From Pitigliano to Tripoli, via Livorno:
The Pedagogical Odyssey of Giannetto Paggi
By Ariel Paggi1 and Judith Roumani2

Fig. 1. Giannetto Paggi photo.
Source: Ariel Paggi

Giannetto Paggi (Fig. 1) is an important example of the contribution that Italian Jews, and thus the Jews of Pitigliano, have made to the development of Italy. History has turned several sharp corners since his life’s work, in directions that he never would have wished to imagine, but Giannetto Paggi’s efforts are worth remembering as an example of his optimistic times, when new opportunities were opening up for Italian Jews for the first time..

Only one branch of the Paggi family is Jewish, and it originates from Pitigliano, today a small town in Tuscany but until the 1600s the capital of the important County of the Orsini, straddling the border between the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of the Medici. This county had some fame around Italy: it had ambassadors all over Europe and when the Italians defeated Charles VIII at the battle of Fornovo in 1495, it was to shouts of “Pitigliano, Pitigliano,” that they reversed the outcome of a battle that they seemed to have lost.3

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, Pitigliano was one of the five most important Jewish communities in Tuscany. The number of Jews registered was lower only than the communities of Livorno and Florence, and was comparable to those of Pisa and Siena. The Jews living in Pitigliano were shopkeepers, merchants, property owners, and businessmen. The percentage of Jews in relation to Catholics was greater than in the other towns and was similar to percentages of Jews in Eastern Europe: about 20% of the population. The Jews lived in the ghetto, near the present-day Via Zuccarelli, between the passageway under the main church [il Duomo] and the Church of San Pietro. Since it was not possible to extend the ghetto at ground level, rooms were tunneled inside the tufo rock, as recent excavations around the synagogue have shown, where a wine cellar and a tannery have been identified. Pitigliano was called La Piccola Gerusalemme [Little Jerusalem] because of its large proportion of Jews, and today, though very few Jews remain, this name has been given to a cultural association that provides continuity for cultural traditions of the area and manages one of the major Jewish museums of Tuscany. La Piccola Gerusalemme is also responsible for upkeep and preservation of the local Jewish cemetery, which is still in use, and is a national monument because of the uniqueness of the site on which it is located and the characteristics of the tombs.

Fig. 2: The authors of the article visit the former ghetto of Pitigliano, October 2011. Source: Jacques Roumani

Both under the counts of Orsini (who often had Jewish doctors), under the Grand Duchy of the Medici, and when Italy was united, the Jewish community’s relations with the Catholic population were based on mutual respect and collaboration. Following the Napoleonic invasion, during the Counter-Revolution of 1799, when the “Viva Maria” movement was born, some soldiers from Orvieto attacked the Jewish community, but the entire population of Pitigliano rose up to defend the Jews and the invaders were beaten off.4

Jews had settled in Pitigliano in late medieval times, encouraged by the Orsini counts, who allowed them to carry on various activities related to agriculture, medicine, and trade. Jews had also been present at that time in various towns around Pitigliano since the 1300s and 1400s. There had been a migration of moneylenders from Rome to small towns in northern Lazio [Latium, the region surrounding Rome] and southern Tuscany. The restrictions against Jews imposed by the Papal State and by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany between 1550 and 15705 pushed Jews to concentrate in the semi-independent border areas, the most important of which was Pitigliano, seat of the Orsini counts. Later, after it was annexed to the Grand Duchy, it became the center of an autonomous Jewish Community. The first important exile to reach Pitigliano had been David De’ Pomis, a rabbi-doctor originating from Spoleto who arrived from Rome in 1555 and became the official doctor of Count Orsini.6 Even more of them arrived following the destruction of the city of Castro in 1649 by Pope Innocent X. By this time a ghetto had been created in Pitigliano.

The Jewish community of Pitigliano had many contacts with other communities because, even before the unification of Italy, Jews often changed their places of residence; moreover, they had a higher level of education than the average for the population: so that wherever there was a small Jewish community there would also be a school.  Even before the ghettoes were opened, Jews were dispersed in surrounding villages to carry out their business/commercial activities; in some small towns like Sorano, eight kilometers away, and Scansano, forty kilometers away, there were small ghettoes of Jews from Pitigliano; moreover, in the entire county there was traditionally a sporadic and limited Jewish presence, especially among the villages of the Monte Amiata area.7

Among the most important Jewish historical figures of Pitigliano, we may mention Giuseppe and Affortunata Consiglio who, as children from a poor family, emigrated to Florence and Livorno, achieved some considerable economic status and, upon their deaths, left part of their wealth in order to found the Pio Istituto Consiglio, which allowed many poor children to go to a Jewish school. Ariel Paggi, one of the authors of this article, studied at the school. With the unification of Italy, many Jews from Pitigliano achieved distinction in both Jewish and secular fields.

