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Tullia Calabi-Zevi

1923–2011

by Iael Nidam-Orvieto

In Brief

Tullia Calabi-Zevi was born in Milan and emigrated to the United States with her family in 1938, where she studied at the Julliard School of Music and Radcliff College. She began working as a journalist during World War II; she returned to Italy in 1946, and her first major assignment was covering the Nuremberg Trials. Over the next few decades Zevi wrote prolifically for a number of publications and became increasingly involved in Italian politics. She was the only women to serve as the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, a position she held for fifteen years. She had many other public leadership positions, including several specifically concerning Jewish life in Italy, and received numerous accolades for her work.

Article

Tullia Calabi-Zevi was born in Milan to a staunchly anti-Fascist family. When race laws were enacted in September 1938, her father, Giuseppe Calabi, a successful attorney, decided to leave Italy and emigrate to the United States with his wife and four children. The Calabis joined another family that was vacationing in Switzerland, where Giuseppe announced they would not be returning to Italy. 

They proceeded to Paris and then to the United States. Zevi, who had begun studying philosophy in Milan, continued at the Sorbonne in Paris and then went on to attend the Juilliard School of Music in New York and Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earning her living as a harp player. It was in the United States that she met her future husband Bruno Zevi (1918–2000), later to become a renowned architect and lecturer, whom she married in New York during World War II. The two were highly active in anti-Fascist circles. Zevi began working as a journalist during the war years. In 1946, she returned to Italy with her husband and was dispatched to Germany to cover the Nuremberg Trials.

Zevi became a journalist of international renown, writing for several leading newspapers in Italy and elsewhere, including Ma’ariv, Espresso, The Jewish Chronicle, The Religious News Service, Voce Repubblicana and others. In 1970, her interview with King Hussein of Jordan following the Black September incidents and the expulsion of the PLO was published both in Italy and in Israel, where she was invited to meet with Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Over the years, she became increasingly involved in Italian political and intellectual life, especially among the country’s Jews. She served as Vice President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities between 1978 and 1983 and as its President from 1983 to 1998 – the only woman to serve in this highest representative position of Italian Jewry. Zevi continued to hold numerous public positions in Italy and elsewhere, including membership in the National Committee on Bioethics, the Italian Committee of UNESCO and several Italian national committees. In 1998 she was elected President of the Commission for Intercultural and Interfaith Relations of the European Jewish Congress. 

Zevi received numerous commendations and awards for her extensive public activity and was the Italian candidate for the European Woman of the Year Award in 1992 because of her work for promotion of human rights and international solidarity. That same year, she received Italy’s highest award, Cavaliere di Grande Croce. In 1994, the Ministry of Culture awarded her a gold medal for her contribution to education, art and culture.

Tullia Calabi-Zevi in Rome died on January 22, 2011.

Bibliography

Primary Sources:

“My Political Autobiography.” November 15, 1999. Circolo Rosselli, Florence, Italy. Reprinted in Quadernie del Circolo Resselli: 1 (Florence Alinea editrice, 2000), 83-91.
A transcript translated by Inga Pierson can be found here.

Zevi, Tullia, and Nathania Zevi. Ti racconto la mia storia: dialogo tra nonna e nipote sull'ebraismo. (I’ll tell you my story: dialogue between grandmother and granddaughter on Judaism). Rizzoli, 2007.

“Family memories and testimonies.” (Ricordi e testimonianze di famiglia) Quadernie del Circolo Resselli 94, no. 3 (2006): 81-86.

Interview with Tullia Zevi. Quadernie del Circolo Resselli 41, no.1-2 (1992): 55-58.

Zevi, Tullia. "Lettera della Presidente dell'Unione delle Comunità Israelitiche Italiane, Tullia Zevi, al Presidente del Consiglio on. Bettino Craxi, 15 febbraio 1985." Lettera della Presidente dell'Unione delle Comunità Israelitiche Italiane, Tullia Zevi, al Presidente del Consiglio on. Bettino Craxi, 15 febbraio 1985 (2009): 107-107.

Zevi, Tullia. "Intervento della Presidente dell'Unione delle Comunità Israelitiche Italiane, Tullia Zevi, in occasione della firma dell'Intesa, 27 febbraio 1987." Intervento della Presidente dell'Unione delle Comunità Israelitiche Italiane, Tullia Zevi, in occasione della firma dell'Intesa, 27 febbraio 1987 (2009): 121-122.

Zevi, Tullia. “Saluto al Congresso Della Presidente Dell’Unione Delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane.” La Rassegna Mensile Di Israel, Terza Serie, 56, no. 1/2 (1990): 11-14. 

Zevi, Tullia. “Presentazione Della Relazione al III Congresso Dell’Unione Delle Comunita Ebraiche it Italiane (21-23 Guigno 1998)." La Rassegna Mensile Di Israel, Terza Serie, 64, no. 2 (1998): IX-XV. 

Zevi, Tullia. “Saluto del President Dell’Unione Delle Comunita’Israelitche Italiane al Congresso Straordinario.” La Rassegna Mensile Di Israel, Terza Serie, 53, no. 1/2 (1987): XI-XIV. 

Secondary Sources:

Mill Colorni, Felice, Gian Mario Gillio, and Paolo Naso. "Gli editoriali: Berlushenko: declino o rilancio?; Il Vaticano, un premier e le lenticchie d'oro; Obama ha ancora carte da giocare?; Tullia Zevi, una vita vissuta con passione" (The editorials: Berlushenko: decline or relaunch?; The Vatican, a prime minister and golden lentils; Obama still has cards to play?; Tullia Zevi, a life lived with passion). Gli editorial (2011): 1000-1004.

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How to cite this page

Nidam-Orvieto, Iael. "Tullia Calabi-Zevi." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 16, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/calabi-zevi-tullia>.