Renzo Sinigaglia

Renzo Sinigaglia

Edited by Sara Baretta

Renzo Sinigaglia (photo 1) was born in Ferrara on June 21 1899 (although some documents erroneously indicate the date as June 24); he was the only child of Alessandro Sinigaglia, born in Padua, and Vittoria Bassani, born in Ferrara. His mother passed away when he was just nine years old, in 1908.

Until around the age of twenty, when he permanently moved away from Ferrara, he had lived respectively at Via Vignatagliata 101, in the heart of the Jewish ghetto of the Este city, and at Via Borgoleoni 110, another area within the city walls but outside the Ghetto.

The correspondence preserved about him (photos 2, 3, 4), belonging to the records of the Ferrara Police Department,1 begins in 1927, well before the racial laws, as he was noted as a ‘socialist,’ particularly due to his close contact with his relative Aldo Oberdorfer. Aldo, originally from Trieste, was a well-known intellectual, translator, professor, literary critic, and essayist, but above all, a determined opponent of Fascism.2

Correspondence between the political files of the Ministry of the Interior and the Police Departments of Ferrara, Milan, and Turin, covering the period between 1927 and 1941, when Renzo was interned in the Urbisaglia camp, helps reconstruct his personal history and movements, which partly coincide with those of his uncle Aldo Oberdorfer.

A note from the Ministry of the Interior dated April 19, 1927 reads: ‘The aforementioned Sinigaglia Renzo, formerly employed at E.N.I.T.3 and now residing in Genoa and employed at the General Italian Navigation Company, is in good terms with the well-known socialist Prof. Oberdorfer Aldo.’ Information is also requested from the Turin Prefecture “to know whether and what political activity Sinigaglia has engaged in the past.‘ The Turin Police Chief Chiaravalloti responded that ‘Sinigaglia was not employed at E.N.I.T. in this city. He is not listed in the local registry and has no prior records.’

So, as Renzo likely never resided in Turin, it is clear that he had lived in Genoa before 1930, employed at the General Italian Navigation Company, working alongside his uncle, who was the head of the publicity office until he was dismissed for ‘unspecified reasons‘, as stated in a note from the Milan police department on October 5, 1932.

Starting from 1930, we know that Renzo and Aldo resided at Piazza Piola 14, and the nephew worked as a secretary for his uncle, sharing an office in the same building.

On August 10, 1932, for the purpose of reviewing the subversive record, the Police Chief of Ferrara, A. Andreani (even though it’s been years since Renzo no longer resides in the city of Ferrara), requested information from the Milan Police Department, specifically: ‘regarding Renzo’s behavior, especially political, (…) complete personal details, characteristics, profession, political affiliation (…) I would also appreciate knowing whether, considering the good conduct observed, it is appropriate or not to remove him from the list of subversives.’

The Police Chief of Milan, Bruno, having obtained the necessary information from a well-informed source, promptly responded that ‘from public sources, he is not indicated as a dangerous element for national order,’ attaching a recent photograph of Renzo Sinigaglia. This gave us the opportunity to see his appearance as an elegant young man in his thirties, wearing a jacket, white shirt, and bow tie, with a solemn expression.

The exchanges between the police departments of the two cities continued regularly, but each time they concluded with a negative outcome, without any evidence of amendment, and as of December 30, 1937, he was still listed as a subversive and under surveillance.

On September 5, 1938, the racial laws were enacted, and by November of the same year, the Milan Police Department inquired with the Ferrara Police Department to determine if he ‘as indicated by his last name and that of his mother, is of Jewish race.‘ The response came a few days later, confirming that he was of ‘Jewish race.’

After September 1, when Europe is engulfed in World War II, Italy’s position became increasingly anti-Semitic. Investigations into Renzo continued. In a new note from the Milan Police Department dated September 24, 1939, Renzo is no longer described simply as a socialist but as a ‘Jewish race republican.‘ Once again, he was not removed from the list of subversives.

