A post on the website of the Italian Embassy in Athens announcing the sale of a property owned by the Italian state in the northern port city of Thessaloniki is a reminder of hope in one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history.
The property in question is Villa Olga on downtown Vassilissis Olgas Street, an architectural symbol of an era but also a building linked to the extermination of the Nazi-occupied city’s Jews in World War II.
The starting price is set at 1.5 million euros and could climb significantly higher for this prime piece of real estate, but no amount of money can erase the story of bravery and humanity that unfolded in its walls, as this is where the Italian consul generals at the time, Guelfo Zamboni, and his successor Giuseppe Castruccio granted dozens of Greek Jews forged identity cards claiming they were Italian so they could be saved from deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The building served as the Italian Consulate until 1978, when the diplomatic mission was transferred to another location, and has since fallen into disrepair. The cost of repairs and maintenance prompted the Italian government’s decision in 2017 to sell the property, with rumors last year suggesting that it had been purchased by an Athens-based charity falling by the wayside. The Municipality of Thessaloniki had also expressed an interest but was unable to come up with the cash. Now, Italy is putting the villa to auction, with the deadline for expressions of interest set for May 2.
Drita Djomo, now aged 97, was Zamboni’s secretary at the time and was responsible for creating the forged documents that allowed many Greek Jews to enter the Italian occupation zone and escape deportation.
Kathimerini contacted her earlier this week to ask her if she knew of the announcement to auction off the building, which is just a few blocks from her own home.
“It was such a beautiful building, but now it is in a state of near-collapse,” said the 97-year-old. “They’re right to want to sell because it means that it may be saved.”