Join us for the annual
Join us for the annual ceremony of the reading of the names.
On January 29, 2018, the Consulate General of Italy, Centro Primo Levi, the Italian Cultural Institute and our academic partners, NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, the Calandra Institute for Italian American Studies and the Italian Academy at Columbia University, invite you to partecipate in the ceremony of Holcaust Remembrance and read the names of 9,700 Jews deported from Italy and the territories under Italian control.
In light of the wars that plague many regions of the world and the plight of civilian refugees, the ceremony will also commemorate the arrival of persecuted Jews to New York and other American cities, the importance of organized relief efforts and the difference made by the possibility to leave Europe and find safe haven on other shores.
The year 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the promulgation of the Race Laws signed by Benito Mussolini and the King of Italy in the fall of 1938. Programs on this topic will take place in October and November.
Characteristics and Objectives of the Anti-Jewish Racial Laws in Fascist Italy, 1938–1943
In 1978, the great German American historian, George Mosse, characterized Mussolini’s attitude to the Jewish question in the following passage:
In October 1938 Mussolini had proclaimed his racial laws, which forbade mixed marriages and excluded Jews from military service and large landholdings, but he immediately exempted from the law all those Jews who had taken part in the First World War or in the Fascist movement. Moreover, Mussolini himself put out the slogan: “Discrimination and not persecution.” […] Mussolini was no racist.
In the last years of his life, Mosse amended his view, writing the following in 1999:
By 1936 Mussolini had embraced racism. [ . . . ] We shall never know whether Mussolini himself became a convinced racist, but he did increase the severity in the draft of the racial laws which had been submitted to him. [ . . . ] Mussolini may have embraced racism out of opportunism […], or to give Fascism a clearly defined enemy [ . . . ], to give a new cause to a young generation.
Mosse offered insight into his revised view of Mussolini in a 1997 interview with Corriere della Sera. “On antisemitism and racism,” Mosse declared, “I do not wholly agree with De Felice, also because in the meantime new material on Mussolini has come to light. At the time of the racial laws the dictator was enthusiastic, not a sceptic.”
In fact, George Mosse’s mistake in 1978 had been to rely on the book published in 1961 by the great Italian historian Renzo De Felice.
The Aim of Fascist Anti-Jewish Persecution
From 1938 to 1943 Fascist Italy was determined to eliminate all Jews, whether Italian or foreign, from Italian soil and from Italian society.
Between September and November 1938 the government banned foreign Jews from entering the country for the purpose of taking up residence and ordered all those who had become residents of Italy after 1918 to leave the country within a few months. In August 1939, Jews from central Europe were banned from entering Italy for obtaining soggiorno (temporary residence) and, in May 1940, even for transit.
When Italy entered the Second World War on June 10, 1940, the government decreed that all foreign Jews still living in the country were to be interned in small towns and villages or even in actual internment camps until the end of the war, when they would be expelled. The government also interned in various Italian towns, villages, and camps some groups of Jews who happened to be in other Italian territories in the Mediterranean. Although internment was in itself an anti-Semitic measure, there were no acts of anti-Semitic violence in the camps. Internment was accompanied by a strict ban on individual entries into the country and by the expulsion of all those who had somehow managed to enter illegally.
As far as Italian Jews were concerned, the government at first endeavored to persuade them to emigrate voluntarily. It also revoked the Italian citizenship of those Jews who had become naturalized after 1918. Regarding these actions, one should bear in mind that had the government decided to strip all Italian Jews of their citizenship, thereby making them stateless, and to expel them, such a policy would certainly have backfired by causing neighboring countries to close their frontiers.
In 1940–1 the government started to work on a law that would expel Italian Jews once and for all and officially communicated this intention to the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (Unione delle Comunita ́ Israelitiche Italiane). The plan was soon put on hold, however, no doubt because with the war spread- ing to so many geographical areas the possibilities for emigration were by now practically nil.
From 1940 to 1943 measures were taken which extended internment and forced labor to Italian Jews as well. Over the years, as military defeat followed military defeat, these measures became increasingly sweeping and persecutory.
One should bear in mind that the aim of the Italian Fascist regime in those years was to eliminate Jews from the country, not to eliminate the country’s Jews. Thus between the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943 Rome reached an agreement with Berlin (similar to those reached by many other European capitals, whether neutral or in sympathy with the Axis) that Italian Jews should be repatriated from the areas where the Third Reich was by now carrying out its policy of eliminating the Jews of Europe.
As a way of achieving this final aim of creating an Italy without Jews, Fascism harassed Jews with a myriad of prohibitions covering all aspects of a person’s life. In a series of crushing decrees from 1938 on, Jews were banned from state schools, from the entertainment industry (theatre, music, film, etc.), from cultural and sports associations, from publishing, from public employment, and increasingly from private employment as well, and so on.
These measures served to implement on the one hand the policy of persecut- ing Jews, and on the other that of separating them from non-Jews. Both were necessary preconditions for the intended policy of expulsion from the country.
I have already mentioned that Italian Fascism also intended to “aryanize” Italian society. These policies of expelling Jews from the various sectors of em- ployment, education, and social life and of separating them from non-Jews, there- fore, served also the purpose of de-Judaizing and of racializing the country, which increasingly took on the character of an Aryan and racial state.
The Implementation of Fascist Anti-Jewish Laws
Historiography is a constant process of revising previous constructions and judgments. But no scholar has ever proved that Italian racial laws were implemented at a slower pace or with less resolve than other laws in Fascist Italy. Should somebody succeed in proving this on the basis of scientific evidence, I shall be happy to change my mind. But evidence, and scientific evidence at that, will be required for this to happen. Obviously, racist prejudices against Italians cannot be considered scientific evidence.
Anti-Jewish laws met with consent from many – far too many – quarters of Italian society. King Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy signed each and every law. Pope Pius XI protested publicly – by means of an article in the Osservatore Romano – only against the rule forbidding the “trascrizione” (that is, the record- ing in the marriage registers by Italian state authorities) of racially mixed mar- riages celebrated with Roman Catholic rites. His successor, Pius XII, never made any public protest whatsoever. The great majority and sometimes the totality of the noblemen and high-ranking army officers who sat in the Senate voted in favor of the anti-Jewish laws.
Students and young Fascist intellectuals zealously supported and publicized them. Older intellectuals decided to remain members of the aryanized academies.
Low- and high-level officials of the National Fascist Party applauded the new laws and acted as propagandists. The newspapers belonging to the Fascist party cheered while the so-called independent press joined the chorus.
The laws were applied equally to Fascist, anti-Fascist, and non-Fascist Jews; to those belonging to the Jewish faith, the Roman Catholic faith, or to no faith at all; to Zionists and anti-Zionists; to high-ranking army officers and to peddlers; to Jews in Rome and in Trieste; to children, adults, and the elderly.
Undoubtedly, persecution was made possible by the fact that Italy was ruled by a dictatorship, which, by the way, some Jews had helped set up. But the implementation of the anti-Jewish laws was in itself proof that the Fascist dicta- torship was no joke and that it had succeeded in compelling an ample consent among the Italian population. (Translated from the Italian by Loredana M. Melissari)
Michele Sarfatti, in: Jews in Italy under Fascist and Nazi Rule, 1922–1945, edited by Joshua D. Zimmerman, Cambridge University Press 2005