Although her age and illness did not leave us much hope, the news of Lidia Menapace’s death still came to us with great and unbearable pain.
We were fond of this woman, who lived a long life, who showed intense commitment on many fronts, from the Resistance to feminism, to antimilitarism, to politics. All these commitments were ones she lived with great intensity, sometimes beyond the limits of the imaginable.
There are those who remember her sitting at night, in a deserted station waiting for a train, and there are those who remember the meetings she organized around Italy. These kinds of episodes sometimes overlapped, in recent times, as she preferred to avoid hotels and was more willing to accept the hospitality and warmth of friends and comrades (male or female, as she would say).
The events of the long life of Lidia (she was almost as old as myself) are well known: she was deeply committed to the Resistance, working for them as a partisan relay, later narrating, in a witty style, her “adventures” in a golden booklet entitled Io, partigiana. La mia Resistenza (I, Partisan. My Resistance).
It was a splendid tale of courage, of disregard for danger, always with a horror towards weapons. She recounted, with her tireless spirit, that she never wanted to carry any weapons on her bicycle, preferring instead to carry pieces of TNT, which did not give her the immediate image of killing and blood, even if they were even more dangerous.
She was a true and brave fighter in the Resistance, but she has been so throughout her life and in every kind of commitment, from her anti-militarism to the one against every form of violence (she struggled to understand certain actions of the Partisan Action Groups, although she understood the courage of those who undertook them and the importance of some of them).
She was also, and perhaps most of all, a very fervent and uncompromising feminist. From the episodes I personally witnessed, I can recall two events that say everything about this aspect of her life.
After she was elected to the National Committee of ANPI in 2011, together with me (when I became President of the Association), she followed every word of my weekly news bulletin, and if I happened to let a term slip that she considered inappropriate (talking, for example, about “all” in the masculine and ignoring the feminine), she would immediately write me a letter, correcting me like a schoolteacher and warning me not to do it anymore. And I, with a smile, set to work on it right away, because I knew that otherwise, the reprimands would come incessantly.
Another episode comes to mind when it comes to feminism: at the ANPI Congress in Rimini, she held us until three o’clock at night, even though we were very tired, because the formula we had adopted in a conference document about the relationship between men and women seemed to her too bland and not exhaustive; in the end, she “imposed” her formula on us, which, after the tiredness of that night went away, we realized was perhaps exactly the right one.
And yet, I never remember any hostility or harshness from her, even when she called us out. And it was a happy surprise to receive her second book (Canta il merlo sul frumento) with a very affectionate dedication.
Another side of her personality was to debate and stand by her arguments, but without this affecting human relationships. I have to say that that dedication made me happy.
However, I was sorry to see her more and more rarely at the National Committee. Maybe she took too many commitments around Italy, and after those she didn’t have the strength to go everywhere anymore. Or maybe she understood that ANPI had many issues to pursue, some of which were not quite as much her areas.
But she always remained a friend, as well as a comrade.
Others will certainly speak better than me about her political relationships, about her passage from Catholic movements to what turned out to be her true vocation, when she joined the Communist Refoundation and remained a part of it uninterruptedly until the end of her days.
I also remember her book (the one dedicated to me with affection) Canta il merlo sul frumento (The Blackbird Sings in the Grain) with the (meaningful) subtitle Il romanzo della mia vita (The Novel of My Life). This book, published in 2015, was also autobiographical, albeit in a fictionalized form, but interesting due to the thousands of hints that come out of it and that help us better understand her life, her thought, her commitments.
In that book, she did not hesitate to write a chapter entitled “The dark face of the Resistance,” in which she fully expressed her opposition to all forms of violence, even if “justified,” and even if carried out by friends and comrades (see page 34).
She was a courageous woman, who carried her ideas with her everywhere, in political life, in il manifesto, in women’s organizations, in ANPI, even in her brief stint in the Senate.
It must be said that she might have seemed “difficult” at times—but she wasn’t. So much so that even a “misbehaving student” like myself remembers her, on my part, with affection and with the pain of an irreparable loss.
Unfortunately, Lidia belonged to a generation that is disappearing (that of the over-90-year-olds), while leaving us teachings about life that are absolutely essential, in an era in which too many values have fallen by the wayside.
The last thing I want to say is that Lidia, who had very firm ideas in politics as well, never let herself be influenced to the point of not accepting dialogue; and in ANPI as well, where the respect for autonomy and independence from party politics is rigorously enforced, she never fell into any form of sectarianism that would have been incompatible with activism in our Association in any way.
Very firm in her ideas, including in politics, she never tried to bring them into an Association like ours; and when it seemed to her (incorrectly) that ANPI might have become too much of a friend to some particular government, she never failed to point it out, even if these interventions proved unnecessary, because we have always been (and will remain) jealous guardians of our independence and autonomy.
Goodbye Lidia, our dear friend and comrade. We will miss you, and we will miss you a lot, but we will always remember you and we will reread your precious booklets every now and then, which are full of feeling, strong will and commitment, with a message that we would like to bring out in order to reach the many (too many) indifferent people living in our country.
Carlo Smuraglia is President Emeritus of ANPI.
Lidia Menapace’s funeral will be held on Thursday, December 10th at 3 p.m. at the cemetery of Bolzano. The commemoration will follow. She will probably be buried in Val di Non next to her husband Nene.