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Saul Steinberg’s Beach House

The celebrated artist’s little-known imprisonment in an Italian villa by the sea during the Holocaust

by
Bill Tonelli
May 10, 2024
"We arrived in Tortoreto, in the Abruzzi, after two days of traveling, sleeping on benches in stations, and changing trains." A 1941 drawing shows some of Steinberg's possessions, not long after his arrival at Villa Tonelli.

Saul Steinberg Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

"We arrived in Tortoreto, in the Abruzzi, after two days of traveling, sleeping on benches in stations, and changing trains." A 1941 drawing shows some of Steinberg's possessions, not long after his arrival at Villa Tonelli.

Saul Steinberg Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

If you travel along the Lungomare Marconi, the seaside road in Alba Adriatica, a beach town in the Abruzzo region of Italy, and go past the Da Lucia bathing suit and souvenir store and the bicycle rental and repair shop and the Amnesia boutique and the Wolf grill-restaurant-pizzeria, you come to Via Giuseppe Mazzini. Turn inland there and walk another 15 minutes or so, and you reach the First Lady makeup studio and the Rosati Tappeti carpet store. In the space between the two, set far back from the street and behind an electronic gate, is Via Roma number 66, a pale-yellow three-story condominium building of 13 apartments, taller, wider, and more impressive than its neighbors.

This building was originally known as Villa Ranalli, built early in the 20th century for Barone Italo Ranalli, a local nobleman, then sold to another wealthy landowner, Francesco Tonelli. There’s a picture postcard of Villa Tonelli, as it was then called, a photograph taken in 1929 showing a long line of cars and a crowd of spectators outside on the wedding day of Tonelli’s daughter, Maria. Since then, in the years before it went condo, it was home to an aviation school and an artisanal laboratorio, a workshop where leather handbags were made.

Amid those incarnations, in the early 1940s, the villa was a campo internamento—an internment camp, a temporary prison for foreign-born Jews and others whom the fascist government of Italy had rounded up in order to expel them from the country. During that period a varied group of men were held there, among them a surgeon, a dentist, a banker, at least two violinists, and a 26-year-old Romanian architecture student and cartoonist named Saul Steinberg.

By then, Steinberg had been living in the country for nearly eight years, having left his home in Budapest in 1933, when he was 19 and weary of the growing antisemitism he felt there. He enrolled at the Regio Politecnico in Milan and lived nearby over a bar that rented rooms to students. There, Steinberg created an expat’s life for himself, including an Italian girlfriend and a budding career selling cartoons to newspapers.

Francesco Tonelli (right) with his daughter Maria and her husband Gaetano D’Arostotile in front of Villa Tonelli on their wedding day, September 9, 1929
Francesco Tonelli (right) with his daughter Maria and her husband Gaetano D’Arostotile in front of Villa Tonelli on their wedding day, September 9, 1929

Courtesy the author

It was a bad moment for the country’s Jews, native and foreigners alike. Beginning a century earlier, throughout Europe but especially in Italy, restrictions on where Jews could live and work had eased. When Mussolini and the fascist party rose to power, they passed new antisemitic laws prohibiting Jews from holding positions in government, the military, and in mass media and banning intermarriage with non-Jews.

So, the respite Steinberg sought from official antisemitism didn’t last long. The expulsion order required him to leave, but there was a catch. To exit, visas were required, meaning that Steinberg first had to find some other nation that would take him in. Which took some doing. From Milan, he contacted relatives and friends in the United States for help in that effort, but meanwhile, he was trapped, with no legal right to remain in the country and no legal right to go.

By Spring 1940, shortly before Italy entered the war on Germany’s side, it seemed clear to the artist that he would soon be arrested. Steinberg later wrote:

I knew the arrest would take place between six and seven o’clock in the morning. They did it that way because, as Solzhenitsyn tells us, arrests are carried out in the “antisocial” hours when society is asleep. In Russia, naturally, at two in the morning, and I’m sure it was the same in Germany with the Nazis. In Italy, they made their arrests at a more civilized hour, for the benefit of the cops, poor guys, who had to get up at five, drink a coffee, and still half-asleep go and brutally rouse other folks out of bed, so that people in corridors and streets wouldn’t see what was going on.