One should remember Flaminio Servi, of Pitigliano origin, and the rabbi of Alessandria: he was the founder of Il Vessilo Israelitico, the first Italian Jewish magazine of national scope, which he edited together with his brother Ferruccio, who was also a rabbi.

Dante Lattes, the leader of Italian Jewish culture around the 1900s, and born in 1876, originated in Pitigliano. He was a writer, journalist and educator, dedicating his life to spreading Jewish culture and a religious spirit among Italian Jews. He studied in Livorno at the Colleggio Rabbinico directed by Elia Benamozegh and in 1897 began to work for the Corriere Israelitico  newspaper in Trieste, becoming its co-director, together with Riccardo Curiel, in 1903. Under his direction the Corriere Israelitico, which was deeply committed to the Zionist movement, contributed to promoting the culture of Italian Jewry in a European and American context. In 1916, together with Alfonso Pacifici, Dante Lattes founded in Florence the weekly Israeland in 1925 the journal Rassegna Mensile di Israel, which is still being published. He was one of the first to support Zionism in Italy but he was, above all, the promoter of an idea of Jewish education based on fusing Italian Humanistic culture and Jewish thought. A prolific translator, he presented to the Italian public Ahad Ha-Am, Hess, and Pinsker.8

The family name Paggi is found fairly frequently in some areas of central Italy (Umbria, the Marche, Lazio), in Liguria, and Valtellina, but especially in Switzerland in the Grigioni Canton. There are two hypotheses regarding the origins of Paggi as a Jewish name: one is that Paggi is the Italian translation of the name Coen for a family that had fled from Spain in 1492 and taken refuge in Pitigliano, and that this family chose the name Paggi to distinguish themselves from those who had changed the name Coen to Servi. The other is that a Christian whose name was Paggi had married a Jewish woman and brought up the children as Jews. That would accord with the professions that the Paggis chose, dedicating themselves to business, livestock dealing, and the selling of meat (professions that gave them contacts outside the Jewish community). David Mano,9 a researcher at Tel Aviv University mentions, when discussing the problems of Pitigliano Jews during the eighteenth century, a certain Daniel Paggi who was a butcher, and his relations with non-Jews. In the Napoleonic period, the wealthiest Jew in Pitigliano was Emanuel Paggi.10 But the fortunes of the Paggis were soon to change. In Pitigliano of the early 1800s, as may be seen from the births, marriages and deaths registered in the Municipal Archives, the name Paggi was one of the most common. All the men were described as businessmen, or shopkeepers, and the women as housewives or weavers/seamstresses. Before the unification of Italy, we find several Paggis who had moved, because of the demands of their work, to other places in Tuscany where there were flourishing Jewish communities, such as Siena, Livorno, or Florence. They became shopkeepers, shoemenders, domestics or entrepreneurs, as the 1841 Census shows.

Giannetto Paggi, graduate of the Colleggio Rabbinico of Livorno, teacher and administrator of Italian public education overseas, and well-known figure in the world of Italian Jewry between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is the first of a series of figures who made the Paggis one of the families of Pitiglianese Jews that contributed most in a secular sense to Italian culture. Almost contemporary to Giannetto Paggi was Osvaldo Paggi who founded La Lente, a printing company in Pitigliano named after the small river that flows beneath the rocks on which Pitigliano is built. He also founded an important literary magazine with the same name. Of libertarian spirit, he was obliged to close his businesses and transferred to Grosseto, where he founded a new magazine and became a high school teacher. His sons founded a printing house in Florence that became the Casa Editrice Felice Paggi, one of the first authors that it published being Collodi, author of Pinocchio; when Pinocchio was published the printing house was already called Bemporad, from the maiden name of Felice’s wife. The Bemporad company, which later became Casa Editrice Marzocco, is still today one of the most important Italian printing houses.11 The Paggis were among the first Jewish families that, even before the unification of Italy, opened up to the outside world, abandoning the traditional trading and intermediary activities of Italian Jewry at the time, and taking on professional work to the extent that the laws of the Grand Duchy would allow them.

Returning to the earlier nineteenth century in Pitigliano, before the unification, Giacobbe Paggi, nicknamed Giacobbone, was a butcher, but listed in official documents as a shopkeeper. When he was twenty he married Adelaide or Abigail Barroccia, who was nineteen, in 1837 (Fig. 3). Giannetto was born on September 13, 1852, the youngest child of fourteen. The fourth son was David, great-grandfather of Ariel Paggi, one of the authors of this article. David was already married and had children. The name Giannetto is not a very Jewish one (at the time there was already a tendency to open up to the outside world). In his birth certificate he was given the name Gionata, but afterwards was always called Giannetto, even as a child and in official documents, perhaps because Giannetto was the hero of the most famous children’s novel of the time.

