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Nation-Building through Antisemitism: Fascism and the Jew as the Internal Enemy.


The persecution of the Jews in Italy during the Fascist era has received increasing attention in the last generation, and the historiography has profoundly changed as a consequence. The older literature held that antisemitism in Italy had no real roots, that the Racial Laws were introduced because of the requirements of the alliance with Nazi Germany, that the Italian people were not in favor of the imposition of the Racial Laws, that the Church sought to help Italian Jews, and that the German occupiers were predominantly responsible for the rounding up and ultimate extermination of Italian Jews between September 1943 and May 1945 in the Republic of Salo in northern Italy (e.g., De Felice; Michaelis). None of these basic tenets have withstood the latest historical investigations. Scholars now argue that antisemitism had clear domestic roots in long-standing Catholic antisemitism (Kertzer), in the population policies of the Fascist regime to improve the "race," and in the anti-miscegenation laws introduced after the conquest of Ethiopia (Ipsen). Scholars have also noted that Mussolini's antisemitism pre-dated the Racial Laws (Sarfatti; Fabre), that Italians were hardly hostile to the imposition of such laws (Visani), and the Church is now viewed as having been distressingly quiet during the persecution of the Jews in Italy, and in the face of the broader Holocaust (Kornberg; Miccoli). Finally, scholars have shown that during the period of German occupation the Italian police were deeply involved in rounding up Italian Jews and setting them on the road to Auschwitz (Levis Sullam). (1)

With this growing consensus over the origins, centrality, and severity of the persecution of the Jews to Fascism, we may now be able to push the historiography further. Specifically, how does the regime's persecution of the Jews as an internal enemy fit within the broader context of Italian history since unification in 1861? What one finds is that this persecution, in addition to all the reasons put forward by recent scholars, was in fact part of a longer-term trend in Italian history wherein internal enemies were consistently targeted for the purpose of nation-building. Specifically, to compensate for a weak Italian national identity after unification, the Italian state, both Liberal and Fascist, sought to rally the nation to the state's leadership by focusing its attention on its enemies and distracting it from its numerous divisions and weaknesses. (2)

Since its unification, Italy struggled with how to "make Italians". That is, the nation was territorially unified between 1861 and 1871, but the people themselves lacked a national identity. Divisions existed between the north and south, Church and state, the radical left and the bourgeoisie, rich and poor, the city and the country. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of unification, when the state sought to glorify the unity of the people behind their state, most obviously with the inauguration of the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II in 1911, many saw this effort as a sham celebration covering over many difficulties. As Benedetto Croce wrote at the time,
   I believe that any careful and unprejudiced observer of Italy's
   present spiritual life cannot but be struck by the evident
   decadence in the feeling for social unity. The high-sounding words
   that expressed this unity--king, fatherland, city, nation, Church
   and humanity--have become cold and rhetorical, as they sound false,
   we avoid pronouncing them, almost as if an intimate sense of
   decency warns us not to name sacred things in vain.

   (Gentile, La Grande Italia 54)

After unification, one means of creating a national identity was through war. The belief was that a common struggle against a common enemy on behalf of the nation would eradicate the various divisions amongst Italians. This was part of the motivation behind Italy's various colonial adventures, it unified political activists of various stripes to support Italian intervention in World War I and was a central tenet of Fascist ideology. (3)

This belief in a struggle against a shared foe to strengthen national unity, however, was not confined to foreign enemies. It manifested itself in a consistent targeting of internal enemies as well. And when faced with an enemy at home, the state invariably used such a threat to extend its authority to crush it. We see this pattern in the 1860s against southern rebels (or briganti as they were called), in the 1870s against the anarchists, in the 1890s against the Sicilian Fasci and the radical left, and then against Italian Jews starting in 1938. In each case, the "enemy" was denationalized, deemed outside the nation, and potentially working with outside groups conspiring against Italian interests. In this way the state legitimatized the extreme measures used to eradicate its perceived enemies. Regardless of the objective, real threat each of these groups posed to the nation and to the state's authority--and Italian Jews were in no way a threat to the state, unlike the brigands, anarchists, and the Sicilian Fasci--the fact that all were represented in the same fashion, and that overwhelming force was used against all of them, marks a disturbing continuity from Liberal to Fascist Italy. (4)

