The Rimini family

Mantua, July 11, 1897. In the city’s Synagogue, Cesare Rimini marries Olimpia Cantoni.

Cesare was thirty-two years old. He was the last son of Leon Amadio Vita Rimini and of his first wife, Allegra Coen. He was born in Mantua, even if his paternal family was originally from Finale Emilia. A few years before getting married, he and his older brother, Enrico, had taken over their father’s company, “Leone Rimini”, which traded in fabrics. In 1907, he created his own company with his partner Ruggero Lombroso, the “Ruggero Lombroso e C.” which dealt with «haberdashery, trinkets, handkerchiefs, yarns and similar wholesale». In 1930, «after long years of trading», it was his son Giuseppe who liquidated the company and founded another in his name, carrying on the family’s commercial tradition.

Olimpia was twenty-two years old; she was the daughter of the «doctor of Law» Giuseppe Cantoni and of Adale Finzi, and on the registry documents she appeared to be a “landowner”.

The couple reflected the image of post-emancipation Italian Jewry: both spouses had received an education, they lived in the city, they beloved to the small bourgeoisie devoted to trade, they were well-integrated in the society they lived in, they were members of the local Jewish community.

Four children were born from their union: Enrico, Lucia, Nella, and Giuseppe.

Enrico, born in 1898, followed his maternal grandfather’s footsteps and graduated in Law. He married a girl from a Jewish family of Ancona, Diana Costantini, and had two children: Olimpia and Giudo. To his firstborn, he had given his mother’s name, who died from the Spanish flu at only forty-three years of age, in 1918. They lived in Milan, where Enrico had started a law firm with his cousin, and at the same time brother-in-law, Arturo Orvieto.

Lucia, the second daughter born on July 18, 1900, had also left Mantua, even though she had married fellow citizen and co-religionary Renzo Carpi. Their wedding had been celebrated in the Municipality, perhaps to underline Renzo’s laic vision, but this didn’t prevent them from remaining members of the Jewish community of Mantua all their life.

 Nella and Giuseppe were born respectively in 1904 and 1907.

Nella, just as Enrico and Lucia had done before her, married a Jewish young man, Enzo Finzi, in 1929, and followed him in Ferrara where he ran, with his brother Renato, a stationery and perfumery shop in the central via Mazzini. Instead, Giuseppe had made a difference choice, marrying Lina Ardenghi, “Arian” and Catholic, baptized a month after her birth in 1907. Giuseppe will leave his company to her as a gift in March 1939, thus saving it from the forced Fascist confiscation.

The four siblings and their families often gathered together, especially on holidays and during summer vacations in the mountains or at the seaside, so that the cousins, all born between 1925 and 1940, could hang out despite living in different cities.

Never in their conversations as young newlyweds, Cesare and Olimpia could’ve imagined what History would hold in store for their children: Italy’s betrayal, the War, the struggle to start again somewhere else, the despair of deportation, the risk of fleeing and of life as hunted, but also solidarity, gratitude, and the possibility of a new beginning.

That of the Rimini family is the history a family which in way can consider itself lucky, through which it’s possible to tell the reality of Jews in Italy between the end of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, but, as Cesare, the oldest of Nella’s children, said: «Some were saved, but nothing was the same as before.»


Chronology of anti-Jewish persecution in Italy


July 14, 1938 – An article titled Il Fascismo e i problemi della razza (Fascism and the issues of Race), also known as the Manifesto degli scienziati razzisti (Manifesto of racist scientists) or Manifesto della razza (Manifesto of Race), gets published on the “Giornale d’Italia”. In this article, the foundations of State racism are laid.

August 22, 1938 – A census of Jews is carried out based, for the first time, on racial criteria with the goal to update the 1931 census, to complete the lists provided by the Jewish communities, and to identify all the people to be prosecuted.

September 1-2, 1938 – The Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of Italy approves a first group of legislative measures against Jews. Particularly, the expulsion of foreign Jews from the Italian territory, and the expulsion of all students and all teachers considered to be Jewish from all levels, are ordered.

October 6, 1938 – The Grand Council of Fascism approves the Dichiarazione sulla razza (Declaration on Race), a text which will form the basis for the Royal Decree Law of November 17 and which contains, among other things, the ban on marriage between citizens of “Arian Race” with elements belonging to the “Hamite, Semite, and other non-Arian Races” and the juridical definition of whom belongs to the “Jewish Race”.

November 17, 1938 – The Royal Degree Law no.1728 Provvedimenti per la difesa della razza italiana is enacted; it’s a law consisting of 29 articles in which the Dichiarazione sulla razza is reiterated, and in some ways harshened.


1938-1943 – Italian Fascism produces a complex legislative apparatus – made of laws, but also of administrative provisions, memos, and resolutions directly emanated by the party – intended to limit more and more the lives of those it deemed belonging to the “Jewish race” with the aim to alienate and exclude Jews from the workforce, from school, and from social relations.


