The Memory of Villa Freiberg

Romina Casagrande

The Memory of Villa Freiberg


Year: 2023

Pages: 352

Elisabeth is an architect specialized in restoring ancient villas. She has had some outrageous requests, but nothing like what the elderly owner of Villa Freiberg is asking of her: That she restore a single room in the house without knowing anything about it or being allowed to set foot in it. 
What at first appears to be the occasion of her life soon turns into a battle with its owner and Elisabeth is forced to renounce the seemingly impossible enterprise. Case closed and Villa Freiberg forgotten.  Imagine her shock when Elisabeth discovers that she has been appointed by the deceased Signora Severini to set up a foundation that will showcase the immense art collection of her wealthy grandfather, who chose this small South Tyrolean city, close to the border between Austria and Italy, to protect his collection after the war.
Elisabeth has a year to deposit the inventory and a meagre compensation, but her enthusiasm for the undertaking is immense. But crossing the threshold of Villa Freiberg, she encounters a shock she was ill-prepared for: the house is filled with rubbish, with no trace of art. But Rosamaria left something else to Elisabeth: a ring that bears a name and a date, addressed to a woman who has disappeared in thin air. How is Elisabeth supposed to find her?
It is here, amongst the empty rooms of a house that is falling to pieces that Elisabeth decides to take up the challenge, together with the few people who knew the elderly woman: Mino, whose gentle ways veil a pained past; Albert, determined to fulfil the wishes of his daughter who has passed away; and Flora, Rosamaria’s oldest friend who knows all but the most dangerous of Rosamaria’s secrets.
It turns out that the Villa, positioned in a no-man’s land, between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, where the Freiberg’s found refuge, retreating into the shadows of its long corridors and gilded mirrors, is shrouded in secrets. Like its torn and divided population, it speaks of shifting loyalties, changed names and identities. What does the villa really hide and who is the nameless child who appears in photographs found in a locked trunk? 
What was Rosemary’s pact with her general father, her mother, and their friends in Germany? When Elisabeth meets Emma, the righteous owner of the ring, together they set off to reconstruct the history of a nameless child, a brother torn from his family, in a search that leads them to a clinic in Innsbruck, where the horrors of Aktion T4 were perpetrated, in the name of a perfect race. It becomes clear that the love that unites brother and sister is stronger than life itself. Although Villa Freiberg’s rooms are dark and dusty, it also hides a throbbing heart. 

NB: The events of Villa Freiberg and the figure of Rosamaria Severini are inspired by the restoration of an important period villa in Merano whose history is intertwined with that of the South Tyrolean community.
The historical context in which the story takes place is above all the years between 1943 and 1945 when, in the aftermath of the armistice Hitler established the “Alpenvorland”, an area of operation in the provinces of Norther Italy, Bolzano, Trento and Belluno, which was unofficially annexed to the Reich and enthusiastically welcomed by the German speaking population eager to free themselves from Italian Fascism and forced Italianization. The arrival of Gestapo orders gave rise to a regime of terror that led to raids and the implementation of the racial laws in the Jewish community.
Many Tyrolean’s were deported to Hall Clinic near Innsbruck, one of the focal points of Aktion T4, the Euthanasia Project aimed at eliminating the mentally handicapped, genetic degenerates and anyone who differed from the established cannons.

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