The South after Unification

The concern for a viable Italian national consciousness was evident even before the unification of the peninsula. In 1854, Count Camillo di Cavour, one of the architects of unification, wrote: "The history of all ages proves that no people can reach a high level of intelligence and morality without strongly developed national feelings" (Gentile, La Grande Italia 21). Upon territorial unification, however, Massimo D'Azeglio noted to the Senate in 1864: "What is the goal towards which we are all striving? To make Italy once again into one body, one nation. Which is easier to unite: divided cities and provinces or divided hearts and minds? In the case of Italy in particular, I think the second is far harder than the first" (Duggan, Force of Destiny 217).

When the Italian peninsula was first unified in 1861, the problem of an incomplete national identity was immediately apparent. The extension of Piedmontese administrative, trade, and tax policies to the entire country had adverse effects. Poor southerners found free trade ruinous to their crafts, and the taxes particularly onerous. They resisted, and the result was a full-blown civil war that lasted until 1865, with sporadic uprisings thereafter. The state reacted quickly, and overwhelmingly, to this internal threat to its nascent, and still very tenuous, acquisition of national power. Constitutional liberties were suspended, and 120,000 soldiers--half the army--occupied the south and Sicily. By one account, by 1863 nearly 3,500 southerners had been either summarily shot for having weapons or were killed on the battlefield, and another 2,768 imprisoned (Mack Smith 73, 75, 83-84).

This level of force could only be justified by the perception that southern brigands were a clear threat to the newly formed nation. It was exacerbated by two other factors. First, there was a belief that somehow the southern uprising was being orchestrated by outside agitators, either Italian democrats that resisted Cavour's settlement for a united Italy, or the Church that resented its loss of lands to the new state. According to John Davis, however, "The fears of democrat and clerical subversion provided justification for the use of arbitrary and exceptional measures in the south, even though the fear was not only exaggerated but often misplaced" (170). Second, the state's brutality stemmed from the belief that the south was not part of the "civilized," modern, liberal Italy envisaged by the state. As Nelson Moe notes in his study of perceptions of the south after unification, though some felt the south's backward condition had been determined by years of despotic rule under the Bourbon monarchy, in the letters between Cavour and his agents in the south, "one often detects a crucial slippage from a historicizing perspective to one that posits southerners and the south as essentially different. As Cavour puts it on one occasion, the Neapolitans are corrupt 'to the marrow'" (162). In a report to parliament on brigandage, Giuseppe Massari, a Neapolitan exile, flatly declared that "brigandage [...] is the struggle between barbarism and civilization; it is robbery and murder raising the standard of rebellion against society" (Dickie 32). (5) And southerners were viewed as not having any idea of the new national identity. Tommaso Sorrentino, a Neapolitan lawyer and patriot, informed the secretary of the lieutenant-general in charge of the administration of the Neapolitan provinces that the north was completely different: "In the north patriotism predominates, in the south self-interest; there [in the north] sacrifice is spontaneous, here one works out of egoism" (Moe 171).

Anarchism in the 1870s

In the 1870s the state had a new threat to contend with: anarchism. Economic imbalances continued to roil the south, but also spread across the country. Italy witnessed a growth in workers' associations, urban bread riots, wage strikes, and protest demonstrations (Davis 188). The social unrest gave birth to Italy's anarchist movement, the impetus being the Paris Commune of 1871. As Davis notes, "the anarchist threat quickly came to obsess the official mind, and the freethinking atheist revolutionary soon personified the principal threat to state and society. The sense of alarm," he continues, "was well captured by the Florentine daily paper La nazione when it warned its readers in May 1871: 'socialism, communism and all the deliria of the most advanced political sects are now openly threatening society'" (194).

