Note: This post is the next chapter in my Aunt Susanne and Uncle Franz’s story, following their departure in late 1935 or early 1936 from Berlin to escape the increasingly repressive National Socialist regime, when they sought refuge in Fiesole, Italy. There are certain family history stories I look forward to writing and sharing with readers, and this is one such tale, when, albeit briefly, my relatives held out hope they might survive the homicidal madmen threatening Europe in the lead-up to WWII and lead normal lives. Much about the roughly two-and-a-half years my aunt and uncle spent in Fiesole remains unknown, including why they decided to immigrate here. Still, some of what I’ve learned as recently as 2016 provides a sound basis to speculate why they may have moved here.
In Post 1, I introduced readers to a quote by the brainy, former executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Branch Rickey, who once said that “Luck is the residue of design.” The story I’m about to relate about my Aunt Susanne and her esteemed husband, Dr. Franz Müller, and the discoveries I made about their years in Fiesole, Italy, speaks volumes to this truth.
I can’t remember exactly when I first learned that my aunt and uncle had lived in Fiesole, a gorgeous Tuscan town, founded by the Etruscans in the 9th-8th centuries B.C., located on the scenic heights to the northeast of Firenze (Florence). However, I recall when I first visited Fiesole. It was in the 1990’s, long before I became interested in family history, when I was a mere archaeologist and my aim was simply to visit the Roman ruins that are the town’s main tourist attraction. (Figure 1) I’ve always imagined the tawny landscape and gently rolling hills of Tuscany as an inviting billowy pillow in which to do a face-plant. So, it’s easy to comprehend the attraction Tuscany might have held for Jewish immigrants in the face of the malign forces that surrounded them.
The current post organizes chronologically all the information I’ve collected about my aunt and uncle during three visits to Fiesole, in 2014, 2015, and again in 2016. Before starting my family investigations, I had no idea, for example, when my aunt and uncle departed Berlin, nor when they arrived in Fiesole. But, as I explained in the previous post, I learned from the Grundbuch, or “real estate register” for the property my uncle owned in Berlin-Charlottenburg, that he sold his house there in November or December 1935, and likely departed with my aunt soon afterwards. Similarly, in conjunction with what I eventually discovered in Fiesole, I place their arrival there in the first quarter of 1936.
Judging from the dated pictures in my father’s photo albums, he too departed Germany, likely from Berlin, two years later, in early March 1938. Between March 5th and March 9th, my father spent several days visiting the tourist attractions in Vienna, Austria, seemingly in the company of other Jewish émigrés. Having lost his profession, and bewildered as to what the future held, he headed for Fiesole. Along the way, my father stopped to do some skiing and hiking in the Dolomite Mountains and passed through a town in Alto Adige, Italy, named Bolzano or Bozen; this is a place my wife and I have visited on several occasions for reasons having nothing to do with family history, and everything to do with the famed 5,000-year old “Ötzi the Iceman,” discovered in the Tyrolean Alps, who is displayed at the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. Eventually, my father arrived in Fiesole, his pictures never specifying exactly when though I ultimately worked this out. (Figure 2)
Knowing of my family’s association with Fiesole, I decided to contact the “Municipio,” or City Hall there, and inquire about any documentary evidence they might possess on my aunt and uncle. When I accessed their website, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a branch of the Municipio called “Archivio Storico Comunale,” the “Municipal Historic Archive.” I immediately contacted them on March 27, 2014, explained my family’s connection to Fiesole, provided my aunt and uncle’s names, and the street name where they’d lived, Via del Salviatino, and asked for any relevant information. Amazingly, the very next day the town’s archivist, Ms. Lucia Nadetti, responded by sending me a page from Fiesole’s emigration register from 1938 with my aunt and uncle’s names listed. (Figure 3) The speed with which I was able to find evidence of my aunt and uncle’s presence in Fiesole left me breathless.
