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Villa Emma. Jüdische Kinder auf der Flucht 1940-1945 - Klaus Voigt

This is the story of a group of 74 Jewish children’s dramatic flight through war-torn Europe.
As they tried to reach Palestine through the Balkans, they were overtaken by war in northern Yugoslavia, and the ensuing partisan struggle increasingly exposed them to danger. In an unprecedented decision (it is the only documented case of its kind), the Italian government allowed the entire group to enter Italy. They found a temporary respite in a small town in Northern Italy, Nonantola, where Delasem, the main Italian Jewish relief organization, owned a house, the Villa Emma of the title. Here they lived for a year, learning handicrafts and agricultural skills in preparation for kibbutz life. Italy’s cease-fire with the Allies, announced on 8 September 1943, and the subsequent occupation of Central and Northern Italy by German forces, put them once again seriously at risk. In the pivotal episode in the book, we are told how within days, with the help or connivance of practically the entire town, all the children found hiding places: in the seminary adjoining the ancient abbey, in a nunnery, and with local families (in 1965 the local priest and the local doctor were honoured at the Yad Vashem for their role in saving the children.) After a few months, the children undertook in small groups a perilous journey through occupied Italy and managed to illegally cross the Swiss border into safety. Only one of them, 15-year old Salomon Papo, suffering with tuberculosis, was left behind in a hospital, where he was discovered by Nazis and deported to Auschwitz. At the end of the war the children were finally able to reach their destination in Palestine: Jewish self-help, human decency, and often sheer luck had combined to effect their survival.
The result of several years of research in European and Israeli archives, and of numerous interviews with survivors, this scholarly book is also a gripping, often heart-rending, sometimes heart-warming story of a group of children, the youngest only eight when they set out on their journey, trying to find a safe haven. And the “happy ending” cannot disguise the fact that while the children were saved, most of their families died in concentration camps.
A photographic exhibition of the children’s story is now touring Europe. It was shown in the Italian Parliament on the occasion of the Day of Memory and will be exhibited in the European Parliament in Brussels.
Rights sold: Germany (Metropol), Italy (La Nuova Italia)

A TV serial for RAI is in preparation.

Klaus Voigt, historian, born and based in Berlin, is a major expert on exile from Nazi Germany. His two-volume Zuflucht auf Widerruf (Uncertain Refuge) on German exiles in Fascist Italy (Stuttgart 1993, Florence 1996) won wide acclaim in academic circles.

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