance job
  • Doctor / Dentist

Trip to Italy

1957Los Angeles

Transfer to follow his son, Andrew

1966Los Angeles