Al Finci Archive
The Sephardic Archive Initiative is delighted to welcome to UCLA Library Special Collections the personal archive of Al Finci, a member of our Community Board and a longtime partner of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. Assembled over the course of Al’s lifetime, the Al Finci Papers includes photographs, legal documents, and various ephemera documenting the history of the Finci/Finzi and Musafia families, Sephardic Jews from Sarajevo. The papers document the Finci/Finzi and Musafia families’ lives in pre-war Yugoslavia; their flight from their home one month after the Nazi invasion; their experience as refugees in Montenegro, Italy, and Switzerland; their time in transit camps in southern Italy; their move to the United States, first to New York and then southern California; Al’s education in California and service to the U.S. Military in Maryland and Monterey, California; his matriculation into UCLA with the support of the GI Bill; his decades-long relationship to his wife Rose, whom he met and re-met with in pre-war Yugoslavia, war-time Italy, and New York before marrying in the United States; and his relationship to other Jewish émigrés who came to call Los Angeles home, including his brother-in-law Andrew Viterbi and his dear friends Sam and Gertrude (Gertie) Goetz. Al and Rose have a long relationship as friends of UCLA and the Leve Center: this is also documented in the Al Finci Papers.
Al Finci was born in Sarajevo in 1929 as Ašer Finci, known to his family as Širo. His family on his paternal and maternal line (the latter being the Musafia family) were Sephardic Jews.
Al’s father, the penultimate of 16 brothers and sisters and a son of a rabbi, was the owner, along with his older brother, of a bookstore that also served as a publishing house and worked closely with the theater of Sarajevo. In his native city, Al attended elementary and middle school, studied violin, and attended many theatrical performances.
The Finci/Finzi family’s vibrant family, social, and cultural lives were interrupted when Yugoslavia was occupied by the Nazis in April of 1941. One month later, the family (including his maternal grandparents, his parents, two uncles, an aunt and her husband and children) fled Yugoslavia, despite the protestations of friends and relatives who believed they would be protected by local authorities by dint of being prominent and respected citizens. Most of the family who remained in Yugoslavia would perish in the Holocaust, including 14 siblings of Al’s father.
The Finci papers trace the family’s wartime travels, as refugees, through Montenegro, Croatia, and Italy, and their experience living for two years in the small, northern Italian village of Gramignazzo, where they lived until the Nazis occupied southern Italy in the autumn of 1943. Hurriedly, the extended family now escaped to Parma, where they lived in hiding. Fearful of being caught (or worse), they at last made the desperate decision to escape in the dark of night by foot, across the alps, to Switzerland.
After the war, the family returned to Italy, living in a transit camp in Salento, Italy and in the nearby coastal town of Santa Croce. There Al met a lively young woman named Rose Stock, a refugee from Drochobycz, Poland (who, coincidentally traveled through Sarajevo earlier in the war), who would later become his wife.
Astonishingly, through all these travails Al had his eye on history. Saved in the Al Finci Papers are photographs and various documents testifying to his labyrinthine wartime journey, including the currency of each country Al traveled through as a wartime refugee.
The Finzi/Finci family resettled to southern California in 1950: along the way, the family name was transliterated as “Finci." In California, Al finished high school at the John Frances Polytechnic Evening High School, yielding a transcript saved within his personal archive. (Obtaining the necessary paperwork to enroll in this high school proved no small task, as the war had interrupted his education for many years.) At the same time, his father Joseph established an Import/Export operation.
No sooner were Al’s studies completed than he was drafted by the US military and stationed in Maryland: there, extraordinarily, Al found himself in the same place, for the third time, as Rose Stock. However, it was not until later, when Rose visited California in 1954, that the two accepted destiny and determined to marry. In southern California, the Fincis experienced yet another turn of kismet. They met another young, dynamic Italian Jewish émigré by the name of Andrew Viterbi. Al’s sister Erna, would soon become Andrew’s wife.
Saved within the Al Finci Papers is early documentation of all of these transitions, including evidence of Al’s matriculation into UCLA thanks to the GI Bill. Throughout his life, Al continued to serve as a friend to UCLA, serving as Chair of the Center for Jewish Studies Advisory Board and as a member of the Community Advisory Board of the UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative. This and other local philanthropic work by Al is reflected in the papers as well. With the generous support of the Maurice Amado Foundation, the Sephardic Archive Initiative is now creating a digital exhibit based on the Al Finci Archive as part of our "LA Sephardica" project.