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The trunk of a Jewish-Italian Couple

A suitcase and a story of seeking a better life

The trunk of a Jewish-Italian Couple

Stefania Cardonetti

The trunk that is the subject of this article is part of the exhibition entitled For all the men of the world at the Immigration Museum of Buenos Aires, a name that alludes to a premise of the preamble of the Argentine Constitution. According to those responsible for this exhibition, this is not an object that abounds within the institution because traveling with trunks as luggage was a common practice only within the first class sector of the steamships. This piece represents the story of those who, although not seeking to meet economic needs, left their homeland in search of a life free of violence and persecution. It is a large trunk that arrived in Argentina as part of the belongings of a young Jewish-Italian couple who had married in the 1930s and fled the Italian racial laws of 1938. The owners of this trunk, like so many others, could no longer exercise their professional careers and live in freedom in their country of origin due to the anti-Semitic persecution deployed by fascism. It was the daughter of this couple, Adriana Lowenthal, who made the donation to the Museum. Although Argentine legislation did not recognize this couple as "immigrants", since they traveled first class on the steamship, the truth is that they emigrated in search of a new life in Buenos Aires.

Elena Pirani and Mario Lowenthal, the owners of this luggage, married in 1937 in Italy, but the following year, when the racial laws were passed, they went into exile in Paris thanks to the intervention of the Lowenthal family. Some time later, on August 29, 1939, the young men left the French port of Cherbourg on board the steamship Alcantara for Buenos Aires, together with Mario's entire family.

Already on board the ship, they carried with them this piece of luggage that allowed them to store a variety of belongings since, as can be seen in the photograph, it has different compartments carefully distributed. This luggage contains in its interior hangers that were probably used to keep the clothes that, inside this privileged sector of the ship, were used in dances, dinners or special events that took place during the voyage. In this sense, the trunk made it possible to sustain shared rules of sociability that are characterized, among other elements, by maintaining a dress code that is not suspended in spite of being in the middle of a long voyage. This object, then, expresses the class differences that existed inside the steamships among the different passengers. Far from being suspended, the class differences were exalted on board the steamship because the spaces they inhabited were different in terms of the comforts and services to which first, second or third class passengers could have access. At the same time, care was taken to ensure that the boundaries inhabited by these three classes of passengers were sufficiently clear within the ship to avoid contact with each other. On the other hand, these classifications also

On the other hand, these classifications also anticipated the place that the passengers would have in the host society, since the members of the second or third class formed the group that the Argentine State considered legally immigrants.

Despite all these differences, this story and this trunk in particular, invite us to imagine the importance that objects had for migrants, how they selected, kept and transported them. In that sense, the story of Mario, Elena and their trunk is just one of many that would be repeated between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries in which people and objects are intertwined in migration. Despite their instrumental dimension or being a status symbol, as in the case of this trunk, they are artifacts that have a great emotional charge. This piece of luggage, as well as other objects that were moved from one side of the Atlantic to the other, represented for their owners the link between the present and the past. Photographs, diaries, children's toys and other objects changed their meaning when they migrated with their owners, became memories and probably brought comfort and triggered a myriad of emotions in the process of integration to a new land.

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