In strengthening Italy’s bond with Nazi Germany Mussolini, in September 1938, passed The Racial Laws against the Jews, barring them from studying or teaching in a school of higher learning and revoking the citizenship of all foreign Jews obtained after January, 1919, and decreeing their expulsion within six months. In November, further discriminatory legislation were passed, including the prohibition of marriages between Jews and Aryans and the exclusion of Jews from military and civil administrative positions. The Manifesto, which was closely modeled on the Nazi Nuremberg laws, laid the foundations for Mussolini’s racial policies.
Some historians have tried to absolve Italians from their role in the Holocaust, explaining that while Italy did institute racial laws, the extermination campaign was strictly a German invention. Those historians fail to take account of the impact of Italy’s 1938 racial laws, which instituted harsher restrictions than Germany’s first anti-Semitic legislation. Historian Meir Michaelis wrote in “Mussolini and the Jews,” that although Mussolini “was too much of an Italian to approve of the ‘final solution,’ . . . he and his henchmen helped to create the conditions in which the Holocaust became possible.” While Mussolini did not put Italian forces to work to implement the “Final Solution,” he had legally isolated Italian Jews to strengthen the Rome-Berlin axis. When considering the record of the Italian people, it is important to remember that Mussolini was a popular leader and fascism was a popular movement. When the racial laws were passed, the most common reaction among Italians was one of indifference, not outrage.
That said, the racial campaign also failed to sway most Italians to anti-Semitism. While the most assimilated Jewish community in Europe was betrayed by its government, it found that many Italians remembered their past service to the nation, viewed them as no different than their Catholic neighbors, and stood by their Jewish countrymen.
It is, therefore, my premise that while some of the racial laws were indeed harsher than those in Germany there was a serious lack of desire to enforce these laws by the Italian populace and authority. To what extent is it fair to argue that Italy implemented antisemitic legislation–especially in a comparative context with Germany’s application of similar legislation?
Calling on the scholarship listed below, and without absolving Italy of its national responsibility for collaboration with the Nazi regime, in this paper I will argue that Italy should not be perceived as having practiced the discrimination it articulated on paper.
• Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews
• Article by Liliana Picciotto; httpss://www.primolevicenter.org/Essays%26Interviews/Entries/2012/8/13_The_Vatican_and_the_Anti-Jewish_Persecution_in_Italy_through_Diplomatic_Documents_of_the_Holy_See.html
• Iael Orvieto’s “Letters to Mussolini: Italian Jews and the Racial Laws” in Remember for the future; The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide,
• “Italians Jews Facing Racial Laws: Appeal to Mussolini as a Wayy of Coping in Yalkut Moreshet (vol 72, April 2002)
• De Felice, Renzo. The Jews in Fascist Italy: A History. New York: Enigma Books, 2001.
• Sarfatti, Michele. The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: From Equality to Persecution. George L. Mosse series in modern European cultural and intellectual history. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
• Zuccotti, Susan. The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival. New York: Basic Books, 1987.
• Jews in Italy Under Fascist and Nazi Rule, 1922-1945 edited by Joshua D. Zimmerman