The impact of the racial laws was soon felt. In 1938, at the age of 39, Renzo had to close down his printing business and leave his residence at Piazza Piola 14. His uncle Aldo Oberdorfer, 53 years old, was dismissed from teaching at the Royal Institute Ferdinando Galiani in Chieti, losing his job as well. Both found refuge at the home of Gemma Oberdorfer, Aldo’s sister, at Via Goldoni 51, Milan.

In February 1939, the E.G.E.L.I.4 was established, an entity aimed at managing and liquidating real estate and businesses seized from Italian Jews due to the racial laws. Regarding Renzo, there is no record of his printing business among his assets – it was probably sold shortly after the racial laws were enacted. However, he had savings accounts at BCI and shares of the Italian Society for Artificial Textile Fibers and Montecatini. The seizure of these assets did not seem to have occurred.

To reconstruct the years 1938-1939, some documents at the State Archives of Milan are particularly useful,5 especially those related to Gemma Oberdorfer, Aldo’s older sister (unfortunately, there is no documentation preserved about Renzo Sinigaglia or Aldo Oberdorfer). A letter written by Gemma Oberdorfer, dated December 10, 1938, addressed to the Royal Prefecture, requested an exception to ‘Article 12 of Royal Decree of November 17, 1937-XVII, No. 1728, measures for the defense of the Italian race.’ She sought permission to retain a ‘Aryan race servant‘ to assist her family due to serious health reasons.

This is a topic that may seem minor at first glance, seemingly almost irrelevant, yet it paints a clear and vivid picture of the atmosphere of those years: the deprivation of freedom, work, the erosion of personal dignity, the sudden and unstoppable economic decline of the family unit that tightens its grip within itself.

I report the key passages from the letter written by Gemma: ‘Aunt Carolina Oberdorfer, who acted as a mother to all the nieces and nephews, is 88 years old, still clear-minded, but extremely weak and in need of care and supervision (…). The elder sister, Cesira Oberdorfer, 68 and a half years old, possesses a lively intelligence, but a pronounced heart condition and severe forms of arthritis deprive her of any work possibilities. Myself, Gemma Oberdorfer, 58 and a half years old, still retain moderate work capabilities, but periodic suffering confines me to bed (…). Now, joining the family are also the brother, over 53 years old, and his adopted son (referred to as Renzo Sinigaglia) (…). I hope to manage a significant portion of the domestic chores on my own, but (…) I am certain that I won’t be able to provide dedicated care to the elderly aunt and sister, who unfortunately require (…) continuous assistance. (…). For these reasons, the undersigned requests (…) permission to retain the current maid that the family brought along when we moved from Trieste to Milan, and who is particularly devoted and necessary to the elder lady.’

Gemma, in a final attempt to plead her case, emphasized that she had been a member of the Fascist Women’s League of both Trieste and Milan (Membership Card No. 568859). The police rejected her request on January 13, 1939. However, on July 7, 1939, she reapplied, this time including a certificate from the family doctor, Carlo Ofenheimer Accerboni. Her request was finally approved on July 23, with the provision to retain only one servant.

Renzo was found to be employed at Linotipia Canta at Via Goldoni 5, just a short distance from home. On June 10, 1940, Italy entered World War II. From this date, lists of ‘undesirable Jews‘ subject to internment were compiled, targeting those who were not only of Jewish faith but also listed as subversives: socialists, communists, republicans, etc. Renzo Sinigaglia was certainly among them.

Aldo Oberdorfer was arrested on June 11 and deported to the Lanciano concentration camp. The exact date of Renzo’s arrest is unknown, but it’s known that he arrived at the Urbisaglia internment camp on July 31, 1940, from Milan. On the same day, the Police Commissioner of the camp wrote to the Police Departments of Ferrara and Milan to inquire about his economic conditions and whether he could sustain himself financially in the concentration camp.

The Milan Police responded: ‘Sinigaglia was a linotypist and earned a living from his work; therefore, he is unable to support himself financially in this concentration camp.‘ The term ‘not’ was not added by hand (photo 5). In his personal dossier at the Urbisaglia camp, he was indeed noted as not affluent, and he received a daily allowance of 6.50 liras. (Photos 6-7-8)

The documentation related to Renzo’s stay at the Urbisaglia camp is scarce. It’s known that Renzo found childhood and youth friends from Ferrara at the camp, forming a supportive group.6 The internment order was revoked on August 9, 1941. His uncle, Aldo Oberdorfer, passed away on September 14 after a long illness.

