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Benito Mussolini: Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall Part 4: Attack on the Jews

Updated on October 6, 2009

Introduction and Recap of Parts 1-3

If you have been following this Hub Series, you have come to know quite a bit about the man known as Il Duce...Benito Mussolini.  Parts 1-3 have looked at his early life (including his family of origin, his education, and military service); we have followed his assent (or descent depending on your perspective) from Socialism to Fascism; and read in his own words what he believed true fascism to be.  Part 3 also looked closely at one method he used to gain widespread support - economic stimulus - and his ultimate bond with other European dictators.  At this point we take a turn with Bentio; he moves from being merely a power hungry megalomaniac, to embracing true evil in his pact with Adolph Hitler and the development of Racial Laws against Jews. Hold on readers, this is where it starts to get pretty dark.

Margherita Sarfatti

Journalist, academic, patron of the arts, socialist turned fascist, and mistress to Mussolini.  Sarfatti lived in exile in Argentina and Uruguay from 1938-1947 when she returned to Italy at the end of WWII.
Journalist, academic, patron of the arts, socialist turned fascist, and mistress to Mussolini. Sarfatti lived in exile in Argentina and Uruguay from 1938-1947 when she returned to Italy at the end of WWII.

Italian Fascist Party Changes Its Mind

Though Italian Fascism changed its official positions on race from the 1920s to 1934, it did not originally discriminate against the Italian Jewish community. Mussolini recognized that a small contingent of Jews had lived in Italy "since the days of the Kings of Rome" and should "remain undisturbed". There were even some prominent Jews in the National Fascist Party, such as Ettore Ovazza, who in 1935 founded the Jewish Fascist paper La Nostra Bandiera .

Additionally Mussolini himself had personal relationships with many Italian Jews - including a famous affair with author and academic Margherita Sarfatti from 1911 to 1938. Sarfatti was often called the "Jewish Mother of Fascism" for her great influence over Mussolini and her participation in the devlopment of fascism in Italy and in governmental policy. Sarfatti was a noted intellectual in Italy, and great supporter of the arts. Sarfatti was married throughout her affair with Mussolini, but then so was he.The relationship was quite public. Once Mussolini signed the Pact of Steel, sealing his fate with Hitler, all ties to his Jewish companions and associates were severed. He did in fact assist Sarfatti in in escaping from Italy to avoid arrest.

Mussolini also reached out to the Islamic world and in the new Islamic states in the Middle East early in his career. In 1937, leaders of Libya pronounced him as the "Protector of Islam"  for his alliance with Hitler and acceptance of Hitler's Racial Policies. This changed a year later when all non-Aryans, including Muslims, became the target of Italian Fascist hatred as well.

Mussolini Bonds Tighter with Hitler

When the League of Nations condemned Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 only Adolph Hitler upheld his position. Recognizing both a like mindedness in the German Nazi regime, and the enormous threat Germany was to rest of Europe, Mussolini sought a close alliance with the Hitler.

The alliance known as the “Axis of Power” became official in 1939 with the Pact of Steel treaty outlining the "friendship and alliance" between Germany and Italy. The Pact consisted of two parts: the first section was an open declaration of continuing trust and cooperation between Germany and Italy , and the second, encouraged a joint military and economic policy known as the "Secret Supplementary Protocol". The Pact was signed by foreign ministers representing both Hitler and Mussolini. Italy's king Victor Emanuel III was not in favor of the pact, instead he wanted to maintain the more traditional Italian allies of Britain and France. However, by this time, Italy’s king had virtually no power and was a figure head for the people only.

Even though Mussolini had great reservations about aligning so closely with Hitler, he did recognize that he had little to no choice at this point. Yes, there were significant similarities with the Nazi and Fascist regimes, but significant differences as well. The critical factor for Mussolini was the enormous power Hitler was exerting on the rest of Europe. In only a few short years, Hitler had risen from obscurity to amazing power within Germany, and was pressuring neighboring countries as well. He had opened concentration camps, expelled many non-Aryans (mostly Jews) had implemented severe racial laws, broken the Treaty of Versailles with Britain and France, was using military pressure against Czechoslovakia and Austria, and was setting his military force toward Poland and the Netherlands. His announced goal was what he termed "Lebensraum" (meaning living space) for all Aryan people. His stated objective was to rid Europe of all non-Aryans, and if you opposed him, you must be a non-Aryan. Just as in Italy later, it was relativley easy for Hitler to convince the populace that the harsh economic times where due to the influence of specific groups - races - of people; most notable the Jews, but really his hatred extended to anyone her considered non-Aryan. Hence his Nuremberg laws passed quite easily in 1935. It was under this great pressure to conform or be attacked that Mussolini reluctantly formed an alliance with Hitler.

Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler, June 1940

Summary of “Manifesto of racial scientists“

By 1938, the enormous influence Hitler now had over Mussolini became clear when the National Socialist Office of Racial Politics (Germany) and the Italian Office for the Study of Race met to develop a scientific explanation to the policies of racism.

Out of this meeting came the “Manifesto of racial scientists“, a document which claimed to have a scientific base and sought to justify the hatred which Hitler held against all non-Ayan peoples. By agreeing to the Pact of Steel with Hitler, Mussolini was also bound to participate in the development of the Manifesto and was required to send members of his government to the meeting. The Italian representatives at the meeting were given a tour of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and received the German Red Cross for scientific merit from Hitler.

The “Manifesto of racial scientists“ in brief:

1.Human races exist. This reality is represented in physical and psychological characteristics which were inherited.

2. There exist large races (white or black) and small races ( i.e. Nordic or Mediterranean). From a biological point of view, these smaller groups constitute the true races.

3. The concept of race is a purely biological concept. The Italians are different from the French, the Germans, the Turks, the Greeks, etc., not only because each has a different language and a different history, but because they are different races.

4. The majority of the population of contemporary Italy is Aryan in origin and its civilization is of the Aryan-Nordic race.

5. The influx of huge masses of men in historical times is a legend. After the invasion of the Germanic Lombards, no other notable movements of people influenced the race of the nation.

6. There exists by now a pure "Italian race” of ancient purity of blood.

7. It is time that the Italians proclaim themselves frankly racist.

8. There is clear distinction between the European / Western Mediterranean races on one side and the Eastern Mediterranean / Africans / Semitic and North African on the other.

9. Jews do not belong to the Italian race and can not assimilate.

10. The purely European character of the Italians would be altered by breeding with any other non-European race bearing a civilization different from the millennial civilization of the Aryans.

Racial Laws Enacted in Italy

The Manifesto, which was closely modeled on the Nazi Nuremberg laws, laid the foundations for Mussolini’s racial policies. The German influence on Italian policy upset the established balance in Fascist Italy and proved highly unpopular to most Italians. In the midst of the out rage Mussolini declared himself First Marshal of the Empire to take military control of the nation.

Racial laws enacted included:

  • Jews where defined as anyone having a parent, grandparent or a grandparents parent that was a Jew. This however quickly became somewhat of a "one drop" law,so that if anywhere in any documented history a person had a relation that was a Jew, they were subject to all laws against Jews
  • Stripping Jews of their Italian citizenship
  • All Jews had to surrender passports and have them stamped with a large red J so that their travel could be tracked
  • Jews were banned from many jobs including any position in the government, banking and finance, other “educated professions”
  • Jews were banned from all education institutions in any work capacity
  • Prohibiting marriage between Jews non-Jews
  • Prohibiting attendance of Jewish children at public elementary and secondary schools and university.
  • Jewish property was confiscated
  • Jewish businesses were "Aryanized"
  • A specifically Jewish census conducted in 1938 and continually updated facilitated the arrests of thousands in1943 and 1944.
  • After Mussolini declared war on the British and French in 1940, Jewish citizens were subjected to forced labor.
  • Jews were forced to live only within the walls of the Jewish Quarters - the ghettos which were guarded by soldiers

Coming Up Next Time in Part 5 of this Hub Series

In the in next installment of Benito Mussolini: Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall (part 5), we will see how Mussolini begins to fall. It is a  prime example of "biting off more than you can chew".  Mussolini continues his alliance in the Axis of Evil, tries to really rule the world. We look at how Mussolini greatly overestimates his position with the Italian people, and greatly underestimates the strength of will the Italian people possess.

I hope you are enjoying this hub series just half as much as I have enjoyed creating it. I encourage you to post comments or ask questions.  It is only through the exchange of ideas that we can truly learn from our collective past!  Ciao!

What da think?

Is it possible for a man like Mussolini to rise to power again in our modern world?

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    • Judith Rizzo profile image

      Judith Rizzo 7 years ago from Phoenix ~ The Valley of the Sun

      Hi Jean... and thanks for the kind comment. I do not have actual translations. I do know someone that might or perhaps know where to look. He is a professor of Italian language and culture. I'll do some checking and post back info as soon as I learn more!

      thanks again~ Judith

    • profile image

      jean flitcroft 7 years ago

      Hi I am loving your blog, so interesting and clear. Do you have an actual translation of the racial laws as they would have been posted at the time? Where would I get translations of newspaper articles of the time?

      Thanks again

      Jean Flitcroft