Fig. 3. Giannetto’s parents’ marriage certificate. Historical Archive of Pitigliano

Like some other Jews of Pitigliano, Giacobbe and Adelaide moved after a few years to Manciano, a small town near Pitigliano in the process of expanding. They were residents there when the 1861 Census, the first one after unification, was taken. The nine-year-old Giannetto was listed as a student. After the unification of Italy, since their economic situation improved, his parents wanted Giannetto to study, and the simplest way was to send him to the Collegio Rabbinico of Livorno, where he was probably a student of Israel Costa (d. 1897) and of Elia Benamozegh (d. 1900), as were also other students from Pitigliano, Dante Lattes and Samuele Colombo, though Colombo was sixteen years younger and Lattes twenty-four years younger than Giannetto. One may imagine that in the Collegio Rabbinico of Livorno during those decades there was a very stimulating intellectual atmosphere, with a high level of Talmud study, perhaps a whiff  of Benamozegh’s interest in the Kabbala, and at the same time a humanistic opening toward the Other, and that Giannetto must have benefitted greatly, in terms of both loyalty to tradition and openness to progress. We may assume from later events that he subsequently became a qualified teacher in the state school system. Still young and a student teacher [precettore], after fulfilling his military service in 1873 with the grade of Corporal Major (Fig. 4), on March 13, 1876, he married Alessia Ventura, a Jewish orphan born in the coastal town of Grosseto.

They left for Tripoli, Libya, the same year. In 1875 several families from the Jewish community of Tripoli, apparently on the initiative of the respected Signora Nunes Vais (a Livornese name), appealed to their fellow-Jews in Livorno to send a teacher of Italian to Libya.12 Thus Paggi sailed to Tripoli in 1876; as an employee of the Italian Ministry of Education, he was one of the first Italian Jews, and the first Jew from Pitigliano to become a public employee. He had four children, Vittorio Emanuele, Jole, Ida and Clelia, who all studied in Italy later. Only Jole and Vittorio started families: Jole married, in Tripoli, Leone Arbib, a member of a prominent local family, and had three children: Arnaldo followed a military career and by the time of the racial laws (1938), when he lost his position, had achieved the rank of colonel; then there were Elia, and Garibaldi, who opened a medical clinic in Rome. Her brother Vittorio had three children, Nella, Giannetto, and Vera. The descendants of Giannetto live today in Florence, Israel, and Rome, where some of them arrived after being thrown out of Libya in 1967. The other two sisters dedicated themselves, together with their father, to running the school (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4. Giannetto Paggi’s certificate of completion of military service, 1873. Historical Archive of Pitigliano.

Fig. 5. Giannetto Paggi together with his colleagues at the school, including his daughters Ida and Clelia.
(Source: Roberto Nunes Vais, Reminiscenze tripoline.)

There were already Italian schools in Libya during the Ottoman period, many years before the Italian colonial intervention (1911). One should not forget that, as an education official pointed out, already in the early 1900s the Italian language was the most frequently used after Arabic in both conversation and written documents. Italian schools, or schools financed by Italy, had been established in the Italian trading ports of the Maghreb for many years. Though they were originally intended solely for the very small Italian communities, they were also attended by the children of Arab notables and Turkish officials, and also Jews and Maltese. The same official, Francesco Crespi, more and more convinced that Italy should also have a colonial future, encouraged the first schools to be founded. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the Ottomans themselves addressed the issue of setting up modern schools.13

The Jews of Tripoli had ancient cultural traditions, and the Talmud Torah of Tripoli had considerable prestige in all of North Africa. It was a cosmopolitan population and included Jews from Europe who had not been included in the Ottoman censuses. Italian Jews were also prominent in the economic sense. Thus the question arose within the community of how to provide a more modern education than what could be provided by the Hara [Jewish quarter] traditional Jewish education, or Muslim schools. So they undertook to set up an Italian-language school at their own expense. Thus Giannetto Paggi arrived and founded the Italian school for boys, in Sciara Espagnol Street near the Corso Italiano. This school also set up an accounting course for bookkeeping in Italian and Arabic. The goal was to give the young people who attended the skills they needed for a business career.14 By 1879 the school already had 27 students.15 The boys’ school was followed by a girls’ school two years later, with the support of courageous female teachers. In 1909 Gustavo Arbib founded the Eco di Tripoli newspaper in Italian.16 An Italian-language newspaper was a revolutionary event for the Arab world in those days.

When Libya came under Italian rule in 1911, the situation became more complex. The Turks had ruled without being very active in the area of culture. Italy looked carefully at the problem of how to educate the indigenous population. The Italians did not import the Italian educational system, but set up a special system in view of the fact that Libyan reality was very varied. Among the Muslims there were Arabs, Sudanese and Berbers; then there were Italians, non-Italian Europeans, and the Jews, who had their own traditions. They had been subject to Muslim codes even in their dress, and the directive for colonial officials was to elevate them and help them achieve dignity without arousing pride and ambition, and to direct the Jews toward activities aimed at the communal welfare. In this sense the work of Giannetto Paggi was very useful, especially because by 1911 he had been in Libya for almost forty years.17 In the period of economic crisis, when many Italian schools abroad were closed down, those in Tripoli organized by Giannetto Paggi were still flourishing.

