Location: Nonantola, Italy
Client: Fondazione Villa Emma
Design team: Bianchini & Lusiardi Associati
Collaborators: Studio Fornalé engineering
2-stage design competition – 1st prize
Design level: schematic design
Net Floor Area: 700 sqm / 7,500 sqft
Construction cost: € 1,550,000
The “Davanti a Villa Emma” interpretation center, museum and memorial is aimed to present the history of seventy-three Jewish children – trying to reach Palestine escaping the Nazi persecution in Germany, Austria, and Croatia – who took refuge in Nonantola, northern Italy, from 1942 to 1943 and were thereafter helped by the local population led by Dr. Giuseppe Moreali and Father Arrigo Beccari (both later recognized as Righteous Among The Nations) to escape to Switzerland and, from there, to safely get to Palestine.
Combining the power of those “traces of history” (as Peter Eisenman calls them) the place still preserves today and the exemplary Jewish archetype of the sukkah as a temporary refuge during the long journey to the Promised Land, this small timber building is also aimed to be a symbol of tolerance, acceptance, solidarity, and fraternity among people of different cultural background, religion, and nationality.
The children of Villa Emma
The new museum/memorial is aimed to present the history of a group of Jewish children and teens who were rescued by the Delasem (Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants) from Germany, Austria, and Croatia in 1940 with a view to moving them to Palestine, after their families were killed by the Nazis or deported into concentration camps.
After the group, during the journey, got stuck in Slovenia because of the German invasion of the country, the children and their guides fortuitously moved to the village of Nonantola, northern Italy, and found refuge in Villa Emma, a large semi-abandoned country house belonging to an Italian Jewish businessman, where they stayed for 18 months and fraternized with the local population, mostly consisting of anti-fascist people.
In 1943, when Italy was invaded by the German troops, the situation suddenly became dangerous and the children were hidden by the locals, led by Dr. Giuseppe Moreali and Father Arrigo Beccari (who were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations), in houses and hideouts in the village and its outskirts in order to save them from the SS who were aware of their presence; afterwards, disguised as Italian schoolchildren, the group moved to Switzerland and, from here, to Palestine.
Except for one boy, Salomon Papo, who got sick and was captured by the SS in the hospital and deported to Auschwitz, all children safely reached Palestine, where many of them still live today.
All images © Bianchini & Lusiardi Associati