Dozens of books read and studied by Jewish children sheltering from the Nazis in an Italian villa between 1942 and 1943 have been restored after being found in a shabby state in Modena in 2002.
A total of 96 books – mostly written in German but with some in English, Italian and Hebrew – were given a new lease of life after being discovered in two wooden crates in a cellar in Villa Emma di Nonantola, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, almost 20 years ago.
Experts say the books give “new insights into the hidden Jewish cultural life in Italy during the Nazi occupation” as the children hid in Villa Emma, the former summer residence of a senior military officer built in 1890.
The collection includes textbooks and school literature as well as religious books and social and entertainment novels by authors such as Heinrich Heine, Stefan Zweig and Thomas Mann, many banned by the Nazis as
“un-German” in 1933.
The old editions bore the ‘Delasem stamp’ – the emblem of the Delegation for the Support of Jewish Emigrants, an Italian-Jewish aid organisation. This helped researchers trace the collection back to Villa Emma.
The vacant villa had been rented by the Delasem relief organisation and, in 1942, Recha Freier, a Jewish woman from Berlin, took 41 poor Jewish children from Germany and Austria first to Zagreb, then Slovenia,
and finally to Nonantola, where they sheltered.
In 1943, more orphans arrived, bringing the number to 73 and, when the Nazis invaded in September 1943, the villagers all helped hide the children.
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