Central Florence park named after prominent Jewish couple

A park in the heart of Florence was named after Wanda Lattes and Albert (Aaron) Nirenstein in a ceremony.

The two were a Jewish couple who resisted the Nazis during the Holocaust and became central figures in the Florentine intellectual scene.

The quaint park, close to the famous Church of Santa Croce, includes a grassy area, a playground and a small community center for both children and the elderly.

Trumpeters dressed in official Florentine garb played during the ceremony and the Mayor of Florence, along with a long list of dignitaries, colleagues, and family members, spoke about the couple’s film-worthy lives.

Wanda Lattes was born to a Florentine Jewish family in 1922. She was expelled at the beginning of high school in accordance with the fascist government’s racial laws. Lattes was affiliated with a communist youth group and after her expulsion she joined the Florentine resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà, and remained active as a partisan until the German retreat in 1944.

Wanda adopted a non-Jewish surname, Latansi, and her role was to transmit information via bicycle. Towards the end of the German occupation, Lattes became responsible for a clandestine network designed to provide medical treatment to wounded partisans, including during the bombardment of Florence during the dramatic German retreat. She also helped her family find refuge during the Nazi and fascist persecutions.

While Wanda’s parents survived the war, several family members were killed, and Wanda’s sister, Rirì, married a famous survivor, Nedo Fiano.

Albert (Aaron) Nirenstein, eventually Alberto, was born in Baranov, Poland in 1916 and made his way to then-Mandatory Palestine in 1936 as a young member of Hashomer Hatzair. Nirenstein, along with two of his sisters, helped found Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon. His father, brother, stepmother and four young stepsisters were all killed by the Nazis in the Sobibor death camp.

In the war years, Nirenstein joined the British army’s Jewish Brigade. The brigade ended up in Florence, and Nirenstein went looking for local Jews. Then a communist as well, he was introduced to Lattes and the two fell in love. The couple remained in Florence after the war and had three daughters, Fiamma, Susanna and Simona.

The couple also embarked on remarkable careers, she as a journalist and he as a Holocaust scholar.

Wanda became one of the first female journalists in Italy, along with the famous Oriana Fallaci. She developed a passion for Florentine art and culture and became a well-known culture writer and editor.

Alberto began to research the Holocaust and traveled to Poland in 1950 in order to look for material about the Warsaw ghetto. Poland’s Stalinist regime did not let him exit the country and he remained stuck there for four years. The couple remained united, however, and they wrote an entire collection of letters including descriptions of the communist reclusion and persecution and love letters.

Alberto managed to smuggle out messages warning Wanda and their two daughters to stay in Florence, as Poland was a dangerous place both because of the regime and rampant antisemitism – when he visited his hometown, Alberto was told not to stay the night because the locals would kill him.

Alberto was finally allowed to return home after Stalin’s death in 1953, and brought his records with him. The records were published in 1958 and became an important work of Holocaust scholarship. Alberto also worked as the Italian correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Al Hamishmar, under the Hebraicized name Aaron Nir.

Holocaust scholarship in the first decades after the war was scarce, and many people had minimal knowledge about the Jewish genocide, Simona Katz, one of the couple’s daughters, explained to the Jerusalem Post in a phone interview.

“He was very outspoken about the Holocaust,” she said. “He would tell people stories about what happened in the war and people would end up in tears.”

The couple became a focal point for culture in Florence, and hosted many intellectuals, artists, and cultural figures in their home, some of whom spoke at the ceremony. They were also staunch Zionists, and their relations with Judaism, Zionism, and their frequent visits to Israel were an integral part of their lives. Two of the couple’s three daughters, Fiamma and Simona, currently reside in Israel.

Fiamma served as a Member of Parliament in Italy before making aliya in 2013, and in 2015 was nominated by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s ambassador to Italy. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and a contributing columnist for a number of Italian and English-language news outlets.  The second daughter, Susanna, is also a journalist, and Simona is a psychotherapist.

Alberto passed away in 2007 and Wanda in 2018. The ceremony in Florence was a celebration of the couple’s remarkable lives.

“The park was very crowded, it was a very warm atmosphere, very alive,” Simona said. “It is rare for a Jewish couple to receive such high honors,” she added.

“It was really emotional, dignitaries spoke and people were really crying,” Abigail Katz, Simona’s daughter and Wanda and Alberto’s granddaughter, said to the Post.

“We hope that children will come play in the park, and that it will remain alive and vibrant. This is what [my] grandmother and grandfather would have wanted, and they would surely be happy to know that the place being named after them is full of life and children,” she added.

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