Tullia Zevi (AP)
Tullia Zevi Photo by AP
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ROME - Tullia Zevi, a pillar of Italy's Jewish community and an ardent anti-fascist who spent the war years in exile in Switzerland, France and the U.S., died yesterday. She was 91.

Zevi, the only female president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, died in Rome, current union president Renzo Gattegna said.

One of four children of a bourgeois Jewish family, Zevi was vacationing with her parents in Switzerland in 1938 when Italy passed its racial laws. The family, known for her father's anti-fascist beliefs, moved to France and later the U.S. as World War II raged.

She returned to Italy in 1946 and worked as a journalist as well as with various center-left political parties.

In a biographical article she wrote in 1999, Zevi said she returned because she wanted to help Italy and its Jews rebuild after the war.

"The horrors of the war had just been discovered; the mass extermination of the Jews, the gypsies and political opponents, the devastation of Jewish communities," she wrote.

"It seemed right, having had the fortune of having survived, to return and participate in the reconstruction of this traumatized community in chaos, and also to participate in the rebirth of democracy in Italy following the defeat of fascism."

She headed the Union of Italian Jewish Communities from 1983-1998, and remained active in the Jewish community afterward, frequently commenting in the media about Jewish-Vatican relations in particular.

In 1992, she was awarded Italy's highest civilian honor, news reports said.

"We recall her profound and dignified interventions that she made in defense of the Jews and all minorities," Gattegna said in a statement.

Her husband Bruno Zevi, an architect, Jewish leader and member of Italy's clandestine Justice and Liberty movement during the fascist era, died in 2000. They had two children.