Obituaries:Luigi Micheletti

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The Independent Online
Luigi Micheletti was a former resistance worker whose amateur collection of memorabilia of Italy's Fascist period evolved in the late 1970s into an important historical research centre.

The son of a tram-driver, Micheletti was born in 1927 and grew up in the industrial city of Brescia: a gnaro of the Campo Fera district, as he described himself to journalists - the term is Brescian dialect, the implication that he was proud of his humble origins. When in 1944 Nazi forces occupied Brescia, Micheletti, then aged 16, joined the anti-Fascist Fronte della Gioventu, which distributed clandestine literature and committed acts of sabotage. The following year, as a member of one of the Communist-backed "Garibaldi" brigades, he took part in the bitter hill-fighting that preceded Brescia's liberation in April 1945.

After the war Micheletti made a considerable fortune in industry, presiding over a string of hydraulic engineering factories. He also conceived a passion for collecting wartime material - photographs, personal effects - documenting the wartime struggle between partisans and Fascists. Brescia lies close to Sal, where Mussolini was installed as a puppet ruler after the 1943 Armistice. Brescia had been the effective capital of Mussolini's truncated domain, and several "exiled" ministries had taken refuge there, leaving office-fulls of records. One can imagine the interest with which a former partisan and his ex-comrades scrutinised the records of the Guardia Nazionale, complete with dossiers of information on resisters and reports prepared for Mussolini on the state of local public opinion.

It was a visit in 1959 to the museum at the former Theresienstad concentration camp in Czechoslovakia that gave Micheletti the idea that his collecting hobby could develop into something more ambitious. He set to work amassing material on a substantial scale and storing it in his own industrial premises. Inevitably there was suspicion of this would-be curator whose formal education had ended when he was just 11, but a local priest encouraged his efforts. History, he told Micheletti, had be e n the preserve of the middle classes for too long.

Word spread and academics began to take an interest, and in the early days would visit the collection at the back of a factory warehouse, squeezing past bathroom fittings, sinks and racks of piping to reach the makeshift reading room.

Eventually in 1978 Brescia City Council was persuaded to provide a building in the city's medieval quarter. Professional archivists were appointed. Today the Fondazione Biblioteca Archivio Luigi Micheletti is a fully fledged research institute, organising international conferences and exhibitions ("The Italian Social Republic 1943-1945" in 1985, "Italy at War 1940-1943" in 1989, "Collaboration with the Axis Powers 1939-1945" in 1991) and publishing doorstep-sized volumes of academic debate.

Of particular interest are the Fascist posters preserved at the Fondazione - images which testify to Mussolini's extraordinary efforts to flatter and cajole the Italian people even when it was plain that the war was lost. Fascist Italy had its own theories of racial supremacy and the arrival of American troops in 1943 offered a new target of hate: posters showed black soldiers raping Italy's women-folk or despoiling her cultural heritage: a particularly bizarre example has a black GI making off with theVenus de Milo, a price-tag of $2 scrawled on her torso. Anti-Semitic laws had been passed in 1938, and, although they were resented in many quarters, the propaganda artists took up the theme and produced numerous caricatures of Jews, depicted on some occasions as revolutionary Bolsheviks, on others as the parasites of capitalism. Preserving the raw material of this period, so that future generations would not forget, became Micheletti's personal crusade.

Micheletti had something of a green streak and deplored the loss of character which post-war prosperity brought to the working-class district of Brescia, badgering the city council to plant trees, mend broken pavements and provide playgrounds for children. Rather than immerse himself in his archive's activities he looked beyond it for new opportunities. His last project, a Museum of Labour and Industry, for which hundreds of hours of oral history interviews have been recorded, has yet to be fulfilled.

Suzanne Bardgett

Luigi Micheletti, collector and industrialist: born 10 August 1927; married Angiola Dale (two daughters); died Brescia 16 December 1994.