Giliana Berneri

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Giliana Berneri (Italian)
Giliane Berneri (French)
Born (1919-10-05)5 October 1919
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Died 19 July 1998
Occupation Communist libertarian activist
Medical doctor
Spouse(s) Serge Ninn (fr)
(real name Jean Senninger)
Children Hélène Senninger (1950)
Franck Senninger (fr) (1955)
Parent(s) Camillo Berneri
Giovanna Caleffi

Giliana Berneri or Giliane Berneri (5 October 1919 – 19 July 1998) was a French doctor of medicine and a libertarian communist activist.[1][2]


Giliana Berneri was the second daughter of the eminent Italian anarchist and academic Camillo Berneri and his similarly focused wife Giovanna Berneri (born Giovanna Caleffi).[3] Giliana and her sister were born in Tuscany, but the family fled to France in 1926 in order to escape the Fascist Mussolini government. The father's scathing anti-Fascist newspaper articles had marked the family out for persecution.[4] In France he was unable to find permanent employment, and frequently went into hiding to avoid the unwelcome attentions of the Italian Security Services. Nevertheless, there was considerable solidarity among the political anti-Fascist exiles in Paris and eventually Giovanna, the girls' mother, was able to set up a fruit and vegetable shop in a popular quarter.[4] Money continued to be short, but the family survived and the daughters' education was financed. Both of the daughters qualified as medical doctors. Giliana's specialisms became Pediatrics and Psychoanalysis.[4]

On 5 May 1937 her father was assassinated, together with his friend and fellow anarchist Francesco "Ciccio" Barbieri, in Barcelona. They were dragged off by a gang of a dozen men, and their bodies were found riddled with bullets the next day. Although the killers and the sequence of events in the hours before the killings were never precisely identified, it quickly became believed that Camillo Berneri had been murdered on Stalin's orders after his journalism had highlighted Soviet involvement in the Spanish Civil War.[4] Although Giliana pursued her medical studies with continued energy, the circumstances of her father's provided her with a compelling motivation to continue with her father's political work, and it is for her political activity that she is more widely remembered.[4]

In 1938 Giliana and her sister, Marie-Louise Berneri, took part in the production and publication of the review Révision, founded by Louis Mercier-Vega, Lucien Feuillade and Nicolas Lazarévitch (fr). In 1940 she was involved in the successful campaign to have her comrade and fellow (originally Italian) anarchist Ernesto Bonomini released from a French internment camp - possibly Camp Vernet - and she may have accompanied Bonomini into political exile in the United States.[1]

War ended in May 1945 and Giliana returned to France and married her partner, Jean Senninger (fr)[1] (generally known as "Serge Ninn") while her sister stayed in London with her English anarchist husband Vernon Richards. During the war their mother had been arrested and deported first to Germany and then to Italy where she had spent most of the war under house arrest. At the first post war anarchist conference, which took place in May 1948 in Paris, the three of them were all present, each representing a different country. The mother was with the Italian delegation while her daughters represented respectively Britain and France.

Giliane Berneri took French citizenship on 17 October 1947.[1] She was active in the French libertarian movement until the mid 1950s. In the aftermath of the war she was among the founders of the French Anarchist Federation, along with Maurice Joyeux, Georges Fontenis, Suzy Chevet (fr), Renée Lamberet, Georges Vincey, Aristide Lapeyre (fr), Paul Lapeyre (fr), Maurice Laisant, Solange Dumont, Maurice Fayolle and Roger Caron

Giliane and her husband were drawn to the Paris based Sacco and Vanzetti group, which developed into the Kronstadt group within the Anarchist Federation. In 1948 this group comprised "approximately twenty militants and sympathisers belonging to the university [of the Sorbonne], in the metallurgy, buildings, medical and hospital departments, focused the books and instruction"[5] including Georg K. Glaser and André Prudhommeaux. Her home in the Latin Quarter of Paris was one of those scheduled for police monitoring.

Giliane Berneri: some publications
  • Sur quelques cas de polynévrites par intoxication alimentaire accidentelle par des substances contenant du triorthocresyl phosphate, thèse, Médecine, Paris, 1946, OCLC 492982703.
  • Notes prises au cours de la conférence sur l'orientation professionnelle pratiquée par le service médical à la Chambre des métiers de Seine-et-Oise, Paris, mars 1957, OCLC 458487350.

During this period she was a leading figure in the Cercle libertaire des étudiants (Libertarina Students' Circle/ CLE) which organised meetings with leading icons of the left such as André Prudhommeaux, and with writes close to libertarian objectives such as Albert Camus. She worked on the editorial team of the journal Le Libertaire.[6] Unlike her husband, however, she refused to become involved in the initiatives of Georges Fontenis to create a secret (and manipulative) sub-group within the French Anarchist Federation, to be known by the name "Organisation Pensée Bataille (fr)",[7] the machinations of which she later, reportedly, denounced.[1]

During the later 1950s Giliane Berneri became disillusioned by the internal quarrels affecting the French anarchist movement, and her activist contributions to it came to an end. In 1962, when her mother died, she donated all the family archives to Aurelio Chessa who used them as the basis of a substantial "anarchism archive", the Archivio Famiglia Berneri-Chessa ("Berneri-Chesso Family Archive") which has been accommodated in the Biblioteca Panizzi (Panizzi Library) at Reggio Emilia since 1998.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Berneri, Giliana, 1919-1998". Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Giliana Berneri" (in Italian). Comune di Reggio Emilia. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  3. ^ "Aurelio Chessa e la famiglia Berneri" (in Italian). Biblioteca Panizzi, Reggio Emilia. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e Fabrizio Montanari. "La vita di Giliana Berneri". 24emilia. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  5. ^ Dictionnaire international des militants anarchistes : notice biographique.
  6. ^ Kathy E. Ferguson, Emma Goldman : Political Thinking in the Streets
  7. ^ "Fontenis, Georges 1920-2010". Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  8. ^ "Chi siamo .... Storia dell'Archivio" (in Italian). Archivio Berneri - Famiglia Aurelio Chessa, Reggio Emilia. 11 November 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2015.