The Ministry of Education accordingly also entrusted Giannetto Paggi with the task of founding a technical school of draftsmen and accountants, of which he became director. He played an active role in the life of Italian Tripoli and was appointed president of the local section of the Dante Alighieri Society. The government honored him with the title of Cavaliere d’Italia,18 and he was also honored with a gold medal from the City of Tripoli in May 1916, at the age of 64. His funeral in 1916 was attended by all the top civilian and military personalities of the colony, including the governor. The Tripoli newspaper, Nuova Italia, dedicated an entire page to his funeral (Fig. 6).

It is worthwhile to try to examine Giannetto Paggi’s experience in Libya, and whether it was an unqualified success or not. Italian Jews in Paggi’s time (his career spanned from 1876 to 1916) were still exploring their new status of emancipation and equality. In the First World War, Italian Jews gave life and limb unstintingly for the cause of Italy, as they had earlier contributed to Italian unification. They were eager to show their Italian patriotism, but they also surely were aware of persisting undercurrents of anti-Semitism.19 Thus someone like Paggi had to tread carefully, as he negotiated between Italian Jewry, Libyan Jewry, Italian foreign and colonial policy, as well as Libyan Muslims. He achieved his goals in his lifetime, was made a cavaliere dello stato, and was accorded a state funeral, but he would have been shocked to see the subsequent events that affected his school over the next forty years. Even though the school survived until the early 1950s, Paggi could not have envisaged that the lingering anti-Semitism of his day would reemerge in the Fascist period, when all Jewish teachers were fired and expelled, and Jews were not allowed to attend school beyond the elementary years.

In 1876 Paggi had arrived in Libya, invited and financed by a group of Jewish families, “padri di famiglia” who apparently wanted a modern, Italian-language elementary school for their sons. In the introduction to Le Scuole italiane in Tripoli published by the Ministry of Colonies for the 1914 Mostra Coloniale di Genova, Professor Mascia describes the initiative as being “su proposta del Console.” 20 There were already some small Italian language schools in Libya in the 1870s (run by the Franciscan Order and other Christian orders) so, presumably, these parents were looking for some sort of Jewish education or environment as well.  Details about its curriculum for these early years are not available. A report by Giannetto Paggi written many years later describes some of the difficulties he faced as founder and director of the new school:

Per avere un’idea delle difficoltà, veramente eccezionali, un mezzo alle quali doveva dibattersi che ebbe, per il primo, il pensiero d’istituire qui una scuola italiana, basterà ricordare che a quell’epoca  mancava a Tripoli ogni espligazione di vita civile: ne line regolari di navigazione, ne uffici postali, ne line telegrafiche la collegavano al mondo civile; mancava perfino il mezzo di procurarsi il material scolastico, e tutto dovevasi far venire dall’Italia (Le scuole, p. 13)

[In order to have some idea of the difficulties, which were really extreme, against which he who first had the idea of setting up an Italian school here had to battle, it is enough to remind ourselves that at that time any development of civil life was lacking in Tripoli: there were no regular shipping lines, no post offices, no telegraph lines linking Tripoli with the civilized world; even the means of acquiring educational supplies were lacking, and everything had to be imported from Italy.]

The school had begun small and had grown to 90 pupils by 1883. Paggi apparently welcomed the takeover by the Italian government in 1882, when it became an Italian state school run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which fulfilled such functions before the Ministry of Colonies). He describes it thus “Nel 1882 il Regio Governo convertiva la scuola private in scuola governativa, provvedendola del personale insegnante necessario, trasferendola in apposite locale, corredendola di tutti i mezzi didattici necessari ed istituendo, sotto un’unica direzione, la scuola tecnica.” (p. 13). [In 1882 the Italian Government turned the private school into a government school, providing the necessary teaching staff, transferring it to appropriate buildings, providing all the teaching materials needed, and setting up the technical school under the same management.] Paggi also welcomed Francesco Crespi’s reforms of 1888, strengthening and promoting Italian schools around the Mediterranean in places where there was Italian influence.  Nothing is mentioned about the Jewish nature of the school or its pupils at this point.  Paggi in fact emphasized the Italian purposes of the school, no doubt for official consumption. He had begun his report thus “Nel 1876, per iniziativa di un cittadino italiano, sorgeva a Tripoli la prima scuola, l’unica anzi, che in quell tempo, ormai lontano, si proponesse finalità veramente e sinceramente nazionali.” [In 1876, on the initiative of an Italian citizen, there opened in Tripoli the first school, the only one, thast in those far-off days had a truly and sincerely national purpose.] Paggi is implicitly contrasting the school he founded with the small schools of the Christian orders, which were founded by missionaries and served a religious purpose, and perhaps also with the traditional Talmud Torah schools. He underlines the point later in the same report where he described the school as a “scuola elementare di Stato…aperta a tutte le correnti della civiltà.” [a state elementay to all currents of society]. Paggi also emphasized the Italian patriotic purpose of the school: “ merce il patriottismo e lo spirito di abnegazione del corpo insegnante, essa fu palestra di educazione civile, scuola di pattriotismo, valido strumento per la propagazione della nostra lingua e mezzo efficace di penetrazione pacifica.” [Due to the patriotism and the self-sacrificng spirit of the teaching staff, it was a bastion of social education, a school for patriotism, an effective instrument for the propagation of our language, and an efficient means of peaceful penetration].  He thus aligned the school with the goals of Italian colonial policy.