Fiesole’s emigration register placed my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole as April 30, 1936, and their departure to France as September 16, 1938; the register, among other things, showed they lived at Via del Salviatino 14, a place I only later learned was named the “Villa Primavera” (Figures 4a & 4b), and shared living accommodations with an Austrian woman named Lucia von Jacobi. For reasons I will get into below, I actually place my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole a month earlier, on March 31, 1936. Lucia Nadetti further explained there was no evidence my aunt and uncle paid taxes on their residence, and concluded they were probably renting the house, a question I resolved to answer when I visited Fiesole in 2014.
After studying the 1938 emigration register (see Figure 3), I followed up with a few questions related to abbreviations and Italian words I could not make out. Ms. Nadetti explained my aunt was shown as “coniugi,” married to Franz, and identified as “a.c.,” or “Atta a casa,” namely, a housewife. By contrast, Ms. Jacobi was described as “benestante,” or well-to-do, and registered as a “vedova,” or widow.
I told Ms. Nadetti of our plans to vacation in Fiesole later in 2104, and she promised to show me everything she’d found when we came. My wife and I eventually turned up at the “Archivio Storico Comunale” in Fiesole in June 2014, the year we spent 13 weeks visiting places associated with my family’s diaspora, traveling from Gdansk, Poland to Valencia, Spain. By the time we showed up, Ms. Nadetti (Figure 5) had collected the registration logs listing all my aunt and uncle’s guests. During Italy’s Fascist era, all out-of-town visitors were required to appear with their hosts at the Municipio, provide their names, show their identity papers, indicate their anticipated length of stay, and complete what was called a “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia,” or “Stay of Foreigners in Italy.” I was a bit surprised at the rather large number of guests my aunt and uncle had hosted, but simply attributed this to my relatives offering accommodations to Jews fleeing Germany.
These registration forms, while highly intrusive, are enormously informative for doing genealogical research, uncovering names of visitors, and establishing timelines for these guests. When completing the “Soggiorno” forms (Figure 6), guests were required to provide the names of both their parents, including the mother’s maiden name, plus their own date and place of birth. While these forms have not survived for all the guests who stayed with my aunt and uncle, those that remain are particularly useful. In a future Blog post, I will relate the stories of some guests whose fate I’ve been able to determine.
The immigration log recorded my father’s arrival in Italy, following his departure from Vienna, as May 10, 1938 (Figure 7), and his registration at the Comunale in Fiesole as May 26th. Given that my father had been in Vienna as late as May 9th, I surmise he arrived in Italy by an overnight train. The immigration register records a second visit by my father in September 1938, which I’ll discuss below.
Initially, I didn’t know whether my uncle ever owned Via del Salvaitino 14, so upon our arrival in Fiesole, Ms. Nadetti directed me to the “Conservatorio Dei Registri Immobiliari” in nearby Firenze to check ownership records. Here, we learned the descendants of a former obstetrician/gynecologist, named Dr. Gino Frascani, own two houses along Via Del Salviatino, numbered 12 and 14; my uncle, it turns out, never owned the Villa Primavera. Naturally, I assumed Via del Salviatino 14 was the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived, an erroneous supposition as it turned out.
The visit to the Conservatorio turned out to be fortuitous, but not simply for what we learned there. In 2014, my wife and I were staying at a bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Fiesole, and rather than deal with the city traffic to get to the Conservatorio, we took the bus there. By happenstance, while trying to ascertain where to catch the return bus at the end of the day, a delightful English-speaking Italian woman, Ms. Giuditta Melli (Figure 8), noticed our confusion and confirmed we were in the right place. She was headed on the same bus, so we exchanged pleasantries on the ride, and she invited us to visit the ceramic shop near the Conservatorio where she teaches. Two days later we dropped by and mentioned in passing the reason for our visit to Fiesole. Giuditta was moved to tears because she’d recently learned that her great-uncle was Jewish and had been deported to Buchenwald from Firenze by the Fascists and murdered there. As we prepared to leave, we exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch. This turned into an exceptionally productive friendship.