The last available document, dated June 17, 1942, is a note from the Royal Prefecture of Milan, erroneously stating that the internment revocation had occurred in January 1942 (Photo 9). Renzo Sinigaglia was residing in Milan, at Corso Concordia 4, and nothing had changed – he continued to be ‘monitored,’ though he maintained a ‘regular political conduct (…) but has not yet provided solid proof of remorse. Therefore, this office does not consider it appropriate to propose his removal from the list of subversives. He is under surveillance.’

This concludes the dossier on the Jewish socialist-republican subversive Renzo Sinigaglia.

Renzo Sinigaglia, at the age of about 30 years.
Frontispiece of the personal file of Renzo Sinigaglia, kept at A.S.Fe, archivio storico di Ferrara, questura, categoria A8 ebrei, busta 6, fascicolo 144.
Master extract. A.S.Fe, archivio storico di Ferrara, questura, categoria A8 ebrei, busta 6, fascicolo 144.
Individual record p.1 - Archivio Storico di Urbisaglia.
Individual record p.2 - Archivio Storico di Urbisaglia.
Individual record p.3 - Archivio Storico di Urbisaglia.


  1. A.S.Fe, Archivio Storico di Ferrara, “Questura, categoria A8 ebrei, busta 6, fascicolo 144.
  2. Aldo Oberdorfer was born on 21 November 1885 in Trieste. He became a teacher, translator, literary critic and essayist. In 1913 he published an essay on Michelangelo Buonarroti, in 1923 the biography Vita di Beethoven (Ed. G. Morreale), in 1928 the book Leonardo da Vinci (Ed. Paravia), in 1933 Riccardo Wagner (Ed. Mondadori), in 1935 a book on Louis II of Bavaria. He translated works by Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche. He was a professor at the Istituto Regio Ferdinando Galiani in Chieti, an activity that he was forced to leave after the racial laws of 1938. He was arrested in Milan on 11 June 1940 and was deported to the concentration camp of Lanciano, seriously ill he was revoked internment, returned to Milan where he died on 14 September 1941.In 1938, three Jewish teachers were in service at the Royal Ferdinando Galiani Institute in Chieti, who, with the promulgation of the racial laws, were removed from teaching. They were Alfredo Schumann, Giulia Volterra and Aldo Oberdorfer. To the latter is dedicated the Stolpersteine, placed in front of the school entrance.
  3. Ente Nazionale Italiano per il Turismo, founded in 1919.
  4. The EGELI, acronym of Agency of management and liquidation of real estate, was founded in February 1939 with the task of confiscating, managing and, eventually, selling real estate and companies stolen from Italian Jews because of racial laws. First Demetrio Asinari of Bernezzo was appointed president, then, after his death in July 1939, Cesare Giovara, both presidents of the Istituto Bancario San Paolo of Turin. The institution establishes in Rome its headquarters and enters into agreements with credit institutions, as through the territory, giving them the management and sale of the expropriated properties. In Lombardy this task is carried out by the Credit Fund of the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, which constitutes an office called Management of expropriations and then EGELI Business Management.
    With the birth of the Italian Social Republic, the EGELI follows the other fascist authorities to the north and is transferred to San Pellegrino Terme: Senator Pietro Lissia, appointed president, never takes office, while the direction is entrusted to Commissioner Leopoldo Pazzagli.
    The EGELI was dissolved in 1957 but the liquidation, entrusted to the Treasury, lasted until 1997.

  5. A.S.Mi Archivio di Stato di Milano, “Prefettura di Milano – Documentazione relativa ai cittadini di origine ebraica (b. 34, f. 3927, cc. 14).
  6. Bruno Pincherle, Testimonianze su Renzo Bonfiglioli. Palazzo Paradiso 23 febbraio 1964. Ferrara, Tipografia Sociale, 1964. See s.v. Renzo Bonfiglioli.