- Fascist Italy was not overtly anti-Semitic until relatively late in the regime’s history. In April 1933, Benito Mussolini publicly invited the chief rabbi of Rome to express his solidarity against the abuses of Jews’rights taking place in Germany. Not until September–October 1938—after joining the anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Japan—did Italy approximate German racial legislation, making it illegal for Jews to be teachers at any level, work as journalists, join the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF), study in state schools, or hold any government positions. Italians of “Aryan race” were forbidden to marry Jews. Limited exemptions were granted for Jews who had served Italy with distinction (for instance by being wounded in battle, or having joined the PNF before 1922). These restrictions were the culmination of a series of previous initiatives in the field of racial policy: In April 1937, all sexual relations between Italians and Africans had been forbidden by law, and, in July 1938, a “Manifesto of Racial Scientists” was published in the Giornale d’Italia with the approval of the government. The Fascist authorities also sponsored an anti-Semitic magazine entitled La Difesa della Razza (Defense of the Race) from August 1938 onward. Amoving picture of the plight of Italy’s Jews after the publication of the racial laws is to be found in a famous novel by Giorgio Bassani, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the FinziContinis, 1956), made into a film directed by Vittorio De Sica. Although these new restrictions severely wounded many Italian Jews and caused many prominent Italian Jews to leave the country, the legislation was not as ruthlessly enforced as in Germany. Moreover, compared with France and many other countries in Nazioccupied Europe, non-Jewish Italians showed an unusual degree of solidarity with their Jewish fellow citizens. During the German occupation of Rome, the contributions of Christian Italians enabled the Jewish community to pay—indeed exceed—the huge ransom in gold demanded by the Nazis as a price for not herding Rome’s Jews off to forced labor camps. Italian commanders and diplomats in Croatia, Greece, and southern France used bureaucratic cavils of every kind to block shipments of Jews. In November 1942, when Mussolini learned that Jews sent to Germany from Croatia were being gassed, he apparently ordered that the delaying tactics should be continued. Even after Nazi minister Von Ribbentrop visited Mussolini in February 1943 to deplore the failure of Italian officers to comply with an ally’s requests on racial policy, obstruction continued. In all, about 80 percent of Italy’s 50,000-strong prewar Jewish community managed to survive the Holocaust.Some 10,000 Italian Jews were nevertheless deported to Auschwitz; of these, nearly 8,000 died. Their story is recounted in Primo Levi’s classic Se Questo e un’uomo (If This Is a Man, 1947). Explicit repudiation of the racial laws was one of the key policy changes introduced by Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Alleanza Nazionale/National Alliance (AN), when he began the task of modernizing Italy’s neofascist Right in the mid-1990s.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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