OLIVETO, Italy -- Tucked away in the rolling hills of Tuscany is a small medieval town called Oliveto that has a past that few would ever guess. As part of National Holocaust Days of Remembrance, service members from Camp Darby visited Villa Oliveto, a World War II concentration camp, located a few miles west of Arezzo.

Walking through the narrow cobble stone streets populated only by blind stray cat and an ancient toothless lady, no one was prepared for what they would see once they reached the villa's gate.

"I have visited Dachau, Nurnberg, Berlin, and other locations where the past is on display as a lesson for today and future generations; and every society and culture has a different way of putting a dark past behind them, in this case, the local government of Civitella in Val di Chiana decided to use the villa as a school," said Lt. Col. Douglas Vallejo, commander of 839th Transportation Battalion.

"To me," he added, "this serves two purposes: The villa is now used for positive means through the education of children and simultaneously honors those who were prisoners at the villa."

"That the camp had been turned into a school shocked me the most, but I was also surprised there was a concentration camp in Tuscany," added Sgt. Ross Salwolke, AFN Livorno.

Umberto Di Gioacchino, a guide from the Jewish community in Florence, spoke with Camp Darby service members about how this concentration camp was mainly used for Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia that had been caught in roundups.

"No one knows exactly who was taken away or their real names because often these refugees where using fake documents," said Di Gioacchino. "We've found at least 25 equivalencies to 'John Smith' while compiling names of those who were at this concentration camp."

Di Gioacchino himself was three years old during World War II and was one of 120 young children the nuns of Santa Marta in Settignano saved by hiding. He currently works as a volunteer in the Florence Jewish community working on the archives and telling his history at schools.

"There were some good people who did a lot to help and I'm lucky because I can remember some situations and share it with those who are interested in this period of history," said Di Gioacchino.

Air Force Master Sgt. Ronald Miller, 731st Munitions Squadron, added that it was important to understand past events so history does not repeat itself.

"The human race can be very misguided with one culture not accepting another because of what they believe in or how they pray, or how they dress, but these are small details that should bring curiosity and research not division and segregation," said Miller. "We should try to understand what makes us different can bring us together and make the world a better place for our children."

"Visiting the concentration camp made me realize how easy it can be to seize upon small differences between groups of people to justify treating others as less than human," said Capt. Todd Simpson, Camp Darby Command Judge Advocate. "I did not know that the Fascist government in Italy was so supportive of their German allies that Italian Soldiers participated in patrols with German Soldiers to capture and detain members of the Jewish Community in Italy."

While life at Villa Oliveto now has laughing kindergarten children on the ground floor and a Concentration Camp Documentation Centre on the upper floors, it is a moving place to visit when remembering the victims of World War II's holocaust.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16