After our visit to the Conservatorio, my wife and I paid a return visit to Ms. Nadetti at the Archivio Storico Comunale to update her on our findings. Reminded of Dr. Frascani’s connection to properties along Via del Salviatino, Ms. Nadetti consulted an immigration register from 1936, similar to ones she’d shown us from 1937 and 1938. In it, she discovered my aunt and uncle initially were guests of Dr. Frascani at Via del Salviatino 14, the house they ultimately leased from him; this document shows my aunt and uncle arrived in Fiesole on March 31, 1936, and registered at the Municipio on April 7th, in other words, a month earlier than the emigration register that placed their arrival there on April 30, 1936. (Figure 9)
Having definitively linked my Uncle Franz to Dr. Gino Frascani, Ms. Nadetti found and shared a few documents about the doctor, and, eventually even compiled a summary of Dr. Frascani’s activities as a City Councilman for Fiesole through four legislative terms, 1905, 1910, 1914 and 1920. We also learned Dr. Frascani had been Mayor of Fiesole (Figure 10) for a time but forced to quit after being threatened by the Fascists on account of his socialist leanings. Interestingly, the roster of mayors listed on a placard in the Municipio does not even include Dr. Frascani.
One document given to us by Ms. Nadetti showed Dr. Frascani (Figure 11) paid for construction of an “Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino,” dedicated to his mother, Ersilia Frascani, built in 1908-09 along Via del Salviatino in Firenze. (Figure 12) The sanatorium was divided into sections for: general and special surgery; gynecology; obstetrics; and medical services. Dr. Frascani, a truly remarkable man whose life story begs to be told, even maintained free beds in the institute’s common infirmary for “charity.” The Istituto still stands today, regrettably no longer as a hospital, but rather as exclusive condominiums.
Having for the moment learned as much as we could from the various archives and city offices, my wife and I set out to locate Via del Salviatino 14. One could almost characterize this search as a comedy of errors. Prior to visiting Fiesole, I had located the house on Google Earth, so assumed I knew what I was looking for.
Via del Salviatino 14 is situated in an exclusive section of town, and when we finally located the address, the street-facing side of the apartment building did not appear as it had in my father’s pictures. (Figure 13) Coincidentally, the day we first visited, two black SUVs with tinted windows and burly guards, obviously protecting a high-ranking government official, refused to let us access the rear of the building to check. Confronted with this obstacle, we were forced to strategically retreat. When we returned the next day, the portly guards were gone, and we were able to access the building’s backside. Clearly, this was not the house my aunt and uncle had lived in.
Puzzled, I returned to the street, and discovered my mistake. Via del Salviatino begins in Firenze (Florence), almost at the point where the “Sanatorio Frascani” is located, BUT, continues into Fiesole; in other words, Via del Salviatino transects both towns, and as fate would have it, the divide between Fiesole and Firenze is directly in front of the Via del Salviatino 14 we were standing at in Firenze. (Figure 14)
Having resolved this issue, we quickly found the Via del Salviatino 14, in Fiesole, a short distance up the street. On one of three mailboxes at this location with house numbers 12, 14 and 14a (Figure 15), is the name “R. FRASCANI.” Naturally, we concluded this was a descendant of Dr. Frascani, and that he resides in the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived. We drove up the dirt road, rang the bell at the gated entrance to his bed-and-breakfast, but no one answered. However, we ran into a young man riding a Moped, a childhood friend of Mr. Frascani, as it happens; he called Ranieri on his cellphone and we spoke briefly. However, since neither of us spoke the other’s language well, we agreed I would send him an email with my questions upon my return to the states, which is in fact what I did. Regardless, it would be another year before we met in person and I got answers to some of my queries.
In the interim, I maintained contact with Giuditta Melli. One day, she discovered a fleeting reference in a German article saying my Aunt Susanne Müller-Bruck and her housemate, Lucia von Jacobi, had co-managed a pension. Given the large number of guests that had stayed at the Villa Primavera, this should have been obvious from the start.
