Lidia Menapace, Who Fought Fascists and Sexists, Dies at 96
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
She hid explosives under her clothes. She delivered maps and antifascist propaganda slipped between the pages of works by Cicero. She brought medicine by bicycle to wounded partisans hiding in the mountains.
Lidia Menapace, as she recounted in a memoir and interviews, often risked her life as a member of Italy’s clandestine Resistance fighting the Nazis and Italian Fascist forces in World War II. And like many women partisans, her contributions were discounted by male members.
After the war, when Italian officials said women should not participate in a liberation parade, she went anyway.
“If there hadn’t been women,” she once said, “there wouldn’t have been any Resistance.”
Ms. Menapace later turned to the causes of feminism and pacifism. She was an author and essayist, a member of the collective that founded the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto and a senator at 82.
She died on Dec. 7 after being hospitalized with Covid-19 in the northern city of Bolzano, her niece Marta Brisca said. She was 96.
Lidia Menapace was born in the northern city of Novara on April 3, 1924, to Giacomo Brisca, a surveyor with antifascist politics, and Italia Vercesi, a homemaker from a family with anarchist tendencies.
In primary school under Mussolini, teachers instructed her to exalt the regime, monarchy and church. But at home, her mother told her to tear apart school reports that classified her as a member of the “Aryan race” because, she told her daughter, “We are not animals.”
A young Ms. Menapace understood immediately the injustice of the regime’s new racial laws, which banned her two Jewish friends from going to school.
Her father in 1943 was sent to concentration camps for refusing to submit to the authority of the Republic of Salò, the newly formed Nazi puppet state in northern Italy. He survived and was freed two years later. In his absence, his daughter had joined the Resistance at 19.
While a literature student at the Catholic University of Milan, she delivered messages to antifascist soldiers. She escorted escaping Jewish men to the Swiss border and organized jailbreaks. She stored bombs and copies of a Resistance newspaper in her family’s basement. She passed secret messages to political prisoners in jail.
As soon as the fighting ended, she made clear that she was not engaged in a war but was struggling against oppression — and that going forward, she opposed every sort of war.
“We wanted to live, and live in peace” she wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Io, Partigiana: La Mia Resistenza” (“I, Partisan: My Resistance”).
She exposed efforts to erase the role women played as partisans. “The chiefs of the Resistance preferred that their power and leadership weren’t shared with women,” she wrote. “They took everything” — credit, power and historical memory.
She graduated in 1945 and worked at the university as a lecturer but lost her job after expressing Marxist positions.
In 1964, she became the first woman elected to the provincial council of Bolzano, where she had moved after marrying Nene Menapace, a doctor. Five years later, she helped found Il Manifesto, which became influential in Italian politics and culture.
She argued for the legalization of abortion and divorce in Italy, opposing what she called “the life-sentence marriage.” She promoted more inclusive language to address entrenched discrimination, such as referring to women with feminine versions of de facto masculine titles.
She took a staunch stand against the economic oppression of women and the exploitation of women’s domestic work. In her personal life, she refused to cook for her husband unless he did the grocery shopping.
Mr. Menapace died in 2004. She is survived by her sister, Isa Brisca and her brother, Aldo Brisca.
Ms. Menapace was elected in 2006 to the Italian Senate with the Communist Refoundation Party. She used her position to draw attention to the low number of women in the cabinet. She also criticized the flyovers by Italian air force jets on holidays as a noisy waste.
She engaged with politics until the end, drawing a line from the antifascist fight to the coronavirus pandemic.
“What did I learn from the Resistance? To live with fear and overcome it,” she told La Repubblica, a daily, in April. “Now we have to get rid of this virus.”
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