- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Estate of Leo Yeni
Leo Yeni was born on January 7, 1920 in Milan, Italy, to Jewish parents, Isak and Pia Della Torre Yeni. Isak was born November 18, 1869, to Juda Samuele and Miriam Guadalia Yeni in Saloniki, Greece. Pia was born on April 17, 1889, to Egisto and Palmira Bondi Della Torre in Livorno, Italy. Leo was raised in Milan. In 1938, Mussolini ceded to German pressure and instituted anti-Jewish racial laws in Italy. That October, Leo had to leave high school at the Institute Israelites. His father lost his job as an office worker and his mother supported the family by cooking meals for friends. In 1942, they had to leave their home and move, with only a few belongings, to an apartment. In 1943, following the Axis surrender in Africa in May and the Allied landings in Sicily in July, the Fascist Grand Council issued a vote of no confidence in Mussolini's leadership on July 25, 1943, and Mussolini was arrested. On September 8, the new government under Badoglio unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces. Soon after this, Nazi Germany occupied central and northern Italy, where Milan was located. The German SS took over the police functions and began preparations to deport the Jewish residents in Italy to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In October and November, the Germans conducted round-ups of Jews in Milan and other major cities.
In fall 1943, Leo and his family fled north to the mountains near Varese, close to the Swiss border. His family decided that Leo should escape into Switzerland. He was apprehended and interrogated by the Swiss Police at the border and denied entry. With the aid of smugglers, he tried again. He was arrested and detained in a military cell in Lugano as an illegal alien. After reviewing his papers, a Swiss Captain told Leo that he was accepted as a refugee and he was interned in a detention camp. Leo was held in Unterwalden (Bellinzona), Plenterplatz in Zurich, and Lajoux in the Jura Bernoise. Through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the Red Cross, Leo was able to contact a maternal relative, Rene Della Torre in the United States. Leo’s parents had been arrested by Italian Fascist police on December 6, 1943. They were jailed in Varese and then taken to Milan where they were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz concentration camp on January 30, 1944, and killed on February 6.
The war ended in May 1945. Leo resumed his education at L'Ecole d'Art in Switzerland. In July 1946, Leo emigrated from Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchatel, Switzerland, to America aboard the Marine Flasher. He settled in New York and his relatives helped him find a job as a designer. Leo had a successful career as a textile designer. He was active in local artists’ organizations and his artwork was frequently exhibited. He later taught painting. He married Rose Baumoel (1917-1992) on January 20, 1947. Rose was a school teacher. The couple had two children. Leo became a naturalized citizen in 1949. Leo, 91, passed away on February 7, 2011.
- Object Type
Watercolor painting (lcsh)
- Physical Description
- Watercolor on ink on paper depicting three different activities in a group setting: two men holding a blanket or similar type of textile; men standing in line for mil from a milk can while a guard looks on; men at a table looking on as one man accepts a piece of mail from another man with a bag.
- overall: Height: 7.047 inches (17.899 cm) | Width: 10.512 inches (26.7 cm)
- overall : paper, watercolor, ink
- bottom right corner: "19430-44-45 Switzerland"
Rights & Restrictions
- Conditions on Access
- No restrictions on access
- Conditions on Use
- Restrictions on use
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- The watercolor painting was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2012 by Lillian Spiegel on behalf of the Estate of of Leo Yeni.
- Record last modified:
- 2022-08-10 08:18:50
- This page:
Also in Leo Yeni collection
The collection consists of artifacts, artwork, correspondence, diaries, documents, and photographs relating to the experiences of Leo Yeni during the the Holocaust when he fled Milan, Italy, and illegally entered Switzerland.
Date: approximately 1940-approximately 1946
The Leo Yeni papers consist of artwork, biographical materials, correspondence, diaries, writings, photographs, and printed materials documenting Leo Yeni from Milan, his escape into Switzerland during the Holocaust, his detention in refugee labor camps, his artistic training in Switzerland at the end of the war, and the death of his parents at Auschwitz. The artwork and notes series comprises original sketches, sketchbooks, and notebooks by Leo Yeni. Most of the works were created while Yeni was an art student in Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland right after the war, and the notebooks and sketchbooks combine original artwork with lessons and notes about art, history, and language in French and Italian. Additional sketches represent architectural and advertising studies. The original artwork dates from approximately 1943-1946, and undated reproductions were created after the period. Biographical materials consist of Italian, Swiss, and Greek identification papers, certificates, and other records documenting Yeni’s status before, during, and after World War II, and particularly his refugee status in Switzerland during the war, his immigration to America aboard the Marine Flasher, his naturalization, and his work as an artist. This series also includes Claims Conference forms Yeni completed describing his Holocaust-era experiences, photocopies and certificates documenting the marriage and deaths of Isak and Pia Yeni, a photocopy of a birth certificate for Michele Della Torre, family trees documenting the Della Torre and other families, two pocket calendars that belonged to Yeni during and after the war, and ration coupons for textiles and shoes. The correspondence series documents Yeni’s art education and aid he received in Switzerland, his immigration to the United States, his unsuccessful efforts to pursue restitution claims, and his reconnection in 2005 with the Robert family whom he had known while he was a refugee. This series also includes a few family letters. Diaries and writings comprise diaries, personal narratives, poems, and stories documenting the war years. Leo Yeni’s diaries, written in Italian between 1943 and 1945, describe his escape into Switzerland and hi life as a refugee in detention camps and as an art student. Personal narratives include partial English translations of Yeni’s diaries, additional recollections by Yeni, and recollections by his relative Mario Migdalj (Della Torre). Poems include a notebook composed by Yeni in 1945 entitled “Poesie” and loose poems with little or no attribution. This series also includes two notebooks containing stories and two loose stories by Yeni. The photographs series includes original photographs dating from approximately 1910 to 1940 and copy prints from approximately 1980-2000. The images depict Leo Yeni and his family and friend before World War II. Printed materials include information about Fine Arts and English courses Yeni received in Switzerland, a welcome booklet for Jewish refugees in Switzerland, two 1944 issues of the Lajoux detention camp newsletter La Talpa including artwork and stories by Yeni, a 1945 publication by a sports organization in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and clippings about the Holocaust in Italy and refugees in Switzerland.