Steinberg turned the threat of arrest into a game of cat and mouse. To avoid capture, he began waking up a little before 6, jumping on a borrowed bike, and riding through the streets of Milan as though he were headed to work. After a while he would return home, have breakfast, and go back to bed.

“I had the great satisfaction of a whole free day ahead of me—more than a vacation, almost a life gained,” he wrote.

One morning while he was still home, one of the four sisters who owned the bar came to his room to warn him, “They’re here, downstairs.” Steinberg managed to flee without being seen by the police. Then:

When I got back at eight, after telephoning to be sure they left, I was welcomed like a hero, like someone who’d had a narrow escape. They told me that one of the policemen, like a real Sherlock Holmes, had felt the bed and said, “It’s still warm.”

The policemen were poor devils, southerners who did this job without taking any interest in it. But their laziness, the fact that the organization did not function well, resulted in an inefficiency that would then be converted into a lack of injustice.
Via Roma number 66
Via Roma number 66

Courtesy the author

Steinberg spent almost a year that way, laying low, trying to gather the paperwork he needed to find a new country to call home. In March of 1941, the authorities finally ordered that he be arrested. He turned himself in to police on April 27 and was sent to Milan’s San Vittore prison, a rough and dangerous place, where he was jailed alongside criminals. Steinberg seemed undaunted:

As soon as I was put in prison I saw myself as an important character. In history, all important characters have gone to prison. … Because I was young, this was all a great adventure for me. I liked to think I was participating in life in such an intense fashion: I wasn’t just a reader of novels but a real hero, as I’d always wished. And I saw the moment come true when the dream becomes reality.

Four days later, policemen came to put him on a train for the internment camp to which he had been assigned:

Two friends had come to see me off, Donizetti and Aldo, and a girlfriend named Ada. Donizetti brought me some medicine—quinine, I think—for malaria. This, too, was happiness. I had a woman who loved me and two friends. Before that I’d had only my family—that is to say, people I had neither invented nor found for myself.

On the train, Steinberg’s police escort tried to keep other passengers away, but women, he wrote, were especially curious:

For women a prisoner is a romantic, adventurous character, who has done something unlawful and thus might even do something unlawful to them, or rather for them. Moreover, I was a foreigner, young, and also looked underfed. Admired and desired by these girls, I felt perfect.

Of the 40 or so internment camps established by the government, more than half were in small towns in Abruzzo and elsewhere in Central and Southern Italy, along the peninsula’s eastern side. There were sound reasons for that decision: The region was far from major cities, had no strategic wartime significance, not much communication infrastructure, and a mostly rural, apolitical population. Even today it’s somewhat isolated, hemmed in on one side by a mountain range that includes Gran Sasso, the country’s tallest peak south of the Alps, and on the other by the sea. It contains Italy’s largest nature preserve, where bears and wolves still roam, and in a nation where regional characteristics sometimes run to extremes, Abruzzo’s unofficial motto is forte e gentile—“strong and kind.”

Steinberg wrote:

We arrived in Tortoreto, in the Abruzzi, after two days of traveling, sleeping on benches in stations, and changing trains. The “camp” was a villa … small, with perhaps fifty internees: a few Jews, White Russians, gypsies, stateless persons, refugees, being held there in a fairly makeshift and human fashion as compared with other camps.

The “camp” was Villa Tonelli, which had 10 rooms on the first floor, 10 on the second, indoor plumbing, a kitchen, an infirmary, a garden, and neither bars nor fences. It was a short walk to the beach, which could be viewed from its upstairs windows.

In his journal, on the day he arrived, he wrote:

Vedo il mare, bello.
I see the sea, beautiful.

He also wrote:

I was lucky.

I first learned about Villa Tonelli and Saul Steinberg’s internment there in the summer of 2004, while my family and I were in Italy on vacation. A luncheon for us had been organized in the town of Nereto, 10 kilometers inland from Tortoreto, where my grandfather Luigi Umberto Tonelli was born in 1889. At a restaurant, we and a dozen or so officials and other townspeople were served Nereto’s signature dish, capra alla neretese—goat meat sauteed with onions and peppers. As part of our official welcome, we were given a red silk banner depicting the town’s patron saint, St. Martin of Tours, and my wife received a bouquet of flowers.

