The Confiscation of Villa Zora and the Dispersal of Judaica

In 1940, Villa Zora was requisitioned by the Fascist authorities to serve as the headquarters of the Youth Fascist organization (Gioventù Italiana del Littorio). The synagogue was damaged, but the most precious Judaica including silver ceremonial lamps and Torah scrolls had been hidden in a safe place by synagogue caretaker Francesco Lettis (or Letiš) to be returned at the end of the war.

On 28 June of the same year, the Rijeka prefect Temistocle Testa (1897-1949) ordered that Bernard Nathan, president of the Jewish community of Opatija, be interned at the Campagna internment camp near Salerno in Southern Italy. Nathan was subsequently transferred to the Lagonegro camp in the Province of Potenza under the status of “free internee”. Released on 16 June 1943, he returned for a short time to Opatija and then escaped from that city after the armistice was signed on 8 September 1943. He ultimately took refuge with his family in the countryside outside Udine.

On 15 August 1943, Carlo Steiner (1869-date of death unknown), who had been appointed president of the Jewish community of Opatija by the Rijeka Prefecture after Nathan’s internment, informed the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities that he had asked the prefect of Rijeka, Agostino Podestà (1905-1969) to restore Villa Zora to a place of worship. Steiner also requested that a commission of experts be established to estimate both the scope of damages to the synagogue and the value of the Judaica that had been located in the synagogue before requisition and later lost.


Letter from Carlo Steiner to the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, 15 August 1943
Rome, Centro Bibliografico dell'Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane: AUCII dal 1934, box 38, folder 4, subfolder Abbazia
© Courtesy of UCEI

After the Nazi occupation of the area in September 1943, at the beginning of the following January the assets of the Jewish community of Opatija were confiscated by order of the Supreme Commissioner of the Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral (Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland), Friedrich Rainer (1903-1947). The synagogue was attacked, and its furnishings destroyed, while the few Jewish members who had been unable to escape and thus were still in Opatija were arrested and deported by the SS in June 1944.