Consequently, the state acted promptly and ruthlessly to crush anarchism in its infancy. In March of1873, the anarchist Italian Federation of the International Workers Alliance sought to hold their national congress at Mirandola in Emilia Romagna and capitalize on the wave of strikes and enthusiasm for anarchism that gripped Italy. The government prohibited such a meeting, arrested the anarchists who attended, dissolved the section, and occupied the city. The anarchists who were still free convened in Bologna a few days later. The police raided their headquarters, arrested the leaders Carlo Cafiero, Andrea Costa and Errico Malatesta, and liquidated the Bologna federation as well as a number of others (Pernicone 72). It is worth noting that illegal acts had yet to be committed.

Similar harsh measures were replicated in ever more extreme fashion the following year. The police had uncovered and stopped a planned uprising for August (Pernicone 90-95). Yet, fear of the anarchists led to even broader state repression than before with the dissolution of every section of the Italian Federation across the country, the placement of numerous anarchists under ammonizione (surveillance and restriction of movement), and then their condemnation to domicilio coatto (internal exile) for violating the stringent terms of their ammonizione. As none of these punitive measures allowed the accused to defend themselves in court, they proved particularly effective in targeting suspected revolutionaries based on suspicion alone (Pernicone 95). As Richard Bach Jensen writes, the state was gripped by a fear that "was due to fantastic ideas, sometimes spread even on the floor of Parliament, about the inhuman crimes [the anarchists] wished to commit [...]. Since the anarchists were spread throughout the world, constantly being forced to cross continents and oceans to escape the authorities, the illusion was created in the public's mind of a dangerous international conspiracy against the established order" (Liberty and Order 85).

Whether this fear of anarchism's power was wholly genuine, however, or simply gave the state the excuse to expand its authority and pose as the nation's savior is worth pondering. Andrea Costa himself observed that the government of the Historical Right in the early 1870s "had a certain interest in leaving a shadow of life to the International, the name of which it used as a bugaboo to keep itself in power" (Pernicone 130).

By 1880, the Italian Federation of the International was finished. After a series of unconnected attacks on government leaders across Europe by anarchists in 1878, including Italy's King Victor Emmanuel II (Bach Jensen, Battle against Anarchist Terrorism 23-24), the government of Prime Minister Agostino Depretis used this purported threat of an international anarchist uprising to unleash the public security state. On the manufactured principle that all anarchists were simply common criminals, or malfattori, every anarchist leader was arrested, all anarchists were put under ammonizione, and eventually thousands of people were put in prison or sent to internal exile, "not for illegal acts," Nunzio Pernicone notes, "or even the intent to commit them, but solely for the ideas they professed" (155).

The Sicilian Fasci and Radical Left in the 1890s

In the 1890s, the Sicilian Fasci and the radical left, anarchists and socialists, became the new internal threats targeted by the state, especially after the foundation of the Italian Socialist Party in 1892.

The disturbances began in Sicily in 1893 with the emergence and rapid expansion of the Fasci, the first organized proletarian movement in Sicilian history, spreading from the cities to the countryside. The island suffered from perpetual poverty, underdevelopment, and exploitation from absentee landlords, had little loyalty to the distant national government that perpetuated this misery, and was now suffering from high food costs owing to a tariff war with France. In September, agrarian strikes swept through the island, membership in the Fasci exploded to include 70% of all the peasants, and landowners were caving in to pressure to sign more equitable contracts with their workers. Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti had already begun arresting leaders and members of the Fasci in the summer, using the accusation that they were malfattori, as Depretis had done with the anarchists. By November, 800 members and leaders were arrested simply for membership in the movement, while incidents of troops opening fire on public demonstrations were increasingly common (Bach Jensen, Liberty and Order 74-76, 79-80).

