Best-selling Italian author identified as daughter of Holocaust survivor

Ruth Ellen Gruber

(JTA) – The mysterious best-selling Italian author who writes under the pen name Elena Ferrante has been identified as the daughter of a German-born Holocaust survivor who lost dozens of family members in the Shoah.

Italian investigative journalist Claudio Gatti in an article published simultaneously on Sunday in the New York Review of Books, the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Oreand also in German and French publications, claimed that Ferrante is really Rome-based Anita Raja, a translator who specializes in translating from German into Italian.

He based his claim on, among other things, financial and real estate records he examined during a months-long investigation. These records, Gatti wrote, showed that Raja received large payments from Edizione e/o, the Italian publisher of Ferrante’s books, including her quartet of wildly popular Neapolitan novels that trace the friendship of two women.

The payments, according to Gatti, paralleled the commercial success of Ferrante’s books. Raja and her husband, he wrote, had used the funds to purchase expensive apartments and a country house.


Ferrante’s real name has been a closely guarded secret since her first novel was published in 1992, and her recent success sparked intense speculation as to her identity.

Raja, born in 1953, is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Golda Frieda Petzenbaum, who was born in 1927 in Worms, Germany into a family of Polish Jews who had moved to Germany from Wadowice, the hometown of Pope John Paul II. She and her family fled Germany to Milan 10 years later, but they suffered after Italy’s fascist government imposed anti-Semitic laws in 1938.

Petzenbaum, Gatti wrote in a separate article detailing Raja’s family history, “survived discrimination, internment, a dangerous escape to Switzerland, and almost two years alone in different refugee camps.” Most of her extended family was killed in the Holocaust. After the war, the Petzenbaums settled in Naples, where Golda married a Neapolitan magistrate, Renato Raja. She died in 1986.

Raja, her husband, and Edizione e/o declined to comment on Gatti’s claims.

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