In anticipation of our 2015 visit to Fiesole, Giuditta invited my wife and I to stay with her and her family at their large villa in Firenze, only a short distance from Via del Salviatino. Giuditta also arranged and served as translator for our meeting with Ranieri, the grandson of Dr. Gino Frascani, and his mother, Ms. Maria Agata Frascani, née Mannelli, the daughter-in-law of Dr. Frascani. (Figure 16) It was
during this get-together that we finally learned the house where Ranieri lives and has his B&B is not the Villa Primavera. In fact, as we found out at the Conservatorio the year before, his family owns both Via del Salviatino 12 and 14. However, sometime after 1940, houses along Via del Salviatino were renumbered, and the Villa Primavera (Figure 17) reassigned the number “16.” Ranieri showed us the adjacent Villa Primavera from his property and told us the house no longer belongs to his family.
After our get-together with Ranieri Frascani, his mother invited us to her home (Figure 18) and showed us the thick album with photos and articles related to the construction and opening of the Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino in 1908-09. (Figure 19)
Having finally resolved that the Villa Primavera where my aunt and uncle had once resided was now numbered Via del Salviatino 16, I’ve tried on several occasions to contact the current owners, to no avail.
Following our visit to Fiesole in 2015, my wife and I had not anticipated returning in 2016. However, Giuditta made a surprising discovery while researching Lucia von Jacobi, the Austrian lady with whom my aunt ran the Pension Villa Primavera, and our plans changed. She learned of a professor, Dr. Irene Below (Figure 20), from Werther, Germany, who’d written a full-length book about Ms. Jacobi. Giuditta immediately contacted Dr. Below, explained her interest in Lucia, told her of my aunt and uncle, and mentioned she was in touch and assisting Dr. Franz Müller’s nephew.
Dr. Below was surprised to hear from Giuditta and learn of her interest in people Irene had studied and knew about. Dr. Below related a fascinating tale. She came to Firenze in 1964 as a student intending to write about the history of art. While researching this topic, however, she came across magazines and diaries of an unknown person who turned out to be Lucia von Jacobi, a woman with very famous friends (e.g., Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Gustaf Gründgens, etc.), and decided instead to write about her. Then, amazingly, in 1966, Dr. Below walked into an antiquarian shop in Firenze and discovered the bulk of Ms. Jacobi’s personal papers, which she soon purchased with her parents’ financial assistance. For those aware of events in Firenze in 1966, great floods along the Arno in November resulted in countless treasures being swept away and destroyed; if not for Dr. Below’s fortuitous discovery, the same would likely have happened to Ms. Jacobi’s papers.
Dr. Below explained that beginning in 1936, Lucia von Jacobi (Figure 21), together with my aunt and uncle rented the Villa Primavera, and soon after began to take in guests. Because Ms. Jacobi arrived in Firenze in December 1934, via Vienna, Prague, Meran, and Ascona, it seems likely she first met my aunt and uncle in Firenze. Perhaps, Dr. Frascani was responsible for introducing them.
As to the relationship of my uncle to Dr. Frascani, I’ve been unable to discover how they met. However, since both were doctors, I assume they worked together professionally before my aunt and uncle moved to Fiesole. While it’s likely Dr. Müller worked in Dr. Frascani’s sanatorium, there’s some uncertainty about this as I discuss below.
Dr. Below sent Giuditta a PowerPoint presentation and scientific paper she delivered in 2009 at the “Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz,” entitled “Florenz 1935-1938: Zuflucht – Treffpunkt – Sehnsuchtsort. Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) und ihre Pension Villa Primavera,” translated roughly as “Florence 1935-1938: Refuge – Meeting – Longing. Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) and Her Pension Villa Primavera.” Seemingly, for a brief period between 1935 and 1938, German refugees, especially those interested in arts and culture, found refuge in Firenze, and gathered with friends and like-minded people at the Villa Primavera for recreation and conversation, brought together by Ms. Jacobi. Immigrants and guests mingled with locals to discuss Florentine art, Tuscan cuisine, the landscape, architecture from near and far, and more. I imagine my aunt and uncle may have been attracted to Fiesole for the same reasons other Jewish émigrés were, the intellectual milieu and attractive setting; in the case of my uncle, the ability to continue working as a doctor may also have been a factor.
