In 2022, I was asked by former curator Ingo Bergmann of the yet to be opened museum “Die Einsteins” in Ulm, Germany, to research and write a 20-slide biography of Robert Einstein by telling about the tragedy of Villa del Focardo. This short story is the result of a tight collaboration with Eva Kosloski, the daughter of Paola Mazzetti, one of the only two survivors of the massacre. Thank you Ingo and Eva for your trust and respect.
Robert Einstein was born in 1884 in Munich, the son of Jakob Abraham Einstein. Robert was a cousin of Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein.
In 1944, Robert Einstein, who had lived in Italy for many decades, resided with his family in Rignano sull’Arno, 20 kilometres southeast of Firenze, in the Villa del Focardo. His family consisted of Nina, his wife, his two daughters Luce and Ciccì, 27 and 18 years old respectively, and his adopted nieces Lorenza and Paola Mazzetti, who were the 17-year-old twin daughters of his late sister-in-law.
In August 1944, Einstein had gone into hiding with local partisans as he was concerned for his life because of his name and his Jewish background. However, he considered his family not to be in danger.
On August 3, a group of German soldiers arrived at the villa in search of Einstein. When he was not to be found the soldiers began vandalising the place and interrogated the women individually. The soldiers conducted an ad-hoc tribunal and then shot Einstein’s wife and daughters in the garden. His nieces remained locked in the upper part of the house, guarded by a young German soldier who had refused to participate in the murders and was visibly shaken by the events. After the murders the two surviving girls were locked in a shed and the villa itself set on fire.
Einstein returned to the house when he saw the flames (other sources state that he returned the following day). Upon finding his wife and daughters dead, he attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. British troops soon arrived in the area and Einstein used his famous surname to request an investigation into the murders. A few days later a scrap of paper was found, alleging that Einstein’s family was executed because they were Jewish (they were not), and because they were spies.
Einstein pushed for an investigation of the crime and even requested help from his cousin Albert. Einstein committed suicide on July 13, 1945, his 32nd wedding anniversary, by overdosing on sleeping tablets. He is buried alongside his family in the cemetery at Badiuzza.
His nieces Lorenza and Paola Mazzetti survived the war and were the subject of a German documentary in 2016.