His father was Felice, and his mother was Ada Basevi. Franco had two brothers: Ermanno, born in 1918, and Lelio, born in 1920. The family moved to Roma, then to Bologna. In 1938 Mussolini's "racial laws" were introduced and Franco was expelled from public school, and had to go instead to a "Jewish school" jury-rigged in a local synagogue. He did not understand why he had to leave his friends just because he was Jewish. His father died in 1939 and he moved in with relatives.
Soon after Mussolini was overthrown, the Nazis invaded Italy, and Italian Jews had to go into hiding or be sent to the concentration camps. The Cesana family hid in the Apennine Mountains, next to Modena. Franco's family had to move from hut to hut in the mountains in order to evade the German soldiers. Franco, who was twelve at the time, joined one of the Justice and Liberty partisan group with his brother Lelio. Their group was brigata Scarabelli. Not much later, on 14 September 1944, he was shot by Germans on a scouting mission in the mountains, next to Gombola, and his body was returned to his mother on his thirteenth birthday. He received the bronze medal in memory.
- "Franco Cesana". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
- "Cesana Lelio". Storia E Memoria Di Bologna (in Italian). Istituzione Bologna Musei. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
- "Cesana Ermanno". Storia E Memoria Di Bologna (in Italian). Istituzione Bologna Musei. Retrieved 5 September 2018.