short biography of life-long Italian anarchist militant Maria Zazzi
Born 10 June 1904, Coli, Italy, died 5 January 1993, Bologna, Italy
Born on 10th June 1904 at Coli, in Italy. She emigrated to France at
the age of 19 to join her brother Luigi, whose wife had just died. Luigi
was a maximalist socialist and had fled Italy to escape fascist persecution.
She then moved to Paris, where she moved in Italian exile circles. She
moved towards anarchism, and established a relationship with the Bolognese
anarchist Armando Malaguti. Her involvement in propaganda and solidarity
work was much appreciated in this exile community, among which she had
a good friendship with the Berneri anarchist family.
She was among the few anarchist women activists and gained respect for
her energetic activity and her strong personality. The French authorities
expelled Malaguti at the beginning of 1927 and she moved with him to
Luxembourg, and then to Belgium. At Brussels Maria got to know Russian
anarchist Ida Mett and her companion Nicolas Lazarevitch, and then Buenaventura
Durruti and Francisco Ascaso. One member of the group in which she was
involved was the university professor Giulio Manon, who was sentenced
to 10 years for putting a bomb in the house of a judge who had handed
out a heavy sentence to a young anarchist.
She was heavily involved in propaganda work and visited prisoners ,
pretending to be their aunt! This earned her the nickname of Aunt Marie!
She was active in Brussels, alongside Angelo Sbardellotto and Bruno
Gualandi in the defence campaign of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti
which ended on the day of their execution with a general strike in Belgium
in which workers turned out en masse despite the disapproval of the
union officials. This was in no small way thanks to the activities of
the three comrades who had heavily leafleted the trams in Brussels at
rush hour time, whilst the union bureaucrats did little to mobilise.
Hunted down by the Belgian police, Maria and Armando left for Paris
in 1932. There they met Ukrainian former guerrilla Nestor Makno and
Volin. Up until 1936 the couple went between Brussels and Paris. Maria
remarked about all these outstanding anarchists that she had met that
they were all similarly exceptional, all modest and sharing an exceptional
camaraderie. The press depicted them as people of action, but they were
as at home with ideas and were all able to defend themselves well in
In August 1936 after the start of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution
Armando enrolled in the Ascaso Column in Spain and he fought at Monte
Pelato on the Aragon Front. Maria moved to Barcelona to take part in
the Revolution. For Maria arriving in Barcelona was like entering another
world where one lived in full solidarity and fraternity. Malaguti was
arrested in France in March 1937 whilst on leave in France and Maria
returned to Paris to arrange support for the returning comrades, finding
shelter and documents for them.
With the German invasion Maria was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated
for three days about the whereabouts of Armando, which she refused to
divulge. Armando was later arrested and deported to a concentration
camp in Germany and later to Ventotene in Italy. In 1942 she herself
tried to cross the Italian border and eventually got to Ventotene. Subsequently
Armando was transferred to Ustica and then to the concentration camp
of Renicci d’Anghiari from where he escaped on 8th September 1943.
The couple then worked in Bologna in anti-fascist activity.
Armando died in 1955 and Maria established a relationship with the anarchist
Alfonso “Libero” Fantazzini, who had fought as a partisan
and who she was already acquainted from her exile years. Their home
became an important reference point for anarchists living in Bologna
or visiting, thanks to the hospitality of the two old militants. Despite
her fragile appearance Maria maintained a contagious energy. She had
a quasi-maternal role for the young militants of the new generation
and became a tutor of Libero’s son, Horst - later famous for his
exploits as “the gentleman bank-robber” and his long periods
the 1970s she was active in agitating for the release of framed anarchist
Valpreda. She took part in the conferences and meetings of the Italian
Anarchist Federation up till the 80s when she was struck down with a
grave form of paresis. Her illness and the imprisonment of his son caused
a rapid psycho-physical deterioration in the health of Fantazzini and
he died on 14th December 1985. Maria spent the last years of her life
in a hospice, dying in Bologna on 5th January 1993.
anarchist movement is always my point of reference, the idea is always
the same and I am happy to see young comrades work with conviction”