Cesare was born in Napoli, Italy. His Jewish mother, Margit, was a Hungarian ballerina and his Roman Catholic father, Pasquale, was a famous orchestra director and music composer. They baptized Cesare and brought him up as a Catholic. In 1938, the Italian government issued anti-Semitic laws and began expelling foreign Jews from the country. Margit returned to Hungary with two year-old Cesare.
Once in Hungary, Cesare and his mother were ultimately forced to live inside a Yellow Star house within a Jewish ghetto. In an effort to save Cesare, Margit sent him out onto the streets with only a piece of bread and his baptismal certificate. They did not know if they would ever be together again. While separated from his mother, Cesare devised clever ways to obtain food and shelter in order to stay alive. However, he was eventually captured and sent in a boxcar to a youth detention camp. During this time, Margit miraculously survived a death march and a series of concentration camps.
After liberation, the International Red Cross helped place Cesare in a new home. His brave and determined mother went on foot for over a year looking for Cesare and finally found him, 183 villages later, on a pig farm on the Ukrainian border with an adoptive family. They returned to Budapest, and Margit insisted that Cesare resume his education.
Cesare’s mother died in Hungary in 1998. Cesare immigrated to the United States in 1982.