July 10, 1943 – Anglo-Americans land in Sicily. In gradually liberated areas, persecution against Jews ends.


July 25, 1943 – The Grand Council of Fascism distrusts Benito Mussolini. The king, having had the Duce arrested, calls Marshall Pietro Badoglio to form a new government.


September 8, 1943 – A radio message from Marshall Badoglio announces the signing of the armistice with the Anglo-Americans, now allies of Italy, while Nazi Germans are now present on the Peninsula as occupiers. In the Trento, Belluno, and Bolzano provinces, and in those of Trieste, Udine, Gorizia, Pola, Fiume, and Lubiana, the Nazis establish respectively the Foothill operation zone and the Adriatic Coastal operation zone, where they carry out civil as well as occupation administration and apply the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’. Italy is divided in two by the moving front line.


September 15-16, 1943 – The Jews arrested in the previous days in Bolzano, Merano, and surrounding areas are deported. They are the first Jews deported from Italy. 


September 23, 1943 – Mussolini, freed by the Germans, forms a new fascist government allied with Nazism, the Italian Social Republic.

On the same day, the German Police Headquarters, in agreement with the German Foreign Ministry, informs those in charge of anti-Jewish actions in Europe that Jews of Italian nationality are now included in the “expulsion towards the East” policy.


November 14, 1943 – In Verona, the program of the new Fascist Republican Party is approved. Item no. 7 reads: “The ones belonging the Jewish race are foreigners. During this war, they belong to an enemy nationality.” It’s not a norm; therefore, it doesn’t determine the process of revocation of Italian citizenship for Jews, but it enshrines the anti-Semitic and racist essence of the ISR.


November 30, 1943 – ISR Ministry of Interior, Giudo Buffarini Guidi, issues Police Ordinance no. 5, which mandates: the arrest and conduction of all Jews, even if previously discriminated, in the Kingdom’s territory; the seizure of all their properties; and the special surveillance of those born from “mixed” marriages.


December 1943 – The Fossoli di Carpi National Camp, in the province of Modena, is set up. Built in 1942 by the Royal Army to hold prisoners of wars captive, on the basis of the November 30 ordinance, it’s first used by the ISR and then by the SS as a police and transit (Polizei und Durchgangslager) camp towards Nazi lagers.


February 22, 1944 – The first convoy of Jews leaves from Fossoli for the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.


August 1, 1944 – The Fossoli Camp closes, because it’s now too close to the war front. Its role will be fulfilled by the Bolzano-Gries camp.


January 27, 1945 – The Red Army arrives at the Auschwitz camp.


February 24, 1945 – The last convoy of deportees from Italy bound to the Bergen Belsen camp, in Sassony, departs from Trieste’s Risiera di San Sabba.





Enrico was an established lawyer in the Milanese court. Among his specializations there was Copyright and among his clients there was the SIAE, which had brought him to confront and clash with authors of the caliber of Luigi Pirandello.

After the enactment of anti-Jewish laws, his name was removed from the lawyers’ roll; his workload kept decreasing; his children, Olimpia and Guido, were kicked out of schools.

Thus, in October 1939, Enrico and his wife, Diana, chose to emigrate to South America. The choice fell on Brazil, where before them, Elda, Diana’s sister, had moved, together with her husband Renzo Massarani, a very well-known musician, and their three children.

Before leaving, Enrico tried to activate a high number of contacts to improve the chances of finding a job as representative of sanitary products or as a merchant in the best-known branch of the Rimini family, that of haberdashery and textile items. Through a trusted acquaintance, he also asked for a presentation letter to Siemens Brasile, but the latter deemed it “inappropriate for racial reasons”.

The early days weren’t easy: a new language to learn; a city, Rio, so different from Milan; the careful management of financial resources; the days spent writing letter after letter to apply for jobs and considering new venues.

The turning point happened after meeting Cesare Civita, co-general manager of Walt Disney Mondadori Editions; he was also Jewish and had been forced to emigrate after 1938. In 1947, together with Civita and other Italian exiles, Enrico founded Editoria Abril, which will become the leading publishing house in South America, holding the rights for Disney Brazil.

Enrico and Diana will never return to live permanently in Italy.




As his nephew Cesare Rimini remembers, Uncle Renzo «loved the German world, he spoke Yiddish and somehow understood all the languages of Mitteleuropa». Perhaps following this passion, Lucia and Renzo had moved to Austria, to Innsbruck. There, Renzo worked as a representative for Italian food products, and there their first two children were born: Alberto and Germana.

In September 1933, only a few months after Hitler ascended to the Reich Chancellery, Lucia and Renzo chose to leave Austria and go back to Italy, moving their family to Bolzano. At no. 20 of Leonardo da Vinci Street, on the ground floor of the building in which their apartment was also located, Renzo had established his food and colonial wholesale business.

