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Not Nazis, But Not Perfect

Italy’s Jews suffered a more complex fate

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My father—like many American Jews, an avid amateur Italophile—loves to point out that, despite being Germany’s first and arguably most important ally during World War Two, Fascist Italy did not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy, and not a single Italian Jew was shipped off to bad places until after the Germans essentially took over in 1943.

Well, sorry dad. The latter part of that is true. But a steady stream of new revelations have shown that Italy did indeed enact plenty of anti-Jewish policies. In Italy in 1938, Jewish children were forbidden from attending school; Jewish professors were banned from universities; Jewish bankers were banned from plying their trade; Jewish soldiers were banned from serving. There was much dispossession besides.

Reports the Times:

After the war, encouraged in part by Italy’s American occupiers, Italians embraced a spirit of national reconciliation that “allowed the construction of a sanitized collective memory,” said Alessandro Cassin, the publishing director of the Centro Primo Levi, a research institute in Manhattan that promotes the study of Italian Jewish history, and that organized the panel discussion.

The whitewash was possible, in part, because by comparison with the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany, the Italian government was “not as lethal,” said Guri Schwarz, an adjunct professor at the University of Pisa. It did not sanction physical abuse of Jewish citizens, did not execute anyone in the internment camps established for Jews in southern Italy, and did not begin to send Jews to Nazi concentration camps until the German occupation in 1943, he said.

Scholar’s Reconsidering Italy’s Treatment of Jews in the Nazi Era [NYT]

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Garden of the FInzi-COntinis,anyone?

The Jewish Husband?


I am grateful to Marc Tracy for providing the opportunity to offer some data on the complex history of Italian Jews under Fascism.
A few facts: in 1938 there were 46,656 Jews residing in Italy, barely one per thousand of the entire population. Italian Jews were largely assimilated and participated to all aspects of cultural, social and political life. In 1938 the Fascist regime approved the Racial Laws mandating the dismissal of Jews from civilian and military posts, schools and universities and from the Fascist Party. After the overthrow of Mussolini in July 1943, the persecution of Jews escalated with the creation of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI). From that point on, the Italian authorities adopted anti-Jewish measures as harsh as the Nazi ones. On November 30th, the RSI ordered the immediate arrest of all Jews and interned them; 6746 were handed over to the Germans and deported to extermination camps. While an estimated 2000 foreign Jews were deported from Italian occupied areas, Italian occupation forces largely refused to consign the Jews under their jurisdiction to the Germans. During the years of persecution there were numerous instances of individual Italians who took great risks in hiding and assisting Jews, just as there were those who denounced them for financial gains.
After World War II, in the name of “national pacification”, Italians chose not to examine the consequences of the Fascist racial policies. Absent the equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials, no one took any blame. Former fascists, civil servants, as well as compromised sectors of the Catholic Church immediately reentered the political arena.
The favorable comparison with the horrors of Nazi Germany allowed the construction of a sanitized collective memory. Postwar Italian and international historiography has generally downplayed the racist components of Fascism. Starting in the 1980s, scholars began to challenge this view and investigate the intellectual and political landscape that

Centro Primo Levi says:

that shaped it. Overturning the claim that the Racial Laws were a byproduct of diplomatic relations with Germany and were left largely unenforced, new studies demonstrate that racial prejudice was an integral part of the Fascist mindset. New evidence quantifies the extent of the economic spoliation of Jews, which to this day has not been rectified by restitution or compensation.
Nowadays, those who perpetuate the myth of the overall “good Italians” are often the same ones who lobby for the canonization of Pope Pius XII.

Alessandro Cassin
Primo Levi Center

An exterminator is a wonderful job. There is always something unique to see :) says:

I am of the same mind with you totally on this subject and enjoyed perusing your thinking here in your blog. I have bookmarked your blog and look forward to coming back for more.

If we conducted ourselves as sensibly in good times as we do in hard times, we could all acquire a competence.


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Not Nazis, But Not Perfect

Italy’s Jews suffered a more complex fate

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