Mussolini, Benito°

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MUSSOLINI, BENITO ° (1883–1945), Italian dictator, founder of Fascism. Mussolini's policy toward the Jews was opportunistic, while his personal view of them, although unsystematic, was not unbiased. As early as 1908, in his essay "La filosofia della forza," Mussolini the socialist adopted *Nietzsche's view that Christianity, as a "reevaluation of all values," was the spiritual revenge by which the Jews in Ereẓ Israel overcame their secular enemies, the Romans. In June 1919, reflecting the line of the extreme right-wing "fasci" he had created shortly before, Mussolini attacked world Jewry in his organ Popolo d'Italia, defining it as "the accomplices, the soul of both Bolshevism and of capitalism." However, he reversed this stand in October 1924, saying that "Bolshevism is not, as is believed, a Jewish phenomenon," and further claiming that "Italy does not know antisemitism and we believe that it will never know it." At the same time he excluded Zionism, declaring that "the new Zion [nuova Sionne] of the Italian Jews is found here, in our beloved land, that many of them heroically defended with their blood." By its very nature, Mussolini's opportunistic maneuvering delayed a systematic anti-Jewish policy, to a greater extent than did the presence of Jews in the ranks of Fascism from its earliest phases. From 1922, when he acceded to power, to 1938, when he branded them as racially impure, Mussolini endeavored to use the Jews as an instrument of policy, especially on the international level, in conformity with his distorted view of Judaism as an "international, occult body." At the same time, he permitted a parallel undercurrent of antisemitism (see *Preziosi, *Farinacci) which he repudiated or encouraged in turn, whenever he saw a chance of blackmailing the Western democracies. As a rule, antisemitism was deemed counterproductive as a propaganda tool, as well as on the official level. In November 1923, Mussolini declared to Angelo *Sacerdoti, chief rabbi of Rome, that "the Italian government and Italian Fascism have never intended to follow nor are following an antisemitic policy." Concerning mixed marriage, however, Mussolini's views were strictly Catholic. In 1929, the year of the Concordat with the Vatican, he forbade his daughter Edda's projected marriage with a Jew as "a real and proper scandal."

His attitude to Zionism was similarly ambivalent. To Chaim *Weizmann he said, shortly after his accession, "You know, we could build your state en toute pièce." In February 1928, he personally approved and encouraged the creation of the Italy-Palestine Committee, but rebuked the Italian Zionists in November of the same year (probably in deference to the Vatican, with whom he was about to sign the concordat) charging them with disloyalty to Italy: "We therefore ask the Italian Jews: are you a religion or a nation?" (Popolo di Roma, Nov. 29, 1928). Subsequently he resumed his pro-Zionist policy, purely from expansionist motives, and maintained it until after the conquest of Ethiopia. As long as Mussolini kept an open window on the Western world, he was eager to present an image of Italian Fascism as "Latin" and unprejudiced, in contrast with "savage and barbarous" National Socialism. Antisemitism remained a "German vice" and Hitler "a fanatical idiot." Racialism was "the Aryan fallacy" (Popolo d'Italia, Aug. 4, 1934).

Mussolini soon reversed his position. From 1936, to all intents and purposes, he dissociated himself from the Western world and drew near to his derided disciple and future master. He blamed "international Jewry" for the sanctions which castigated Italy for its Ethiopian adventure and marked the end of his rapprochement with the Western democracies. As a result, the Italian Jews had become expendable and could finally be treated in conformity with Fascist latent intolerance toward "alien groups." Undoubtedly, Mussolini also sought to please his new German ally, but the Italian Jews were not sacrificed merely for the sake of Hitler's "brutal friendship." In search of a formula which would bind his own irresolute hands, create an unbridgeable gap between non-Jews and Jews in Italy, and enable him to be rid of all the latter in one stroke, Mussolini resorted to racialism which he now saw as politically profitable. The Dichiarazione della Razza of July 1938, introducing racial measures in Italy, was largely compiled and edited by himself and due entirely to his initiative; there is no evidence whatsoever that he was subjected at any moment to pressure by Hitler. His acceptance of the racial vice, deliberate and cynical, was rejected by the Italian people in their great numbers. The extent to which he was personally willing to cooperate in the physical destruction of Jews is shown by events occurring during World War ii. In August 1942 the Germans asked the Italians to hand over to the German-Croatian authorities the Jews who had gone into hiding in Dalmatia, in the Italian occupation zone, and a memorandum on the subject, indicating the terrible fate in store for the Jews, was submitted to Mussolini. He scrawled in the margin: "nulla osta" ("no objection").


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[Emmanuel Beeri]