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

Emanuele (Emanuel) Pekelis (1904-1979)

Odessa (Russian Empire, now Ukraine) 1 January 1904 - Jasper (Alabama) 8 aprile 1979

Lives on the move

Emigrant family members

  • Rosemarie Milly Lenel Pekelis, (Mannheim, Germany, 11 November 1916 - Alameda, California, USA 14 April 1981), wife: a cardiologist of Jewish descent, she took refuge in Switzerland, where her brother Heinz Walter Lenel lived. In 1939 she was helped by the International Student Service (ISS) to emigrate to the US and continue her studies. She married Emanuel Pekelis on 18 April 1943; the couple split in the 1950s. In 1952 she worked at the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, where she remained until her retirement in 1976. She also participated in humanitarian activities. She never returned to Europe permanently.
  • Maria Rosa (Miriam Reisl or Raizel) Levinson Pekelis (Grodno, Russian Empire, 21 January 1872 - New Rochelle, New York, 5 November 1945), mother: emigrated to Italy in 1922 with her husband and, widowed, followed her son Alexander and her daughter-in-law Carla to France in 1938. Later, the family emigrated to the US in 1940, leaving Lisbon. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Haim Pekelis (Berdichev, Russian Empire, 1870? - Florence 1929), father: fur trader, emigrated to Italy in 1922 with his wife, joining his son Alexander. In Florence, in via Tornabuoni, he established the H. Pekelis & e figli firm. Eight years later, he died due to complications after surgery.
  • Alessandro Pekelis (Odessa, Russian Empire, 7 April 1902 - Shannon, Ireland, 28 December 1946), brother: emigrated from Russia to Germany and Austria; he settled in Italy in October 1921. Here, he became a lawyer, assistente volontario at the Università di Firenze, and libero docente at the Università La Sapienza in Rome. An anti-fascist and a Zionist, in 1938 he emigrated with his family to France, and, in December 1940, to the US, where he worked at the New School and the Columbia Law School. He died in a plane crash in Ireland, leaving his wife Carla and five children: Daniela, Simona, Rossella, Haim (16 September 1941) financial advisor in Los Angeles, and Alessandra "Coco" (22 August 1945), a writer in NY like her husband, David Dalton. They never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Carla Coen Pekelis (Rome 5 April 1907 - New York 7 October 1985), sister-in-law: daughter of Dante and Ada Ascoli. Her father ran the Settepassi jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. In 1938 she emigrated with her husband and daughters. They stopped in France and Portugal and, in December 1940, emigrated to the US. Their respective mothers, Ada Ascoli Coen and Maria Rosa Levinson Pekelis, left with them. They settled down in Larchmont, NY, where Carla had two more children: Haim (16 September 1941), financial advisor in Los Angeles, and Alessandra "Coco" (22 August 1945), a writer in NY like her husband, David Dalton. In December 1946, she was widowed and started to work as a teacher and a writer. She married Peter Seitz in 1968. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Daniela Ada Miriam Pekelis Siena (Florence 1 July 1933 - Odon, Indiana, 21 December 2020), niece: emigrated with her parents to the US in December 1940, when she was five. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1954 and Phillips Graduate Institute in 1956. Between 1955 and 1956, she worked in Italy, in Ivrea, as a secretary for Adriano Olivetti and later worked for the Olivetti company in the US. She worked as an Italian diction coach for many important lyrical theatres and became a psychotherapist. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Simona Luciana Raimonda Emanuela Pekelis, later Simona McCray (Florence 23 February 1936), niece: emigrated with her family to the US in December 1940, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1957. Singer and Executive VP of WQXR Radio, she lives in New York with her husband, Ken Peterson. She had two children. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Rossella Carla Alessandra Pekelis, later Rosselle (Florence 10 July 1938 - Seattle 9 December 2019), niece: arrived in the US when she was two. She became a lawyer and a judge and was nominated to the State of Washington Supreme Court in 1986. She married three times and had four children: three with her first husband, Robert Higgins, and one with his second, Gordon Jones. She never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Raimondo Pekelis (Odessa 25 July 1907 - ?), brother: emigrated to Italy. He was the only member of the family not to emigrate to the US. He was interned in Isola del Gran Sasso and in Ferramonti (Cosenza) in May 1942. His name is on the list of liberated people of a displaced persons camp in Switzerland. He returned to Italy.
  • Guido Coen (Ancona 10 September 1908 - Washington 26 October 1987), brother-in-law: lawyer, was the first to emigrate to New York in December 1938. He declared he would live with a cousin and left his wife, Elsa, and their children Luciano and Paolo in Florence. In 1948, he married Gail Gertrude Blashow Benedict. He never returned to Italy permanently.
  • Luciana Meira Coen (Ancona? 4 March 1910 - Israel 1991), Carla and Guido's sister: married to Mario Aharon Ottolenghi, a fervent Zionist, she emigrated with him to Mandatory Palestine. They had three children: Micael, Miriam "Memmi", and Alisa, who stayed in Israel. She never returned to Italy permanently
  • Mario (then Aharon) Ottolenghi (Florence 7 March 1904 - Ramat Gan, Israel, 11 March 1978), brother-in-law, Luciana Coen’s husband: Zionist and economist, emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in October 1938 with his wife and two children: Michael (Florence 21 November 1934 - Israel 5 December 2019), who later became a chemist, and Miriam. They all stayed in Israel, where Alisa was later born. He never returned to Italy permanently.

Support network

  • Tacta Levinson (Russian Empire ? - ?), Mrs. "T. Tchlenoff", maternal aunt: widow of Emanuel Tchlenoff, she lived with her daughter Rya (Russian Empire 29 September 1910 - Roswell, Chaves, New Mexico, August 1984) in New York. She provided her address (3569 Broadway, New York) as a reference for the Pekelis when they arrived in New York.


1904Odessa (Russian Empire, now Ukraine)

Birth and education


Student and then doctor in Florence

  • Student at the Università di Firenze; since 1928 assistente volontario at the Istituto di anatomia patologica, Università di Firenze; in 1929 he entered in the association of doctors; in 1938 he was expelled from the Accademia medico-fisica in Florence.
  • Student,Freelance job
  • Doctor / Dentist,Junior lecturer

Emigration to France

  • Paris, Marseille
  • Unemployed
1939New York

Emigration to the United States

  • Unemployed
1940Wichita (Kansas)

Work as a doctor

  • St Francis Hospital and Nurse Home
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist
1948Sioux Falls (South Dakota)

Work as a doctor

  • McKennan Hospital
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist
1956Camarillo (California)

Work as a pathologist

  • Camarillo State Mental Hospital
  • Stable employment
  • Doctor / Dentist
1979Jasper (Alabama)