Though the Sicilian uprisings were not part of any broad revolutionary upheaval orchestrated by the radical left in Italy, Prime Minister Francesco Crispi exploited the growing fear of the latter to justify his return to power in December 1893, using extreme measures to stamp out the perceived threats to state authority and national unity. As Crispi noted in Parliament, these new enemies were not real Italians. "Socialism," he declared, "was unpatriotic, indistinguishable from anarchism, and signified the end of all liberty" (Mack Smith 175). Crispi sent 50,000 troops to occupy Sicily, introduced martial law, imposed censorship, and arrested thousands of people. When marble workers in Carrara in Tuscany attacked local barracks a few weeks later, protesting their recruitment in the fight against the Fasci, Crispi assumed a broad conspiracy was afoot in which even French socialists and anarchists may have been funding the Sicilians. As a result, he declared a state of siege for Carrara and sent in 1500 troops; the ensuing clash resulted in 11 dead and numerous wounded (Bach Jensen, Liberty and Order 81). According to Crispi's most recent biographer, however, while there may have been some links between the French anarchists and socialists and the Sicilian Fasci, "how systematic and serious they were is another matter. For Crispi, though, the important point was not the reality or otherwise of plots, but rather [...] to use talk of plots to justify courses of action and influence public opinion" (Duggan, Francesco Crispi 641). Using the bogey of anarchism and of the radical left in general as justification, Crispi dissolved the Socialist party, prosecuted its leaders, curbed the press, and introduced anti-subversive laws (Mack Smith 176; Bach Jensen, Liberty and Order 85).

Italian Jews as the Internal Enemy

As we move forward to the late 1930s, when Italy was under a Fascist regime, we find that a new internal enemy, the Jews, was identified by the state and was similarly represented as outside the nation and working with foreign agents against Italian interests. (6) As in the periods surveyed above, this depiction was used to legitimate the state's persecution of this group, and was explicitly used to further the development of a national consciousness by focusing attention on the threat from within.

Scholars have investigated the motives and uses of portraying Italian Jews as internal enemies. The developing consensus is that by the late 1930s Italian Fascism was in need of a boost, a means to re-invigorate the people's commitment to the Fascist state, a way to complete the totalitarian reorganization of society and the formation of the Fascist new man--one who would be shorn of the decadent, individualistic materialism that had corrupted the Italian bourgeoisie and had blunted its warrior instinct. To this end, the identification of Italian Jews as the "other" capitalized on and magnified the antisemitism that already existed within Italy, certainly within the Fascist Party, and was viewed as a mobilizing tool for those who were recognized as members of the Italian nation, the so-called Aryans. As Emilio Gentile pointed out in The Sacralization of Politics, Fascism mobilized its people through a variety of myths: the myth of the promise of Fascism, and the myth of the Duce who could do no wrong, but also negative myths that accounted for all of the evils in the contemporary world, especially in Italy (156). More specifically, as Marie-Anne Matard-Bonnucci recently wrote, Fascist
   propaganda fece dell'ebreo il negativo dell'uomo nuovo italiano. Un
   uomo nuovo che si sarebbe organizzato attraverso l'opposizione e la
   lotta, che in questo caso significava discriminare e perseguitare.


The seeds for this direction in the scholarship may have been planted long before by Enzo Collotti, who noted in 1989 the clear political uses of the Racial Laws:
   Essa fu il momento centrale dello sforzo di cementare all'interno
   il livello del consenso con un processo massiccio di emarginazione
   delle diversita, intese come possibile potenziale di dissenso. La
   polarizzazione verso il diverso aveva quindi la funzione di
   accelerare la concentrazione di tutte le energie in una direzione
   unica. L'obiettivo immediato del bombardamento propagandistico e
   delle misure restrittive era l'ebreo, ma i destinatari di messaggi
   che l'operazione aveva di mira erano tutti coloro che non si
   identificavano ancora con il regime fascista.


