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Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Look Back: Leone Efrati

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will present monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

At the pinnacle of his career, Leone Efrati was a world class featherweight. The Italian traveled to the United States just before World War II raged in Europe. Efrati was eventually deported back to Italy where he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz.

Leone Efrati was born on May 16, 1916 in Rome, Italy. When he was 19 years old, Efrati debuted as a professional boxer. He fought ten times in Rome during the first seven months of his career and amassed a record of 6-2-2 during this time.

Efraiti continued to box successfully in Italy until December 1937 when he moved his career to France. Within a year, Efrati, nicknamed Lelleto, shifted to the United States. His U.S. debut occurred on September 30, 1938, a draw against Gene Spencer. After several fights in the Chicago area, Efrati took on veteran featherweight Frankie "Kid" Covelli on November 23. That exciting bout ended in a draw. The two did it again just two weeks later. During that second contest, Efrati fought much better and won a ten-round decision.

Leone's next fight was three weeks later in Chicago against Leo Rodak. This fight was for the NBA featherweight championship. The two men gave the fans a rousing battle. Efrati was knocked down in the fourth. In the end, Rodak was awarded the decision after ten rounds, much to the chagrin of Efrati and his corner.

Efrati would not win another professional boxing match. He drew with veteran Pete Lello in January of 1939. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Though Italy was officially a non-belligerent nation in the wake of Germany's invasion, the country was allied with Germany. Efrati fought three more times in the United States after the breakout of war in Europe. Those fights resulted in one draw and two losses, including to Covelli in a third contest. After his November 16, 1939 loss to Jackie Callura, Leone was deported back to Italy despite the objections of his supporters. Deportation meant sure-death.

Efrati was eventually arrested in Rome and sent to Auschwitz. There he was forced to engage in cruel boxing matches for the amusement of the Nazi prison guards. Young Perez and Harry Haft fought in similar circumstances. On April 16, 1944, Efarti was murdered in Auschwitz.

According to BoxRec,  Efrati's professional boxing record was 27-10-12. He was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 as a representative of Italian-Jewish athletes who died in the Holocaust.

"Leone Efrati." BoxRec.
"Leone Efrati." International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Update: An article by Harvey Starkman called "The Final Victory of Leone Efrati" was published on May 26, 2023. Starkman argues that his article corrects some inaccuracies in the sources used for this profile.

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