Blogs > HNN > Lila Azam Zanganeh discusses Giorgio Fabre's new book about the relations between Hitler and Mussolini

Dec 3, 2004 4:26 pm

Lila Azam Zanganeh discusses Giorgio Fabre's new book about the relations between Hitler and Mussolini

Lila Azam Zanganeh, in the NYT (Nov. 7, 2004):

In “ ‘Mein Kampf’: The Italian Edition” by Lila Azam Zanganeh, a contributor to Le Monde, discusses whether Hitler and Mussolini were “ideological soul mates or uneasy allies.” This topic “has taken on an enduring afterlife, particularly among Italians, who have never quite settled the issue of just how ideologically connected the two dictators truly were.”

The subject is now being debated because of the recent publication in Italy of “Il Contratto: Mussolini Editore di Hitler” (The Contract: Mussolini, Publisher of Hitler”) by Giorgio Fabre, a reporter for the Italian newsweekly Panorama and author of a number of books on Italian fascism. Fabre has unearthed documents relating to Mussolini’s publication and marketing in Italy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The secret agreement between the two men required that no Jew be hired as translator. But irony of ironies, Angelo Treves, the translator, was indeed Jewish. When the Germans raised a fuss, Treves’ name was left off the book. In any event, Mein Kampf became a best seller in Italy. This leads Zanganeh to raise the question of whether Mussolini was a supporter of the Nazi’s hatred for Jews. Defenders of Mussolini now say that publication of Mein Kampf was merely “a diplomatic gesture of friendship” and that Il Duce was not an anti-Semite. The late Renzo De Felice, a Mussolini biographer, also denied that his subject was anti-Semitic, saying that he loathed Hitler’s Mein Kampf and maniacal hatred of Jews. Mussolini, he said, believed Hitler was “literally sick with racist and anti-Semitic ideologies.”

When Zaganeh interviewed Fabre in Rome, he told her that the publication of the notorious book in Italy “marked the beginning of a campaign of covert anti-Semitic measures within Italy, culminating in the racial laws of 1938, which effectively banned Jews from all public positions.” Italian Jews, many of whom were members of the Fascist party and Fascist Grand Council, were dismissed from government posts and academia. But even before then, Mussolini would not allow the Fascist Jewish newspaperwomen Anita Levi Carpi to represent Italy on her trip to Japan. And he had his alleged mistress dismissed from the official fascist newspaper.

In the end, after Mussolini was arrested and set up by the Nazis in the puppet Republic of Salo-- before he was caught and lynched by partisans-- Italy was occupied by the German army and more than 8000 Italians Jews were deported and 5,644 were murdered at Auschwitz.

Fabre insists Mussolini was a “failed Hitler” who rued the fact that he had never written his own Mein Kampf. “0nce you begin investigating, you face a tremendous problem,” Fabre told his interviewer. “A part of the ruling class completely falsified the truth after the war and refuses to this day to acknowledge the facts of the partnership between Mussolini and Hitler. Concludes Zanganeh: The book “is thus more than a provocative book: it is an invitation to come to terms with the demons of patriotic self-deception.”

HNN Book Editor Murray Polner Postscript: The 45,000 Jews of Italy were highly assimilated and thought of themselves as patriotic Italians. Many had fought for Italy in World War I and again in the invasion of Ethiopia. Many held influential posts in the army and government. Still, the anti-Semitic campaigns of several Italian fascist ideologues and publicists began to bear fruit despite the fact that an overwhelming number of Italians opposed any persecution of Italian Jews.

Yet more often not Mussolini tended to follow the lead of the Germans. “What saddens me most,” wrote the critic Ugo 0jettri in August 1938, “is this appearance of copying or rather obeying the German in everything: the Roman step, the persecution of the Jews. There was no better way of making Germany unpopular.” And when he returned from a meeting with Hitler after the British conquered Tobruk in North Africa, his son-in-law and foreign minister Count Ciano remarked in his diary that Mussolini was “elated as he always is after a meeting with Hitler.” Before long he was widely denigrated within Italy as Hitler’s sycophant.

Italian fascism may or may not have been inherently anti-Semitic. Still, in the historian Denis Mack Smith’s Mussolini, we learned that even though Mussolini and his inner circle knew what was happening to European Jewry, “there was also great cruelty in his racialism.” Some of his aides and other officials “reacted to this news with shock and compassion, but Mussolini, although he was far more humane than Hitler and sometimes showed that he disapproved of what was happening, was too afraid of his ally to prevent thousands of [Italian] Jews being deported to their deaths in Germany; indeed he sometimes gave orders that they should be handed over.” In fact, the Italian fascists and Germans ran their own lethal concentration camp at San Sabba, near Trieste.

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