At Giuditta’s invitation, Dr. Below, as well as my wife and me, all gathered in Firenze in October 2016. (Figure 22) This gave us an opportunity to discuss other things Dr. Below had learned from Lucia’s papers. Regarding my aunt and uncle, there were several remarkable items found in Lucia’s belongings. Dr. Below discovered a photograph of Ms. Jacobi with my Uncle Franz seated on the same chairs as a photo I possess showing my aunt and uncle. (Figures 23 & 24) She also found a card written by my Aunt Susanne to Lucia on July 31, 1938, from Champoluc in the Aosta Valley, Italy, where my aunt and uncle had gone to rest.
Perhaps, most interesting is the second page of a letter my Aunt Susanne wrote when Lucia traveled to Palestine for three months in the latter half of 1938. This trip may have been prompted by Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, soon after resulting in Mussolini’s embrace of the “Manifesto of the Racial Scientists” on July 14, 1938. Basically, this Manifesto declared the Italian civilization to be of Aryan origin and claimed the existence of a “pure” Italian race to which Jews did not belong. Between September 2, 1938 and November 17, 1938, Italy enacted a series of racial laws, including one forbidding foreign Jews from settling in Italy. Ms. Jacobi had just returned to Firenze, but after passage of the racial laws, she escaped in October 1938 to Switzerland, forced to leave all her possessions behind. Dr. Below surmises that Lucia’s personal papers remained in the Villa Primavera until Dr. Frascani’s descendants sold the house, likely shortly before they wound up in the antiquarian shop.
Dr. Below explained that following Ms. Jacobi’s return from Palestine, she was constantly being watched and her mail monitored. Curious as to whether the same might have applied to my uncle, I asked Dr. Below about this and she gave me the name of a German researcher, Mr. Klaus Voigt, who has examined the files at the “Archivio centrale dello Stato” (“Central Archives of the State”) in Rome on people who were monitored during Italy’s Fascist era.
Mr. Voigt explained that monitoring of people like my uncle would have been done by the local Questura, that’s to say, the police in the province of Firenze, and that he never found a file on my uncle in the archives in Rome. He further revealed all these local files, stored in the basement of the Uffizi, were destroyed in the 1966 inundations in Firenze, previously mentioned. Seemingly, the only files that survive at the Archivio centrale dello Stato in Rome were for important opponents of Fascism.
Mr. Voigt shared another interesting fact about my uncle. Dr. Franz Müller’s name was familiar to Mr. Voigt as a teacher at the Landschulheim Florenz, which was directed by two German-Jewish émigrés. During his stay in Firenze, my Uncle Franz taught a special course there for medical-technical assistants. For this reason, I’m uncertain whether he also worked in the “Sanatorio Frascani” during his years in Firenze.
I began this post with mention of the 1938 emigration log sent to me by Ms. Nadetti, indicating my aunt and uncle departed Firenze on September 16, 1938. Previously, I also mentioned that my father’s name, Otto Bruck, was recorded in the immigration log a second time. He registered on September 15, 1938 (Figure 25), for a stay of two weeks, but I surmise he left with my aunt and uncle, and, as it happens, my grandmother the next day.
Within two weeks of Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, Jewish immigrants who’d not previously registered with the Municipio were required to do so. This included my Uncle Franz, my grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner, and Lucia von Jacobi, but, oddly, not my Aunt Susanne. (Figure 26) Their names all appear in the registration logs in May 1938, their length of stays shown as “per sempre,” that’s to say, forever. Clearly, forever lasted only a few more months.
Below, Irene and Ruth Oelze
2009 Lucy von Jacobi: Jouranlistin: mit Aufsätzen und Kritaken. Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin). München Ed. Text + Kritik. Film & Schrift, Band 9.