Enzo Sereni was the first leading modern Italian Zionist.
Born in Rome to a distinguished Italian Jewish family--his father was physician to the king of Italy--Sereni grew up in an assimilated household and was introduced to Zionist ideas only as a teenager. He became involved in Zionist activities, and was one of the first in Italy to advocate the return to Zion as a social ideal. He remained in Italy long enough to earn his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rome, and moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1927.
After working briefly in orange orchards in Rehovot, Sereni helped found Kibbutz Givat Brenner. A strong proponent of socialist theory, he was also active in the Histadrut and Labor organizations. Much of Sereni's admiration for socialist ideas stemmed from his abhorrence of the fascism he had been exposed to in Italy. He was also known as a pacifist, and during the Arab riots of 1936 insisted on doing his guard duty unarmed.
Sereni was abroad for several years in the 1930's. He represented the kibbutz movement briefly in the United States, and in 1931-1934 he was in Europe, recruiting and preparing candidates for youth aliyah. During World War II he joined the British Army, and was engaged in disseminating anti-fascist propaganda in Egypt. Sent also to Iraq by the British, Sereni devoted part of his efforts there to clandestine aliyah organizations and succeeded in bringing a significant number of Jewish youth to Israel. Sereni alienated many in the British Army for his staunch Zionist views, and he was imprisoned briefly for allegedly forging passports. He launched a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, and shortly thereafter was released.
Later in the war Sereni helped organize the parachute unit, run by the British Army in conjunction with the Jewish Agency. The objective of this unit was to infiltrate enemy territory in order to help the Allied efforts in Europe and establish contact with partisan resistance fighters in an attempt to aid beleaguered Jewish communities. Over 250 volunteers trained for the unit; Sereni himself, despite his age, was one of thirty-three who actually were parachuted into Europe. On May 15, 1944, he was parachuted into northern Italy with the goal of establishing contact with Italian partisans. Landing in German territory, he was captured immediately and sent to concentration camps. He was ultimately shot in Dachau on November 18, 1944.
Sereni, known for his broad education and ideas, authored several works. His book on Jews and Arabs in Palestine was published in 1936, and two books were published posthumously, including one on the sources of Italian fascism.
Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente