Raffaele Cantoni was an economist and communal leader. Born in Venice, Cantoni studied economics and became counselor to the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro and president of the Fiduciaria. He participated heroically in World War I and took part in the conquest of Fiume, led by Gabriele D'Annunzio. For his participation in antifascist actions he was arrested in 1930 with other opponents of the regime like Riccardo Bauer and Ferruccio Parri.
In 1933, he became a leader of the Comitato Assistenza Ebrei Italiani (Committee for Assistance of Italian Jews) of DELASEM (Delegation for the Assistance of Immigrants) and other Jewish relief institutions. He was connected with the *American Joint Distribution Committee and the *World Jewish Congress; he founded many Italian hakhsharot.
During World War II he strongly and continuously assisted Italian and European Jews; he was arrested by the Fascists in 1940 and interned in Urbisaglia (a town near *Macerata) and in the Tremiti Islands, but he continued his activities. In 1943 he was betrayed and captured in Florence by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, but during the journey he jumped from the train near Padua and saved himself. He escaped to Switzerland and there began to reorganize the life of Italian Jews, establishing Jewish schools and various activities with the Milanese Astorre Mayer.
After the liberation in 1945 he assumed the position of president of the Jewish community of Milan and was an active member of the CLNAI (Committee for National Liberation of North Italy). He was also the Italian leader of the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants). While organizing Jewish life in Milan, he was also a strong supporter the Aliyah Bet (*"illegal" immigration to Ereẓ Israel), raising substantial funds. He held other posts in the Italian Zionist Federation and in the *Keren Hayesod. He was a member of the executive of the World Jewish Congress.
From 1946 to 1954 Cantoni was president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and worked to obtain from the Italian government freedom of Jewish worship equal to that of the Catholics, without complete success. He was also president of the Organizzazione Sanitaria Ebraica (Jewish Health Organization) from the inception of its activities in Italy. Until his death, he spared no effort to maintain relations between the Jews of the Diaspora and Israel and to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and other countries.
S.I. Minerbi, Un ebreo fra D'Annunzio e il sionismo: Raffaele Cantoni (1992).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.