By Ministerial Order 416 of March 24, 1939, Renzo had obtained, for himself and his family, the ‘discrimination’, as he was a decorated soldier of World War I and because «of high Italian sentiments […] and favourable attitude towards the Regime and its institutions». In October 1941, the ‘discrimination’ was also extended to Olimpia, Renzo and Lucia’s last daughter, born on March 27, 1940.

According to another nephew, Cesare Finzi, «Renzo was anti anti-fascist and he didn’t hide it. He showed his happiness at the fall of fascism, but he feared the arrival of Germans. Therefore, after July 25, 1943, my aunt and their children left Bolzano and stayed in Mantua for a few weeks, living in an attic room in the attic of Uncle Giuseppe’s home. Since the Germans weren’t threatening right away, at the end of August, the family went back to Bolzano». In fact, right after the armistice signing was made public, Nazi Germans arrived in Bolzano. On September 9, probably on denunciation, Renzo and Alberto were arrested and imprisoned in the city jail. After the arrest, Renzo tried to convince his wife to go with their daughters to his brother’s in Mantua, but Lucia flatly refused, and Germana also did not agree to leave with Olimpia and separate from her mother. On the night of September 15-16, Lucia and the children were also arrested. They almost certainly left on the same 16th, with other Jews arrested in Merano, bound to the Reichenau camp. Renzo and Alberto probably joined them after September 28. From there, in March 1944, they were deported to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau extermination camp. There is no certain information of the date and place of their killing; the only certain thing is that none of the five came back home at the end of the war. Renzo was 57, Lucia 44, Alberto 18, Germana 17, and Olimpia only 4.


Nella and Giuseppe


After Renzo and Alberto’s arrest, Selene Ardenghi, Lina’s sister, who lived in Bolzano, kept frequenting the Carpi’s home. Thus, the morning after Lucia and the girls were arrested, it was her who gave the news to her brother-in-law Giuseppe and urged him to escape.

As quickly as possible, Giuseppe organized his escape, and he headed to Ferrara at his sister Nella’s. On September 19, the Rimini family – Giuseppe and Lina with their children Cesare, Mariella, Silvana, and Graziana – and the Finzi family – Nella and Enzo with Cesare and Manlio – took a train headed South. The goal was to cross the moving front line and reach South Italy, already liberated by the Anglo-Americans. But, for four adults and six children, to travel in wartime Italy, amidst curfews and bombings and with the risk of being rounded up and arrested, wasn’t easy at all, and their journey was soon interrupted for the first time in Ravenna. Finding where to sleep was also impossible. It was then that Giuseppe remembered about Gino Muratori, whom he had met only a few months prior. Turning to a basically unknown person was a risk, but it was the only option. Gino Muratori and his wife, Pina Frigani, opened their home to the fleeing Jews, hosted them and fed them. Until the end of the war, Mr. and Mrs. Muratori were an important point of reference to maintain contact with their relatives and to take care of their businesses in Mantua and Ferrara. The impossibility of moving around without danger prompted the Finzi-Rimini’s to stop in Gabicce, where they had spent a vacation a few Summers earlier. The stay in Gabicce became longer than expected. Here, they were joined by Guido Vivanti, manager of Giuseppe’s fabric warehouse, by Ada Rocca, Nella’s mother-in-law, and by Maria Cantoni, an aunt of the Rimini brothers. Here, probably thanks to the secretary of the Gabicce, Loris Sgarbi, all thirteen fugitives managed to get fake IDs, diligently filled in by Giudo. «All the Rimini’s – Cesare remembers – became Ruini, all the Finzi’s became Franzi, Aunt Cantoni became Carloni and he, Vivanti, with a motion of pride, became Vivaldi». To remain in Gabicce, where everyone knew them with their real names, now became impossible. Before going away, it was also necessary to go at Morganti’s, the tailor of nearby Cattolica, to whom had been given two pieces of cloth to make new coats for the boys. When the cloth was picked up, Giuseppe gave the new identities. Under the names Franzi and Ruini, the tailor couldn’t find any cloth. For what he thought was a scam, Morganti could’ve reported them, but he listened to their story and chose to help them instead. Years before 1943, the Morganti family had been struggling financially. Leone Rimini, a Mantuan cloth wholesaler, had forgiven a debt that would have ruined the Morganti’s. That forgiven debt had allowed the tailor of Cattolica to recover and continue to support his family through his work. In the Morganti household, Leone’s generous gesture had not been forgotten, but rather the gratitude towards him had been passed down from father to sons. And now, years later, in front of Giudo Morganti, chance brought Giuseppe Rimini, Leone’s grandson. Giudo could have ignored the people in front of him, turn his face away, but he chose to help, he chose to do all the good he could, and he found a save haven for all of them in the Rimini hinterland, where the two families could survive until the end of the war.

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ultima modifica 2024-02-08T20:33:27+02:00
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