Francesco Ghezzi biography from the Biblioteca Franco Serantini

GHEZZI, Francesco

DOB: October 4, 1893

Birthplace: Cusano Milanino

Date of death: August 3, 1942

Place of death: Vorkuta Gulag


Born in Cusanio Milanino (MILAN) 4 October 1893 to Giulio (Ghezzi) and Maria Sirtori; lathe-operator and skilled worker. Attended elementary school and at a very early age began work, embracing the anarchist ideal and active militancy during the demonstrations in support of Ferrer. Part of a cohort of young militants that was shaped in Milan by the fertile local individualist current, he struck up a friendship with C[arlo] Molaschi and especially with U[go] Fedeli, becoming the latter’s inseparable comrade, so much so that police reports on the pair during the time often mixed them up or reversed their roles. It was with Fedeli – who, in a memoir later described him as “highly cultivated”, “impulsive and fervent” and “a deep thinker” – that, along with the young rebels of the time, Ghezzi was the driving force behind groups like the “irregulars” or “Milanese rebels”, as was especially apparent in the demonstrations against punishment battalions and later the anti-militarist demonstrations against the eruption of the Great War. In July 1917, he was called up but managed in a roundabout way to cross the border via Luino and arrived in Zurich. There, he found work as a lathe-operator and silver-polisher and began to hang out with exile circles active around the Libreria Internazionale (International Bookstore), whilst the Italian police, acting on secret intelligence, had him down as “an agent in the service of Austria [with] the task of spreading defeatist propaganda” and in April 1919 he was caught up in the notorious bombs affair in Zurich. In 1920, he returned to Milan where, still active in anarchist and USI circles, he was involved in the publishing ventures of Nichilismo and L’Individualista. He played an active part in meetings and attacks related to the Diana Theatre bombing and, as an initial suspect as the material perpetrator of the latter, he fled in March 1921 initially to Liguria before crossing the border into France before ending up in Switzerland and then moving on to Berlin as the delegate from the Swiss socialist youth, and on to Vienna where he settled for a time before heading for the USSR where, as representative of the Italian USI, he was to remain for some years in between brief jaunts abroad (to Berlin and Berne). Up until 1926 he lived in Yalta where he worked on a farming commune run by anarchist political emigres. Then he worked at the Labormetiz factory in Moscow. There, in touch with luminaries such as A. Bergmann [Berkman], E. Goldman, Ascaroff, Voline and V. Serge, he hung out in anarchist circles and whilst the Italian police had him down as a soviet government official (1926), the local authorities arrested and convicted him in May 1929 to three years in prison for anti-soviet propaganda. After that an international campaign was launched to secure his release and it spread beyond the ranks of the anarchist movement – U. Fedeli being an important promoter of it and it drew in personalities like R. Rolland and J. Mesnil and even Gorki – after which he was released in 1931. On his release he was hired by a Moscow car plant. After that, Ghezzi was repeatedly arrested and harassed as a person politically suspect in the eyes of the regime.  After October 1937 neither his family nor his comrades nor the Italian police could get any information about him. It only emerged a lot later from the testimony of an eye-witness and from the opening of the soviet archives that, having been arrested on 5 November 1937 and jailed in a cell within the UNKVD in Moscow he was to be sentenced to eight years in a lager on 3 April 1939 and sent to the Vorkuta Gulag. On 13 January 1943 (by which time he was already dead) he was sentenced to death for involvement in an anti-soviet organization. He died after upwards of four years in prison, from the tortures inflicted upon him, added to the TB from which he was already suffering, on 3 August 1942 in the Vorkuta Gulag (and not in late 1941 as had previously been believed). He was to be rehabilitated by the soviet authorities on 21 May 1956.

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.