Fig. 6. The funeral of Giannetto Paggi in Tripoli, and a plaque that was affixed to the outside of the school.
It remained there until Libyan independence in 1951. Source: Roberto Nunes Vais, Reminiscenze tripoline.

By 1910-11, on the eve of the Italian invasion, the school had 13 teachers, and the parallel girls’ school, founded in 1878, had 12 teachers. Paggi’s school at this point had two classes for Arabs, and two Muslim teachers, and was constantly receiving new Italian pupils just arrived from Italy. In 1912-13 the school was renamed the Pietro Verri school (Figs. 7, 8). However, ethnic integration did not continue for very long. The school was so popular that it had two sessions per day, and the Jewish students studied either before or after at a traditional Talmud Torah. For those who did not attend Talmud Torah, the Italian government provided after-school classes with a rabbi. Contini tells us that “La Scuola Pietro Verri istituita nell’anno 1912-13 nel  centro della Città vecchia, fu subito frequentata quasi esclusivamente dagli israeliti” [The Peitro Verri school established in 1912-1913 in the center of the Old City was soon frequented almost entirely by Jews.] (p. 29), hence the above accommodations. Giannetto Paggi died in 1916, and new school reforms in 1924 created three systems in the colony: one for Christians (which were like Italian state schools in all respects) one for Jews (a modified curriculum, with extra reinforcement for Italian language, and no school on Saturdays), and one for Muslims (in which Muslim law and ethics were added, and later arts and crafts). Thus Paggi’s idea of a secular school existed for only a very few years, between 1912 and 1924. We do not really know whether this was his ideal, or whether, as is more likely, Paggi felt that promoting Italian education (and an Italian way of life, including modern health and hygiene and Western attitudes) was the best way for him to improve the situation of Libyan Jews. While Paggi appreciated the positive attitudes of Libyan Jews, he was frustrated by a clear lack of organization among them.21 Libya already had a well-developed system of Talmud Torah schools, and Giannetto Paggi did not have to worry about encouraging Jewish religious education.22

It is useful to compare Paggi’s Italian-language school with the school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, founded in Tripoli in 1894. The Alliance had, however, been active in Libya since 1861, sending reports to headquarters in Paris about persecution, discrimination and the general health and economic situation of Jews in Libya. Due to the hazards of colonial policy in the ‘scramble for Africa’ France colonized Morocco and Italy had a free hand in Libya, in the first decades of the twentieth century. The Alliance was probably even better prepared to bring European education to the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa than the Italians were. The Alliance was an international organization which for many decades had defended persecuted Jews in various countries (including Libya), it had a teacher’s college in Paris where its teachers were prepared both pedagogically and psychologically to go to the Middle East, and it had its own curriculum which promoted the French language, a French education, and a modernizing Jewish education. The Alliance school included Hebrew and French, and also added Italian after 1911. Giannetto Paggi is quoted as saying that its graduates, since they were not fluent in Italian, could only find work as shoe shiners, whereas his own Italian language graduates had many opportunities for employment.

Paggi wrote in a letter to Anselmo Colombo, in March , 1912:

There is an institution here which, if it had not distorted its aim, might also have been very useful: it is the Alliance Israélite. But it spends its money on schools which are no use, first, because in our state schools young people can get a much more complete and contemporary education; second, the teaching of French here, thanks to our soldiers and sailors, has seen its day; and, third, poor people need to learn a trade in order to earn their living. All the young Jews who attended Italian schools and speak our language have easily found work; the others . . . are shining shoes . . . in French .  [quoted by De Felice,  p. 307.]

Paggi’s school had classes in Italian, Arabic, French and Hebrew, which the Alliance probably had too, but with a different emphasis. The Alliance school was always small, but it was not closed down by the Fascists, it did survive the war years and was still functioning in the early 1950s.

On balance, Giannetto Paggi’s efforts in Libya were resoundingly successful at the time, due no doubt to his extraordinary organizational and leadership abilities. He had to contend with various groups, such as the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs, that were apparently friendly but had divergent agendas, and he maneuvered their interests and that of the Jews very skillfully. He also no doubt met some opposition from the traditional religious leaders of the Libyan community, the rabbis who ran the Talmud Torah schools, and who might have seen this secularizing school as a threat. However, attendance at both the Pietro Verri and the Talmud Torah enabled Libyan Jews to modernize while remaining true to their traditional values, a trend that has survived until today. With his idealism and sense of purpose, as well as the resources he managed to mobilize, Paggi succeeded in his goal of opening Libyan Jewry to a new, modern way of seeing the world.


1 Ariel Paggi is a Holocaust survivor, chemist, engineer, olive grower and wine maker,  living in Livorno and Pitigliano. He is the author of a memoir of the Holocaust years, Un Bambino nella tempestá (Livorno: Belforte, 2009), and of a forthcoming study of the fate of foreign Jews in Italy during the Holocaust.

2 Judith Roumani is the editor of Sephardic Horizons.

3  Giuseppe Bruscaluppe, Monografia storica della Contea di Pitigliano.

4 David Mano, “I Giacobini di Pitigliano nel 1799,” in Roberto Giusti and Giovanni Greco, Pitigliano “La Piccola Gerusalemme terra della libertà e dell’accoglienza (Pitigliano 1999), pp. 55-81.

5 R.G. Salvadori, La Notte della Rivoluzione e la Notte degli orvietani: Gli Ebrei di Pitigliano e I motti del ‘Viva Mari’ (1799) (Pitigliano 2009), pp. 55-81.

6 Angelo Biondi, “Le Comunità Ebraiche nei feudi di Confine e la loro confluenza in quella di Pitigliano,” pp. 27-54 in Giusti et al., Pitigliano “La Piccola Gerusalemme.” David De’ Pomis is well known as the author of Zemah David (Venice 1587), a trilingual dictionary (Italian-Hebrew-Latin) in the preface to which he mentions the five years he spent in Pitigliano and calls it his ‘city of refuge’. See Biondi, p. 28; Encycl. Jud., ‘Pomi(s), De’. Attilio Milano, Storia degli ebrei in Italia (Torino, 1995) says that the noble De’ Pomis family (or Min Ha-Thappuchim) was one of four  to six that Titus brought to Rome for his triumph (p. 581). As a doctor, David De’ Pomis was famous, and came from a line of famous doctors; he wrote a treatise in defense of Jewish doctors that was printed in 1588 (p. 633). It seems that even though David left Pitigliano five years later, members of his family (the children of his brother) were still living there 70 years later (Interview with Angelo Biondi by Judith Roumani and Jacques Roumani, Pitigliano, Oct. 25, 2011). It is thus not surprising that David De’ Pomis was reputed to be the founder of the Jewish community of Pitigliano, even though now we know that some Jews were living in Pitigliano a hundred years before him (Angelo Biondi, interview).

7 Angelo Biondi, “Le Comunità Ebraiche nei feudi di Confin e la loro confluenza in quella di Pitigliano,” in Giusti et al., cit., pp.27-54.

8 One can safely say that the people of Pitigliano who have made most contribution on the national level over the last two centuries have almost all been Jewish. Other Jews from Pitigliano who made important contributions are:
Temistocle Sadun, who installed the first electric generating center providing lighting for the town and functioning until after the Second World War;
Pompilio Ajo, an engineer and entrepreneur in agriculture;
Napoleone Sadun, entrepreneur and founder of a local bank;
Ugo Sorani, an important parliamentary deputy who influenced legislation at the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries;
Aristippo Sadun, who stood out in the financial sector and founded the Cassa Agraria Presiti [Agricultural Loan Bank] in the early 1900s;
Enrico Lattes, an influential architect active in Rome and Umbria;
Samuele Colombo, well known rabbi of Livorno and director of the Colleggio Rabbinico;
Azaria Lattes, who was initially the Secretary of the municipality, and later mayor of Porto Santo Stefano (Grosseto), and contributed together with other Jews to the development of the Argentario area;
Cesare Sadun, who with the Modigliani family of Livorno developed the first Italian mercury mines on the Monte Amiata along the Siele river in the province of Grosseto.
Also originating in Pitigliano are:
Giulio Bemporad, a well known chemist;
Azeglio Bemporad, one of the greatest Italian astronomers of the twentieth century;
Edda Servi Machlin, a resident of New York and author of several cook books, responsible for bringing Italian Jewish cuisine (based on the Jewish cuisine of Pitigliano) to the knowledge of Americans.

9 David Mano, “Giacobini di Pitigliano nel 1799,” in Giusti et al., pp. 55-82.

10 Salvadori, La Comunità Ebraica di Pitigliano.

11 Some other notable  Paggis are: Isacche Paggi, who became an army instructor in Sorano; Mario Paggi, a lawyer and politician of national reputation, founder of political reviews including Il Mondo; Bruno Paggi, a surgeon and university professor; Giannetto Paggi, the chemist and inventor of one of the first plastics, when he was a refugee from the Shoah in Switzerland, and afterwards a successful industrialist in Central America; Edoardo Paggi, the post-war mayor of Pozzuoli.

