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Ursula Hirschmann, pioneer of a united and free Europe

Di Stefanella Campana

In the book “Come in una giostra [Like on a carousel]” (Aras Edizioni), Marcella Filippa reconstructs Ursula Hirschmann’s incredible life, giving the right value to a woman with a solid, concrete political commitment to the construction of the pro-European movement.

Ursula Hirschmann, a Berliner by birth but a citizen of the world, was a polyglot, a committed European, always traveling, intelligent, cultured, autonomous, proud, daring, courageous, able to be reborn many times, a tireless organizer, forgotten for too long. Her incredible life included many escapes, exiles, shelters, challenges, trespassing: an ongoing carousel ride, “Come in una giostra,” which refers us back to the Italian title of an exciting book by Marcella Filippa, the journalist and historian who followed her tracks, bringing back memories and testimonies to give the right value and recognition to a woman with a solid, concrete political commitment to the construction of a united and free Europe. Ursula Hirschmann was not only the wife and muse of the great visionary men she loved, such as the Jewish philosopher Eugenio Colorni and Altiero Spinelli, a leading figure in the European Union, she was also crucial for the birth and spread of the Ventotene Manifesto. On May 9, we celebrate Europe in commemoration of the 1950 Schumann declaration that marked the beginning of the integration of European states. A slightly bruised Union, with a woman at the top for the first time, Ursula Von der Leyen, who felt “hurt, alone as a woman and as a European” because of Erdogan’s insult. An absurd fact, just as absurd is the silence and unjust neglect of many women who gave a lot – such is  the case of Ursula Hirschmann – to build a democratic Europe without borders.

Born into a bourgeois Jewish family based in Berlin, Ursula Hirschmann was a young anti-Nazi activist in the Social Democratic Party. In 1932, exiled in Paris and close to the Communist Party, she goes to Trieste, where, at 22, she marries Eugenio Colorni, whom she had met in Berlin. She will follow him in his confinement in Ventotene, where she will meet Altiero Spinelli, the great love of her life, whom she will marry in ’45 after the death of her husband, murdered by the fascists in ’44. Political commitment and love also intertwine with the birth of her six daughters. Marcella Filippa delves into and tells – in a wise, empathic way – the salient moments of Ursula’s life, finding points of contact with the lives of other pioneering and free anti-fascist women. Spinelli himself remembers Ursula’s courage when she manages to smuggle the Ventotene Manifesto, written on cigarette papers, in the belly of a roast chicken to Milan. In this city, she disseminates it among the Giustizia e Libertà activists and socialists, together with Ada Rossi and the sisters of Altiero Spinelli, Gigliola and Fiorella, with whom she will clandestinely publish the first issue of “L’unità europea [European Unity].” She will also translate the Manifesto into German and circulate it in anti-Nazi circles. Again in Milan, in ’43, she plays a leading role in the founding of the European Federalist Movement. Then in Switzerland to internationalize the European Federalist Movement, in 1945, she is involved in organizing the first federalist international congress in Paris. 

She will also live in Rome, a city she chose and loved very much – and where she now rests, in the Testaccio cemetery – which she will leave to follow Altiero Spinelli to Brussels for his new position as European Commissioner. It is a difficult time for Ursula, who seems to want to step out of the shadows, question her role of advisor and collaborator, and feels the need to emancipate herself from the male figure, fascinated and influenced by feminism. She feels the desire for a project of her own, such as “Femmes pour l’Europe [Women for Europe]” will be, which she set up in Paris in 1975: a women’s federalist project for a Europe that recognizes, protects, and values ​​women. As Marcella Filippa recalls, she is convinced of the strength and courage of women, especially the younger ones, calling them to participate in organizations, in parties that would otherwise “remain firmly in the hands of men and their political weight is insignificant.” “Too often we are excluded, and we accept being excluded.” The book reports what Spinelli wrote in his European diary in April 1975: “Ursula, meditating on the discoveries she is making thanks to her growing feminist commitment, told me that she actually realized that her whole life was wrong, that she has given too much of a space and central place to love, that if she were to start again, she would like to live differently.” Perhaps she would receive better recognition for her great commitment to the European cause. Certainly, Ursula Hirschmann was ahead of her time, but she also understood the long path that European women still have to face for a Europe that fully recognizes them. A woman to get to know better, a book to read.

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