Tullia Zevi, a pillar of Italy’s Jewish community and an ardent anti-fascist who spent the war years in exile in Switzerland, France and the US, has died at the age of 91.
Ms Zevi, the only female president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and the long-time vice president of the European Jewish Congress, died in Rome, union president Renzo Gattegna said.
Condolences poured in from Italy’s president, prime minister and politicians who praised her tireless defence of Jews and warnings about the current threat of anti-Semitism.
“For survivors, she was a clarion voice that warned against the dangers of neo-Nazism to not just Jews, but to society and democracy as a whole,” said Elan Steinberg, emeritus executive director of the World Jewish Congress, where Ms Zevi served for many years on the executive committee.
One of four children of a bourgeois Jewish family, Ms Zevi was on holiday with her parents in Switzerland in 1938 when Italy passed its racial laws. The family, known for her father’s anti-fascist beliefs, fled to France and later the US as the Second World War raged.
She returned to Italy in 1946 and worked as a journalist as well as with various centre-left political parties while taking on increasingly important leadership roles in the Jewish community.
In a biographical article she wrote in 1999, Ms Zevi said she returned because she wanted to help Italy and its Jews rebuild after the war.
“The horrors of the war had just been discovered; the mass extermination of the Jews, the gypsies and political opponents, the devastation of Jewish communities,” she wrote.
“It seemed right, having had the fortune of having survived, to return and participate in the reconstruction of this traumatised community in chaos, and also to participate in the rebirth of democracy in Italy following the defeat of fascism.”
Ms Zevi was elected president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities in 1983 and held the post until 1998. For around two decades she was vice president of the European Jewish Congress, a branch of the World Jewish Congress, Mr Steinberg said. He called Ms Zevi a “relentless champion of Jewish rights and the universal struggle against the malignant threat of fascism”.