12  Roberto Nunes Vais, Reminiscenze tripoline (Edizioni Uaddan, 1982).

13 Federico Cresti, “ Per uno Studio delle “Elite” Politiche nella Libia Independente: La Formazione Scolastica (1912-1942),”  Studi Storici, 41:1 (Jan.-Mar. 2000), 121-148; A. Festa, Scuole per Indigeni in Tripolitania (Tripoli: Plinio Maggi, 1930); Renzo De Felice, Jews in an Arab Land: The Jews of Libya, p. 26.

14 A. Festa, Scuole per indigeni in Tripolitania, cit.

15 De Felice, Jews in an Arab Land, p.11.

16 De Felice, Jews in an Arab Land, p.12.

17 Gavriel Arbib, et al., Yahadut Luv (Tel Aviv: Kahalat Luv  beIsrael, 1960), pp. 34-35.

18 Roberto Nunes Vais, Reminiscenze tripoline, cit., p. 27.

19 In 1861 an Italian diplomat had expressed doubts about the patriotism of Italian Jews. Renzo De Felice quotes Consul Ansaldi as he describes the so-called Italian elite among Libyan Jews: Very few families “could be considered really Italian.” Most Jews appreciate “any nationality, merely in order to have the protection of a consulate. . . . Most of the Tuscans are of Jewish descent, lacking any feeling for Italy, like the Maltese and the Neapolitans, they are ignorant and indifferent, the word patriotism has no meaning for them.” Quoted by De Felice, dhp. 26. Quoted from Ettore Rossi, “La Colonia italiana a Tripoli nel secolo XIX,” Rivista delle colonie italiane, Dec. 1930, p. 1060.  Such a statement, made only fifteen years before he established his school, would surely have pained Giannetto Paggi, and he probably saw this indifference as his special challenge. De Felice also records other causes of Italian mistrust of Libyan Jews: the London-based Jewish Territorial Organisation’s plans for possible Jewish settlement in Libya, seen as a sign that Jews might be more loyal to Britain than to Italy; hypothetical Jewish loyalty to Turkey; protests in Benghazi, etc.

20 Ministero delle Colonie, Mostra Coloniale di Genova: Le scuole italiane di Tripoli (Rome: Tipografia nazionale, 1914). Giannetto Paggi’s report on “Scuola elementare maschile di Tripoli,” pp.13-17. This also includes some beautiful photographs.

21 Paggi wrote in a letter to Anselmo Colombo, Mar. 5, 1912, AUCII, fasc. “Tripolitania”: “Se non ti ho scritto però non ho mancatto di parlare con qualcuno dei notabili di questa Comunità Israelitica, ed ecco quello che ho potuto sapere: un embrione di Amministrazione c’è; ed a capo di essa stanno I notabili israeliti italiani:Comm. Ernesto Labi, Cav. Isach di H. Hasan, Meborath,  Hassan, ecc. Altri elementi per formare un serio Consiglio di Amministrazionenon mancano, quail I signori Halfalla Nahum, Alfredo e Mario Nunes Vais ed altri; ma ci vorebbe chi potesse scuoterne l’apatia veramente orientale e l’egoismo spinto fino all’estrema Potenza. Tutti sono buoni a gridare finché si tratta di accettare le cariche, ma quanto al fare…è un altro paio di maniche. Del rimanente tu mi insegni che anima di una amministrazione è un buon segretario e questo manca e non è possible trovarlo nell’elemento indigeno. Bisognerebbe trovarlo nell’elemento europeo e pagarlo bene e occorrerebbe che conoscesse anche l’arabo almeno quello parlato qui.” “Though I have not written to you, I have been talking with some of the notables of the Jewish Community here, and this is what I found out: there is an embryonic administration, it is led by the Italian Jewish notables, i.e., Comm. Ernesto Labi, Cav.Isach di H. Hassan, Meborath Hassan, etc; there are others capable of forming a serious administrative council, such as Halfalla Nahum, Alfredo and Mario Nunes Vais, and others, but someone has to dispel the truly oriental apathy and egoism developed to the n th degree. Everone knows how to shout, ‘I will take responsibility’; things go well as long as people only have to accept positions, but getting something done is another kettle of fish. Moreover, you showed me that the soul of an administration is a good secretary. There is none here and it is impossible to find one among the indigenous Jews. We will have to catch one among the Europeans and pay him well, and he will also have to know Arabic, at least the Arabic spoken here.”De Felice, cit., pp. 313-14.

