Elena Malagodi Dies at 84; Dedicated Her Last Years to Senegal

Ms. Malagodi escaped the Nazis, married a famous Cuban sculptor and an Italian politician, then devoted her life to helping children and mothers in Senegal. She died of Covid-19.


By Sam Roberts

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Elena Malagodi’s life unfolded like the pages of a novel.

She was born in Rome, the daughter of a Jewish actress from Latvia and an Italian military officer. She and her mother fled the Nazis in Riga during World War II and found shelter in the Uzbek city of Tashkent. She returned to Western Europe after the war; married a Cuban sculptor in Paris and then an Italian politician in Rome; curated art exhibitions by Surrealists; and founded two philanthropic organizations in Senegal, where she spent the last two decades of her life.

Ms. Malagodi died on March 17 in the coastal city of Mbour, Senegal. She was 84. The cause was Covid-19, said Larson Holt, the operations director and Senegal project manager for Moms Against Poverty, a partner of one of Ms. Malagodi’s organizations, Natangué-Sénégal.

Ms. Malagodi was president and founder of that organization, which had been working in Senegal since 1999 and operates a medical clinic, an agribusiness, schools and job training programs. (“Natangué” means “prosperity” in the Wolof language.) She also started Founding the Future of Childhood in Senegal.

Elena Iannotta was born on Aug. 16, 1936, to Mita Kaplan, who arrived in Rome from Riga in 1934 to study acting. Her father was Capt. Antonio Iannotta, with whom her mother had an affair.

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