Among the people we met that day was Tito Rubini, a poet who also runs a family jewelry business. It was he who told me the story of Steinberg and the internment camp at Villa Tonelli and took me to see the building, which housed the leather handbag workshop.

The coincidence of surname has never figured much into my interest in Steinberg’s place of internment; ours was not a villa-owning branch of the family. My great-grandfather was a baker. My grandfather was too. When he was 16, he was ordered by his parents to come to the United States to join a brother who had emigrated there. As the story goes, my grandfather stabbed himself in the leg in an attempt—unsuccessful—to get out of making the voyage. He never went back.

Drawing of a small bed, chair, and suitcase, 1941
Drawing of a small bed, chair, and suitcase, 1941

SAUL STEINBERG PAPERS, YALE COLLECTION OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY

But I was mildly intrigued by the area’s unlikely role as a footnote to history, and by Tito Rubini’s avid interest. He told me, “Since I was a child I knew about the existence of five internment camps in this area during the Second World War. Three internees from the camp in our town married women from here and continued living here. Their children went to school with me.” Once Tito learned about Steinberg and his imprisonment, Tito said, “he fascinated me as an artist and by the fact that he was right here! But I didn’t know anything about him—no one did.”

Most of what we know of Saul Steinberg’s time in Italy comes from a slim memoir he wrote in the 1970s with Aldo Buzzi, his friend from university days, a fellow architecture student and writer. By this point both men were living in New York; at Buzzi’s instigation they recorded conversations held in 1974 and 1977, in Italian, at his house in the Hamptons.

The interviews were transcribed and edited into book form by Buzzi, and an Italian publisher was ready to release it. “But then [Steinberg] thought it over once more and the project was left hanging,” Buzzi wrote in a foreword. “He was a man full of doubts. Perhaps he felt that as a writer he was not up to his own level as an artist, an artist who used to say that he was a writer who drew instead of writing.”

But there was another possible reason: Steinberg later made clear how uncomfortable he was “seeing a tragic part of my life treated with allegria!” The distinguished Italian journalist and historian Mario Tedeschini Lalli has researched and written extensively on Steinberg’s time in Italy. He wrote that internment “would continue to haunt him and to punctuate his correspondence. But never—at least not during his lifetime—did it translate into a coherent and conscious narrative.” Only in 2001, two years after Steinberg’s death, was the memoir published, first in Italian, titled Riflessi e Ombre, and then a year later, in an English translation by John Shipley, as Reflections and Shadows.

So, “lucky” was probably not the only emotion Steinberg felt upon his arrival at Villa Tonelli. But considering all the possibilities—at one point he feared he would be sent to a barracks-type camp in Calabria where thousands of men were held behind fences and malaria was rampant—he was, relatively speaking, fortunate. He was imprisoned, true, but in a mansion built for a wealthy nobleman, living dormitory-style among other cultured men who, despite everything, also seemed to take their predicament in stride.

Not long before Steinberg arrived at the camp, the Italian government slightly increased the daily stipend given to the internees to buy food and other necessities. In response, the men held at Villa Tonelli created a message to be sent to Mussolini. At the top, in large handwritten letters, it begins:

DUCE!

Beneath that, it says that the men were “deeply moved” by the dictator’s recent “magnanimous gesture.” It was, they wrote, without a bit of irony or sarcasm, “a new sign of that humane treatment, of which everyone, without distinction, will retain perpetual memory. … Viva L’Italia!” (Mussolini indeed saw the message, but there is no record of if or how he responded.)

Steinberg filled his days at Villa Tonelli reading (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Joyful Delaneys by Hugh Walpole), drawing, painting, writing letters, and smoking cigarettes. He kept a casual journal, part diary, part sketchbook. On May 7, a week after his arrival, he wrote, “I’m beginning to get used to things. I do everything with great calm, in no hurry. So do all the people in town.” At one point, he wrote, he had a toothache and was seen by a dentist.

A letter of thanks to Mussolini from the men interned at Villa Tonelli
A letter of thanks to Mussolini from the men interned at Villa Tonelli

SAUL STEINBERG PAPERS, YALE COLLECTION OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY

The camp was lightly guarded, by a police officer and four carabinieri who were stationed in an apartment nearby and conducted daily roll calls. The internees were permitted to take hour-long walks with an escort but prohibited from speaking with locals. “At night we had curfew,” Steinberg said in an interview conducted for the American Jewish Committee’s Oral History Library, “and these 30 people gathered together in the dining room with the lights off, and there was one man there who was a good violinist, he had a fiddle with him, and he played the fiddle with a … mute, and in the dark played … he played some Beethoven, some classical music. It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful… I still have goose pimples about that music.”

