18 Details About Life in Italy Under Benito Mussolini

18 Details About Life in Italy Under Benito Mussolini

Larry Holzwarth - November 19, 2018

18 Details About Life in Italy Under Benito Mussolini
From left, Heinrich Himmler, Herman Goering, Galazzo Ciano, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini in Munich in 1938. Bundesarchiv

15. The Pact of Steel changed Italian laws regarding the treatment of Jews

When Adolf Hitler rose to control the German government as Chancellor, and after passing the Enabling Act as dictator, he moved to tighten relations with Mussolini, both due to his admiration of the Italian dictator and his need to neutralize the French Navy in the Mediterranean. England and France had a naval agreement which gave the French primary responsibility for the protection of the Mediterranean and North Africa, while Britain was responsible for the North Atlantic and the coast of Europe. The Italian Navy was built primarily to counter the French fleet. As Hitler courted the Italian leader, the Germans created many programs along the lines of those created by Mussolini, including the youth movements, education reforms, and secret police forces. Hitler also berated Mussolini over the Jewish population, warning the Italian leader of the dangers they created internationally.

Mussolini discounted the Nazi preoccupation with the Jews of Germany during the 1930s, and opposed the creation of similar laws in Italy, going so far as telling the Austrian ambassador to Italy, “Hitler’s anti-Semitism has already brought him more enemies than necessary.” After the Pact of Steel Between Germany and Italy, Hitler and his regime increased the pressure on the Italians to enact laws which restricted the Jews in Italy. In 1938 Mussolini yielded to the pressure, which cost him his Jewish mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, who also had served as his Minister of Propaganda. The laws which made anti-Semitism an official policy of the Fascist party and Italian law were highly unpopular within the Italian populace and the Fascist Party and were often little more than winked at by government officials.

18 Details About Life in Italy Under Benito Mussolini
Mussolini visiting the Alfa Romeo plant in Modena sometime in the early 1930s, with officials of the prestigious Italian automobile manufacturer. Wikimedia

16. Italian technology-enhanced national prestige

As did Hitler, but ahead of the Fuhrer’s projects, Mussolini and the Italian government-sponsored or commissioned projects which trumpeted Italian technology and industrial might, placing Italy on a par with the most advanced nations. One such project was the construction and operation of two great ocean liners, Rex and Conte di Savoia (King and Count of Savoy). Described by their advertising literature as being the “Riviera Afloat”, the ships were notable for their luxurious trappings during the final years of the great transatlantic liners’ golden age. In 1933 Rex completed the fastest transatlantic crossing ever achieved to that time, a record it held for two years before the French Normandie surpassed it in 1935. Both Italian ships were laid up for safety purposes in 1940, though both were severely damaged by allied action against them and eventually Rex was broken up after the war.

The Italians also made significant contributions to the field of aviation, including the development of a seaplane which for five years held the record as the world’s fastest airplane, of all types, and which still holds the record (as of 2018) as the world’s fastest piston-engine aircraft. During the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, held in Chicago, a leader of the Fascist party and aviator flew the aircraft from Italy to Chicago. The pilot, Italo Balbo, used the flight and the publicity it generated to demonstrate Italian technological innovation and engineering achievements. Balbo was instrumental in building the Italian Air Force beginning in the 1920s and was the only senior member of the Fascist Party to vocally oppose the alliance between Nazi Germany and Italy, which led to his being assigned to lead the colonial government in Libya.

17. Drumming up nationalistic fervor among the Italians

Mussolini’s creation of the new Italian man needed an outlet for its masculine virility and willingness to fight, and throughout his regime, he promised the means to create it internationally. Official Fascist doctrine referred to the Mediterranean Sea as the Mare Nostrum, the name it was given by the ancient Roman Empire, and which meant “Our Sea”. The name was a reference to the Fascist goal of creating a New Roman Empire, through which the Mediterranean region would be brought under the control of the Italian government in Rome, and which would have included North and East Africa, the Middle East, Abyssinia, Greece, Dalmazia, and the islands of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. Mussolini created jobs for the Italian people through the expansion of the air force, navy, and army.

In speeches and through the use of the Fascist propaganda machine, Mussolini exhorted the Italians to increase their pride by calling himself and his people nationalists, in a manner which was adopted by Adolf Hitler in Germany. Nationalism percolated through all levels of Italian society, and the nation was forged together as being one of the Great Powers of Europe, at least in the promises of the Fascists. It was taught in the schools, exhibited in films, and permeated Mussolini’s frequent addresses to the people and the Italian parliament, which was little more than an audience for Fascist exhibitions. When Mussolini launched his quest for empire in the Mediterranean it quickly became apparent that his self-vaunted military machine was far less capable than the people had been told.

18. The end of Fascism in Italy

By the summer of 1943, the Italian military was soundly beaten by the British and Americans, and the Italian people had had quite enough of Il Duce (the duke, understood by Italians to mean the leader) and were ready to depose him. King Victor Emmanuel III, in an attempt to save his crown, removed Mussolini as prime minister after obtaining a vote of no confidence from the Grand Council of Fascism and placed him under arrest. The Italian people supported the king, and the new government of Italy opened negotiations with the Allies, seeking an armistice. In response, Hitler ordered a commando mission to rescue Mussolini, which was successful, and the German leader installed Mussolini as the dictator of those parts of Italy under German control. Mussolini managed to hold the position only by virtue of the German troops protecting him.

Mussolini had his revenge against those on the Grand Council who had voted against him, trying 19 in a special court (13 of whom were in absentia) and executing the six which they had in custody. The Italian people under his jurisdiction were almost uniformly against him and partisan resistance fighters plagued the ever-shrinking territory as the Americans and British struggled up the Italian boot. By the spring of 1945 German resistance had all but collapsed and partisans who had been under Mussolini’s thumb since 1922 finally caused Il Duce to flee for Switzerland with his mistress. A communist partisan group captured them, gave them a brief mock trial, and executed both on April 28, 1945. The final pictures of the pair shown to the Italian people which he had led to disaster were of them hanging upside down at a Milan service station.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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