Italian newspaper honors pathologists marginalized by race laws

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Many personalities of Italian medicine of the first decades of the 20th century, discriminated against in various ways by the racist laws approved by the fascist government in 1938, were honored in an article published in the January issue of Pathological, the journal of the Italian Association of Pathological Anatomy and Diagnostic Cytopathology.

The report, written by Carlo Patriarca, of the Department of Pathological Anatomy at Sant’Anna Hospital in Como, with his colleagues Giorgio Sirugo and Mattia Barbareschi, describes the surprise and astonishment of Jewish patriots and veterans of World War I , some of whom were the best known and most respected pathologists of those years. Among them were the Venetian Giuseppe Jona, the Triestinian Solomon Enrico Franco, the Turinese Pio Foà, senator of the Kingdom of Italy and father of the pathologist Carlo Foà who, in 1925, together with the surgeon Mario Donati, signed the manifesto of the fascist intellectuals promoted by fascist ideologue Giovanni Gentile, who converted to Catholicism in a vain attempt to escape the purge.

The list of notable names highlighted in the document also includes Ettore Ravenna, Elio Levi, Alberto Ascoli, Raffaele Lattes and Giuseppe Levi, a leading anatomist and embryologist who was arrested in 1934. Levi was so respected on the scale international that his Spanish colleague Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who had just received the Nobel Prize for Medicine, pleaded with the authorities for his release.

The article presents a portrait of the Italian community of pathologists in which the Jews made an enormous scientific contribution, in quality and quantity, far beyond what one would expect from simple demography: the census of 1938 numbered only 47,000 Italian Jews (many from families living in Italy since the Roman Empire) out of a total population of about 43 million.

“After the publication of the manifesto on race on July 14, 1938, and especially after the announcement of legislative measures against the Jews in September (with decrees countersigned by the King of Italy and approved by Parliament), the conditions under which Many Jewish physicians lived and worked changed forever,” the authors explain.

The article reconstructs the fates of many of them. One was Solomon Enrico Franco, who, after teaching in Cagliari and Rome, had moved to Portugal, becoming head of Pathological Anatomy in Lisbon. He returned to his native country at the start of the First World War to put on his officer’s uniform.

While the newspapers were full of comments such as “Italian medicine can do without this harmful transplant” and medical councils canceled the membership of Jewish doctors, Franco wrote in one of his letters: “I was a professor of a pure discipline, pathological anatomy, in Italian universities, and I only earned a modest salary, so, as I have no property of my own, we will soon find ourselves in miserable conditions… It then becomes essential for me to find a paid date somewhere in the world as soon as possible.”

Franco emigrated to what many years later would become the State of Israel, becoming director of the Institute of Pathological Anatomy at the Jewish University, while maintaining a strong connection with Italy. He died there in 1950. A more tragic fate befell his mentor Giuseppe Jona, who had worked for 40 years in the city hospital of Venice when he decided to commit suicide, just after destroying the lists of members of the Jewish community. , of which he was president, so as not to risk revealing them to the Gestapo under torture.

“When Italian Fascism took a racist anti-Semitic turn, the country’s field of pathological anatomy also paid a heavy price in lost careers and shattered lives. We have mentioned only a few cases here as examples of the expulsion more widespread of the Jews of the society to which they belonged. These physicians saw themselves primarily as Italians,” wrote Patriarca and his colleagues. “Within a few years, however, they came to be seen as a ‘harmful graft’ that was to be broken. If they managed to escape the Holocaust, they continued to gain a foothold in societies freer than Italian. they left behind”.

Pathological. DOI: 10.32074/1591-951X-713. Full Text

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