22 Developments during the Fascist period, following 1938, when Jews in Italy were stripped of almost all their rights, did not affect the Jews of Libya quite as harshly. All Jewish teachers were fired from their posts and expelled to Italy, and Jewish children could not attend schools beyond the elementary level. Their Italian education came to a close but they could attend the Talmud Torah schools. After Italy was defeated some expelled Jewish teachers came back in 1943 or later and operated the Pietro Verri school as a hospital school and refugee center for Jews fleeing pogroms in 1945 and 1948.  The school, under Emma Polacco, nursed children back to health so that they and their families could leave for Israel. The school seems to have remained open for a few more years (financed by the American Joint Distribution Committee) because the Talmud Torah was closed and its pupils transferred to the Pietro Verri in 1952, after the mass of Libyan Jews had left.


  1. Arbib, Gavriel, et al.. Yahadut Luv . Tel Aviv, Kahalat Luv be Israel, 1960.

  2.  Archivio UCEI [ UCEI Archives], Rome .

  3. Banco di Napoli. Mostra: Il Lavoro degli italiani di Libia 1908-1990. Naples: Banco di Napoli, 1990.

  4. Biondi, Angelo. “Le Comunità Ebraiche nei feudi di Confine e la loro confluenza in quella di Pitigliano,” pp. 27-54  in Pitigliano “ la Piccola Gerusalemme” terra della libertà e dell’accoglienza, ed. Roberto Giusti and Giovanni Greco, Conference, May, 23 2009, Pitigliano, Banca di Credito Cooperativo di Pitigliano.

  5. Biondi, Angelo. Interview with Judith Roumani and Jacques Roumani, Pitigliano, 25 Oct., 2011.

  6. Bruscalupi, Giuseppe, ed. G.C. Fabriziani.  Monografia storica della Contea di Pitigliano. Firenze, Martini, 1906

  7. Celata, Giuseppe. Gli Ebrei a Pitigliano: I quattro secoli di una comunità diversa.  Pitigliano, ATLA, 1995

  8. Contini, Fulvio. “Storia della istituzioni scolastiche della Libia.” Libia 1 (1953), pp. 7-103

  9. Cresti, Federico. “Per uno studio delle “elites” politiche nella Libia independente: La formazione scolastica (1912-1942).” Studi Storici 41: 1 (Jan.-Mar. 2000).

  10. De Felice, Renzo. Jews in an Arab Land: Libya, 1835-1970. 1978 ; trans. Judith Roumani . Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1985.

  11. Festa, A. Scuole per Indigeni in Tripolitania. Tripoli: Plinio Maggi, 1930.

  12. Labanca, Nicola, ed., La Libia nei manuali scolastici italiani (1911-2001). Rome: Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente, 2003.

  13. Mano, David. “I Giacobini di Pitigliano nel 1799”, pp.55-82 in Roberto Guisti e Giovanni Greco, eds., Pitigliano “La Piccola Gerusalemme” terra della libertà e dell’accoglienza. Pitigliano 2009.

  14. Mano, David, personal comunication with Ariel Paggi.

  15. Milano, Attilio, Storia degli ebrei in Italia (Torino: Einaudi,1963, 1992).

  16. Ministero delle Colonie, Mostra Coloniale di Genova, Le Scuole italiane di Tripoli,  Rome: Ministero delle Colonie, 1914 (report by Giannetto Paggi, pp. 13-17).

  17. Nunes Vais, Roberto. Reminiscenze tripoline . Rome (?): Edizioni Uaddan, 1982.

  18. Ordinamento amministrativo e didattico-professionale della scuola d’Arti e Mestieri di Tripoli, Maggio 1921 Tripoli: Tipo-Litografia della Scuola D’Arti e Mestieri, 1921.

  19. Roumani, Maurice. The Jews of Libya: Coexistence, Persecution, Resettlement, Brighton:  Sussex Academic Press, 2008.

  20. Salvadori, Roberto G. La comunità ebraica di Pitigliano dal XVI al XX secolo, Florence: Giuntina, 1991.

  21. Salvadori, Roberto G. La Notte della Rivoluzione e la Notte degli Orvietani: Gli Ebrei di Pitigliano e i moti del “Viva Maria” (1799), Pitigliano: Comune di Pitigliano, 1999.

  22. Servi Machlin, Edda. The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews: Traditional Recipes and Menus and a Memoir of a Vanished Way of Life.  New York: Giro Press, 1981, 1993.

  23. Servi Machlin, Edda. Child of the Ghetto: Coming of Age in Fascist Italy. Croton-on-Hudson: Giro Press, 1995.

  24. Viterbo Neppi Modona, Lionella, personal comunication with Ariel Paggi.

Fig. 7. Pietro Verri School, exterior. Source: Fulvio Contini, “Storia delle isituzioni scolastiche della Libia,” Libia 1:3 (1953). Photo taken around 1912-14.

Fig. 8. Pietro Verri School, interior. Source: Ministero delle Colonie, Mostra Coloniale di Genova, Le Scuole Italiane in Tripoli,  Rome 1914. Note the large map of Italy on the classroom wall, and the absence of religious symbols, whether Christian or Jewish.

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