Following a seven-year campaign, a museum dedicated to the story of some 800 child Holocaust survivors who were cared for in an Alpine resort town in Italy after World War II finally opened its doors on Sunday, according to report in the Jewish Chronicle.
The children made their way from the ghettos and concentration camps of Europe to the village of Alpine village of Selvino, some 37 miles northeast of Milan, with the help of Bricha—an underground organization that helped Jewish Holocaust survivors escape from post-World War II Europe to Israel—and eventually immigrated to Israel. Many settled on Kibbutz Tze’elim in Israel’s Negev Desert.
The museum, which is located in the town, contains a list of all the orphans’ names and a map that shows the routes they took across Europe to Italy.
Italian historian Marco Cavallarin rediscovered the children’s story in 2012, and he and his fellow activists hope that the exhibition is the first step towards restoring the house where the Jewish children lived, a former fascist children’s home called Sciesopoli.
The house was run by members of a Palestinian Jewish unit of the British Army stationed in Northern Italy under Moshe Zeiri, with the generous help of many Italian citizens, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
After 1948, the house was transformed into a home and school for needy and sick children, and is currently in serious disrepair. The Italian Cultural Heritage Ministry issued a grant for its preservation, but Cavallarin hopes to turn it into a museum dedicated to “Aliyah Bet,” the code name and active movement for illegal immigration by Jews to Mandatory Palestine between the years of 1934 to 1948.
Selvino Mayor Diego Bertocchi spoke at the museum’s opening about “the solidarity and acceptance” shown to the Jews by Selvino locals, despite the poverty that affected the remote mountain village at the time.
Giovanni Bloisi, a man in his 60s who biked 1,466 miles from Italy to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum to draw attention to the campaign, said at the museum’s opening ceremony that “it is vital in this difficult moment in Europe, with nationalism and anti-Semitism on the rise, that we remember what happened. These kids had seen unimaginable horrors but were welcomed in Italy, cared for and brought back to life.”
A total of 70,000 Jewish refugees found safe haven in Italy after World War II, according to the Jewish Chronicle.