As to why Italian Jews were used as a means to mobilize the nation, there has been some movement in the historiography. As noted earlier, after an earlier generation of scholars who argued Fascist antisemitism was a direct result of the Axis alliance, and thus mitigated the Italian responsibility for the Holocaust, more recent scholars have focused on a variety of longer-term, domestic reasons for the implementation of the Racial Laws in 1938. Other scholars, however, pushing back at this exclusion of the German influence on Fascist antisemitism, have argued that the biological racism introduced with the Manifesto of Race and the Racial Laws was fundamentally different and new in the history of Italian racism, and thus was a consequence of this German influence. They claim, rightfully I believe, that in addition to the domestic origins of Italian antisemitism, Mussolini and the Fascist elite were profoundly impressed with the successes of the Nazi regime in Germany by 1938, most especially the complete totalitarian control Hitler had imposed over German society. In light of the Nazis' accomplishments, and in the context of rising antisemitism across Europe, Italy, with the hope of maintaining its once uncontested position as the fascist state, now turned to antisemitism to complete its totalitarian project (Matard-Bonucci 122-24; Germinario 58). (7)

The theme of the Jew as the internal enemy runs through two of the leading antisemitic works of the late thirties: Paolo Orano's Gli ebrei in Italia (1937) and Telesio Interlandi's Contra judaeos (1938). Orano argued for a spiritual racism, which on some level allowed for the Jews to be incorporated into the Italian nation if they would renounce their religion and customs and embrace Christianity and Fascism. Interlandi offered a more stringent, biological racism that did not allow for such unity, insofar as the Jews, he argued, could not change their racial otherness, regardless of what behaviors they adopted. Yet, despite their differences, these writers were united by the belief that inside Italy there was a group that was different, and dangerous. Among their common themes, two are pronounced: first, that Italian Jews are a self-segregating people and, second, that Italian Jews form a part of an international Jewish network that is ultimately anti-Fascist.

For Orano, Italian Jews had persistently isolated themselves from mainstream Italian society, beginning with their refusal to accept Christianity, which, according to Orano, had always been synonymous with Italy, most especially after the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (34). Jews, he went on to say, who no longer practiced their religion, but insisted on keeping their identity as a separate "race" and refused to assimilate, brought trouble on to themselves, as "L'antisemitismo e uno dei modi con cui si manifesta il principio di nazionalita" (95). Their persistent separation was evident in the support they provided for Zionism and a Jewish homeland in Palestine. He thought this support was problematic on two levels. In the first place, how could one be a loyal Italian and Fascist, who prioritized fealty to the nation, when one had split loyalties to both Italy and Israel? Second, as the formation of Israel was actually a British initiative whose government was run by Jewish financiers, the formation of this new country would thus imperil Italian imperial ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean (74, 80, 85-86). Interlandi similarly focused on the issue of self-segregation, putting emphasis on the words of Italian Jewish leaders to make his point. He quoted the Chief Rabbi David Prato who, he claimed, counseled against inter-marriage with non- Jews (31). Interlandi also enumerated a list of rabbis who declared that Jews were a race apart with no interest in assimilation (67-68). Again, this putative resistance to assimilation was rooted in the expectation of a Jewish homeland to be created by the Jewish-run British government (36-38).

Both authors also saw an international Jewish, anti-Fascist conspiracy at work. Orano argued that Italian Jews should disassociate themselves publicly from this conspiracy, and that they had yet to do so. Interlandi believed such a renunciation was impossible to expect, as Italian Jews owed their ultimate allegiance to the international Jewish network. Orano further maintained that Jewish leaders and financiers controlled government policies in Britain, which resisted Italian expansion in the Mediterranean and Ethiopia; in France, where the Jewish Popular Front leader Leon Blum was allied with Soviet Russia against Nazi Germany and supported the anti-fascist government in Spain; and in Russia, where the Jews controlled the Bolshevik Party that sought European dominance and opposed fascism throughout the continent (86-87, 112, 147, 165, 167). Interlandi went even further, adding to the list of anti-fascist conspirators the Jews of America, who led the fight against fascism in defense of democracy, and even Czechoslovakia, an ally of France which, at the time he was writing in 1938, was resisting Hitler's demand for control of the German- speaking Czechoslovakian borderlands known as the Sudetenland. In the face of this supposed conspiracy, Interlandi unreservedly deemed Italian Jews the internal enemy, regardless of what they said or did (36, 38, 83, 84, 86, 89).

