Giorgio Voghera was born in 1908 in Trieste, the only child of Guido and Paola Fano. Both of his parents came from lower middle-class Jewish families. They were atheists and socialists who, rejecting the bourgeois conventions of the time, chose to live together and have a child in “free love”, causing scandalised reactions in both religious and secular conformists.
Portait of Giorgio Voghera as a child, together with his mother Paola Fano.
Giorgio grew up in a peculiar environment. His father was a mathematician with an extensive and multifaceted culture, who met and knew the biggest cultural figures of early 20th century Trieste. He was close to Umberto Saba, to the unconventional man of letters Bobi Bazlen and to the physician Edoardo Weiss. The latter was one of Freud’s pupils, who through Trieste brought psychoanalysis to Italy, hitting the city and its neurotic bourgeoisie like «a cyclone*».
*Front cover of Gli anni della psicanalisi (The years of psychoanalysis), Edizioni Studio tesi, Pordenone 2020 (first edition 1980).
While still a child, Giorgio had the chance to listen to their conversations, and built a strong bond and a great admiration for his father. He was a brilliant student, and in 1925 he finished his secondary education a year early, but chose not to enrol in any University. Not wanting to attend the Faculties of Humanities, already tainted by Fascist propaganda, he preferred to join the workforce. Only 18, he was hired by Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà, where he would serve for over thirty years: always thorough, efficient, and humble to a fault.
In 1938 the racial laws forced him to resign from his post. Voghera, being a pessimist – or a keen observer? – predicted further impending disasters. Helped by his uncle Giuseppe Fano, president of the Italian Committee for the Assistance to Jewish Emigrants, he managed to obtain the permit to relocate to Palestine, then under British mandate, for himself and his parents. It was there that Voghera, now a worker in several kibbutzim, witnessed the outbreak and the tragedies of the Second World War. Since they were “enemy subjects”, Giorgio and his father were briefly detained in Jaffa’s prison, to be freed as soon as their condition of refugees became clear. However, in 1948, a few months before the birth of the State of Israel, Voghera made «one of the many escapes of [his] life*» resuming his post at RAS and moving back to Trieste. A few years later he was joined by his elderly parents, who he cared for until their last days.
*Front cover of Quaderno d’Israele, Edizioni Studio Tesi, Pordenone 1986, p. 227.
After their deaths, in 1962 Voghera opted for an early retirement, and began his literary career in earnest. He had already published some works, albeit under various noms de plume, as had been the case for the novel Il segreto (The secret), which he always claimed to be his father’s work. Now, with his own name, he brought out his talent as an observer of the world, society and human condition, narrating early 20th century Trieste, the Zionist colonies of Mandate Palestine, or post-war Friuli Venezia Giulia.
His essays, short stories and novellas tell us of an incurable pessimist, devoid of any illusion about humanity and the societies humanity builds, yet always ironic, far from any form of desperation, cynicism, or nihilism. He was an atheist, but he didn’t reject spirituality and, most of all, his Jewish heritage. His deep empathy made him able to understand others’ pain and weaknesses, always avoiding moral judgements, while carrying himself in adherence to an often too strict code of ethics. His precocious sensibility allowed him to be the last great witness of one of Trieste’s greatest seasons. His talent made him capable to understand it, reflect on it, and pass it on to the following generations.
Still living, he was recognized as such, receiving several awards and accolades. He died at the age of 91, in the Pia Casa Gentilomo, Trieste’s Jewish Community’s retirement home.