In Steinberg’s telling, even the deprivations seem mild:

The main meal at Tortoreto was bread and tea—tea because there was no coffee. You can always find tea in Italy because nobody drinks it. Instead of sugar we used a little honey, or a piece of candy. Even bread was a sort of sugar, because it becomes sweetish when dipped in tea. There was quite a traffic in bread: fresh bread, dry bread, all kinds of bread. Grass and herbs, a bit of onion, were added to make bread soup, bread pie. The pope gave us six lire a day as an allowance, and for his own peace of mind. Luckily I was there in May; it was warm, there was the fine spring sunshine, and already they were starting to find greens, lots of onions. I even saw a dog eating onions, a dog who lived with us and didn’t know he was in a concentration camp.

Steinberg continued scrambling for the documents needed to escape Italy, and worried over his prospects: “No answer from Rome,” he wrote in his journal. “Few hopes of leaving.” Then, a few days later: “No news about the departure. If I don’t leave, I’ll die of heartbreak.”

He pined for the girlfriend he left behind in Milan. “Adina, always thinking of her—at nights, I put my head under the covers, start to think. I greet her, Hi, Adina—Adina sends me a 50 lire money order perhaps from her own money. Poor dear Adina, I love her very much.”

Still, sitting at his table by an upstairs window, drawing and smoking, he also paid close attention to the young women of the town as they walked by:

The women of Tortoreto had stepped right out of the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. They had round eyes (eyes like the ones I saw later in the comic strips: Mickey Mouse, Orphan Annie …), with an incredible stare and eyebrows as thick as mustaches, and very taut skin, which looked stuffed to the point of bursting, of a color verging on copper. On their heads they carried large copper water jugs, and they walked with dignity, as though they were bearing the world on their heads. They were very curious about these young foreigners whom they were seeing for the first time (the invasions of armies and tourism still lay in the future). They stared at us passionately, also because while they were looking, they couldn’t turn their heads due to the weight that was on them. I could almost see the rays, the fire, that came from their eyes. Added to that was the desire one felt because of abstinence, a desire equally strong on both sides, for it was clear that the girls were truly virgins full of passion. It could also be seen from all those bulging curves ready to explode: bosoms, backsides, and so forth, forms and dimensions of a vigor seldom to be seen, and which stood out even more starkly because of the modesty and color of their clothes—between brown and black.
Pencil sketch of hotel room with itinerary and notes, 1941
Pencil sketch of hotel room with itinerary and notes, 1941

SAUL STEINBERG PAPERS, YALE COLLECTION OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY

As he sat there watching, those young women were observing him. Next door to the camp was Villa Zanoni, where 22-year-old Elena Zanoni lived with her family. A history of the town she wrote years later included her memories of Steinberg:

Who was this romantic young man, who fascinated everyone with his distinction and beauty?
It was well understood that one could not ask a supervisor there, and so one tried to find out from another inmate. … It became known, therefore, that he was a Romanian Jew, who graduated in architecture in Milan. … His name was Saul (called Paolo by the girls) Steinberg …

She also reported on a brief encounter with a woman, presumably Adina:

One day, accompanied by a policeman from the camp, a beautiful and elegant lady was seen arriving and was then seen on an afternoon walk with [Steinberg] to the crossroads of the Via Nazionale with Via Regina Margherita where they greeted each other with affectionate expression. She headed towards the station to leave again, he and the policeman went back to the camp.

Less than a month after Steinberg arrived at Villa Tonelli, his release was in the works. “On June 4,” Tedeschini Lalli wrote, “the DELASEM [Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants] office in Rome wrote to the Ministry [of the Interior] requesting an immediate release for Steinberg so that he could catch a plane in Rome on June 12 in order to make his scheduled departure from Lisbon on June 20.”

On June 6, permission was granted. To mark the occasion, his fellow internees created a farewell pamphlet “cordially dedicated to Mr. S. Steinberg,” with a drawing of Villa Tonelli by Austrian-born architect Walter Frankl, brother of the psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl, and the signatures of 44 fellow internees.

