The Arty Semite

Neurologist and Anti-Nazi Partisan Davide Schiffer

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Wallstein Verlag

The French Jewish neuropsychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Boris Cyrulnik has written widely about the importance of “Creative Disobedience” and how when faced by the Nazis, badly-behaved children often had more useful survival strategies than polite, well-trained ones.

The eminent Italian neurologist Davide Schiffer has produced a memoir of his own war years, underlining the truth in this assertion. Although best known to doctors for such texts as “Brain Tumor Pathology: Current Diagnostic Hotspots and Pitfalls” from Springer Verlag in 2006, and “Through the Microscope: Neuroscience and the Bases for Clinical Reasoning”, out from the same publisher in June 2011, Schiffer’s “There is no Homecoming: Holocaust, Resistance, and the Postwar Years” originally out in Italy in 2003 from 5 Continents Edizioni and in a revised version in 2008 from Edizioni Sei, may be his most moving, limpidly written work.

Although no English-language version exists as yet, a German translation appeared from Wallstein Verlag last October. It explains Schiffer’s guilt feelings over the 1944 arrest by Italy’s Fascist police of his Hungarian Jewish-born father Sándor, and subsequent deportation to Auschwitz where he was murdered.

Taught to be obedient and respectful, 16-year-old Davide, raised in the town of Verzuolo in the Piedmont region of Italy, southwest of Torino, did not even think of attacking the policemen who were arresting his father. Instead, “like a fool, like an idiot,” he just witnessed the scene in shock. However, the tragic disappearance of his father immediately galvanized Schiffer who took to the hills as a teenage partisan, fighting the Axis foe after learning disobedience the hard way.

In happier times, sweet memories included Shabbat dinners when young Davide relished such culinary treats as oven-baked Rakott Krumpli, a potato casserole liberally seasoned with Paprika, and Hungarian palacsinta, central European thin pancakes comparable to the French crêpe. Such festive memories were interrupted by the rise of Italian anti-Semitism.

After the war, having resumed his studies, Schiffer was offered the opportunity to study at the renowned Institute for Brain Research in Neustadt, Germany. He eloquently describes his hesitation about studying in the “land of murderers” and speaking a language which from his days as a partisan he associated with screamed military commands. He concludes, “We cannot hate an entire people” and notes that many Germans too died in Nazi concentration camps, so he chose to take up the educational offer, which led to his long and distinguished career.

Watch Davide Schiffer speak in Torino in 2008 about his wartime experiences.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rakott Krumpli, Davide Schiffer, Boris Cyrulnik

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.