Two days later, Steinberg left Villa Tonelli along with the camp’s violin virtuoso, Aloisi Gogg, who he remembered as:

a good-humored man whose faith was inexhaustible. For almost a year he had hidden out in an inn near Genoa with the innkeeper’s consent, provided he make love to the wife, who was young and needed it. The innkeeper preferred to have a man in the house who was clean and under his control, rather than letting his wife roam the streets, picking up dirty young roughnecks …

On the night before their release, Steinberg wrote:

Our companions offered us a special supper. They brought out whatever good things they could—lots of bread and the sweetest tea. Gogg played the violin, but with a mute and in the dark, since we weren’t allowed to keep the light on after nine o’clock. The next day everyone saw us off as far as the corner of the station. The two of us and a guard went into the station and the others stood and watched us. Then they ran back.

When our train left Tortoreto and passed behind the camp, we saw them again. From the roof and windows of the villa they were waving to us with sheets and towels, anything that was white and could be waved.
Saul Steinberg, early 1950s
Saul Steinberg, early 1950s

Everett Collection Historical/Alamy

Steinberg and Gogg traveled by train to Rome, then by sea from Lisbon to New York. From there Gogg made his way to Waukesha, Wisconsin, where, under the name Milton Weber, he became the first music director of the Wisconsin Philharmonic.

But Steinberg was not yet finished wandering. He still lacked the visa required to stay in the United States, so instead of disembarking in New York, he was held at Ellis Island. “On July 5,” Tedeschini Lalli wrote in Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History, “he was once again at sea, now bound for Ciudad Trujillo, as Santo Domingo was then known. There he spent one more year, working and hoping for an American visa, until the summer of 1942, when he finally flew to Miami and boarded a bus to New York. After two years of frustration and fear, he had done it. And he was one of the lucky ones: Between December 1, 1940 and October 15, 1941, only 210 other foreign Jews managed to leave Italy.”

The camp at Villa Tonelli remained in operation until 1943, when the fascist government fell and Italy surrendered, at which point the internees dispersed. Some traveled south, to safety in the part of the country controlled by Allied forces. The unlucky ones went to Rome and cities of the north, straight into the hands of Nazi troops, who had invaded Italy upon its surrender.

Native-born Jews fared no better. When the Nazis invaded, there were still 43,000 Italian Jews living in the country. Somewhere between 8,500 to 10,000 were deported and sent to concentration camps. That was also the fate that befell Walter Frankl, who by then had been transferred to a village in Tuscany to be with his wife, Elisabeth. In December 1943 they were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where they perished. Hundreds more Italian Jews were murdered by German soldiers while still in Italy.

Even after escaping Italy, Steinberg could not put his internment entirely behind him. Once he settled in New York, he obtained U.S. citizenship by accepting a commission in the Naval Reserve, with the rank of ensign. He was assigned to Naval Intelligence and during the remaining years of the war was sent to China, India, Algeria, and Italy, creating art reportage that ran in The New Yorker and elsewhere.

In 1957, on a trip to Italy, he returned to Tortoreto:

I was anxious. I wanted to go and didn’t want to go. I was afraid of spoiling the memory, and I wanted to spoil it. And I succeeded.

Arriving in Tortoreto, I had to drive along the main street, which was full of people, unlike in Fascist times. The village had become Communist, and since elections were coming up there was a lot of unrest. They looked at me with some hostility, because I was traveling in an automobile they’d never seen, and because I was a stranger. They got out of the car’s way grudgingly so as to demonstrate their right to occupy the street, and already this looked to me like a bad omen for the hero returning free and triumphant.

Finally I found myself in front of the villa. It has been renovated, fixed up and painted pink—flowers everywhere. It looked as though it was inhabited by rich landowners, who in Italy usually live behind walls with glass shards on them. The place seemed horrible to me, and I went away without getting out of the car.

But then Steinberg discovered that he had visited the wrong place—there were two internment camps in Tortoreto, and he had mistakenly gone to the other one, in the part of town perched up on a hilltop. Only as he drove away did he glimpse Villa Tonelli. But he didn’t go any closer:

I didn’t want to, just as I don’t want to go back to Romania: they are places that don’t belong to geography but to time. And the memory of these places of sadness, of suffering, but above all of great emotions, is spoiled by seeing them again. It’s better to leave certain things in peace, just the way they are in memory: with the passage of time they become the mythology of our lives.

My friend Tito Rubini wrote articles about Steinberg for local magazines and started a correspondence with Aldo Buzzi, who told him he should put a plaque on Villa Tonelli stating that “here lived in captivity due to the racial laws the great artist and writer Saul Steinberg.” Every time Tito and I met, he brought along a large briefcase stuffed with his collection of books, documents, correspondence, photographs, and other materials. He also introduced me to Elena Zanoni’s nephew, Gianni. We visited him together at the beachfront hotel owned by his family, not far from their ancestral home, Villa Zanoni, which is next door to Villa Tonelli.

Gianni said that his grandfather Angelo had told him stories about life as the camp’s neighbor—how he would place crates of grapes left over from winemaking out in front of their house for the internees, who were chronically underfed, to take as they walked by.

Then Gianni mentioned something that his aunt had written about. According to Elena, in thanks for the grapes, one of the internees made a drawing of Villa Zanoni as a gift. It was signed only with the letter P, which she said was short for Paolo. Of course, none of the foreign-born internees had an Italian name. But, as she wrote, once the infatuated girls of the neighborhood learned Steinberg’s first name, they began calling him by the Italian equivalent: Paolo, just as Saul of Tarsus, Jesus’s apostle who later became a saint, was called Paul.

Gianni Zanoni holds the painting of Villa Zanoni, made by a mystery internee of Villa Tonelli
Gianni Zanoni holds the painting of Villa Zanoni, made by a mystery internee of Villa Tonelli

Courtesy the author

I asked Gianni if I could see the drawing. He said he would bring it next time we met, a week later. When I arrived at the hotel that day, Gianni phoned his sister to ask where the drawing was. There was lots of talk back and forth in rapid Italian, too fast for me to follow, but the meaning eventually became clear: No one knew where to find it.

At this point Gianni headed for his car, said he’d be back soon, and drove away. When he returned, he had the artwork in hand. They found it in his aunt’s office, which he said has remained untouched since her death in 2016. It was a painting, roughly 8 by 10 inches, in a frame. Gianni removed it so we could examine it more closely.

In the journal Steinberg kept in Tortoreto, there was a tantalizing mystery: He wrote about “a little painting” he was making and, on the next day, mentioned works that were “all a little messy and confusing in color.” But all the known art he created during his internment was line drawings of Villa Tonelli. Not even the most knowledgeable Steinberg experts I asked had ever seen works in color from this period or knew a thing about them. My hope—obvious, perhaps naive—was that I was about to discover a previously unknown Saul Steinberg painting from an obscure chapter of his life.

No such luck.

Gianni and I stood looking at a competent but otherwise unremarkable painting on paper, in color, of Villa Zanoni and its surroundings. It was signed just with the letter P, as Elena had written. But the picture looked nothing like Steinberg’s style then or at any other time in his life. Gianni mentioned it might even be possible that his grandfather had written that P. And over the P is written “1942”—the year after Steinberg left Tortoreto. Yet even if this were his creation, no one would ever believe it.

With that letdown, I felt as though I had exhausted every angle of the story, save one. During a recent month in Tortoreto, I made several trips to see Villa Tonelli. I had gotten as far as the electronic gate but no closer, so I sent a message to the real estate agent who manages the building, asking if I could, at last, go inside. He agreed to meet me there the next day.

The building’s facade has been refurbished since it was built, the curved, sweeping staircase leading up to an elevated grand entrance now gone, replaced by an ordinary doorway on the ground floor. As the agent and I chatted, a woman who lives there overheard us and joined the conversation. After a few minutes, Silvia Manocchi invited me into her home.

She and her husband moved into the building in 2009, among the first families to buy condos there. “I only learned about the history of the villa after we bought the apartment,” she said. “I was fascinated by it, and I was happy that those who spent time here didn’t spend it in a bad way, but it was above all in a horrendous period. I love vintage things because I like knowing that there are still things that can tell the history of the world.”

Bill Tonelli is a journalist, editor of The Italian American Reader, an anthology, and author of The Amazing Story of the Tonelli Family in America.

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