Orano's and Interlandi's interventions were emblematic of the broader themes of Italy's turn to antisemitism and its pitfalls. Certainly, it is not difficult to find within the national state archives and in the press of the time an enthusiasm to identify Italian Jews as an internal enemy. However, the dissonance between Orano and Interlandi also reveals the rather haphazard nature of Italy's adoption of state-backed antisemitism. In the months leading up to the Racial Laws and thereafter, there was an ongoing debate over how to implement this new policy and who exactly was Jewish. Orano's and Interlandi's differences over a spiritual versus a biological racism were not a unique instance of disagreement as the state pursued a new enemy.

Once the decision had been made to implement state-backed antisemitism--first with the publication of the Manifesto of Race (July 14, 1938) and then with the Racial Laws (November 17, 1938)--the government recognized it had to develop a coherent strategy on how to educate Italians about the new enemy in their midst, unwittingly admitting that this new racial policy was hardly expected by the nation-at-large. Just two weeks after the publication of the Manifesto of Race, Giuseppe Bottai, the Minister of National Education, wrote to all university rectors and directors of high schools that "il movimento razzista italiano, iniziatosi il 14 luglio quando fu resa nota la 'dichiarazione' dei docenti fascisti [referring to the Manifesto of Race], entra nella fase concreta dell'azione." To this end, the Duce wanted the schools to be the "depositario di questo canone fondamentale e la tutrice del patrimonio intellettuale e morale che il popolo ripete da Roma." As such, he recommended that his subordinates avail themselves of the virulent antisemitic journal La difesa della razza, and that "Ogni biblioteca universitaria dovra esserne provvista e i docenti dovranno leggerlo, consultarlo, commentarlo per assimilarne lo spirito che lo informa, per farsene i propagatori e i divulgatori." (8) In a subsequent memo on the same day, he informed his subordinates that his goal was to reach back as far as the elementary schools, as well as middle schools and high schools, and to offer guidance on how to teach antisemitism to students at every level of education. (9)

Beyond Bottai's initiative in the schools, the Fascist Party was planning a far more ambitious outreach program through the National Institute of Fascist Culture. The institute was to be responsible for propagating a series of themes that would define exactly what the turn to antisemitism meant in Italy, and why it had occurred. In an article in Il messaggero on August 13, 1938, the Secretary of the Fascist Party, Achille Starace, specified that the institute would spread the idea of the continuity of the Italian race and its culture from the Roman era to the present day. The intent was to build a racial, or national, consciousness and pride. Additionally, the institute would highlight the continuous actions of the regime in defense of the race, such as its demographic policy and the Opera nazionale maternita e infanzia (aimed at reducing the number of infant deaths), thus positing that the new racial policy was part of a long-standing goal of improving the race and not simply an attempt to ape German policy, as some had suggested. The state, he continued, must now be more vigilant when it came to the Italian race, because of the creation of the empire, the proximity to the Ethiopians, the need to preserve Italian colonial superiority, and finally because of the Jewish problem that the state was now focusing on. The goal of this initiative was to build a new Fascist man. "Individuare i caratteri tipici e permanenti della razza italiana da Roma ad oggi significa non solo approfondire un problema di alto interesse scientifico," he concluded, "ma diffondere fra tutti gli italiani, specie fra quelli della nuova generazione, quell'orgoglio di razza che e uno dei presupposti di una politica di grandezza e di potenza." (10)

Following the examples laid out by Orano and Interlandi, the surest way of developing the desired race consciousness in Italians was to identify the Jews as outsiders working against Italian interests. Using a not uncommon strategy of the antisemitic press, supposedly "secret" documents were published to show the great Jewish anti-fascist international network at work. For instance, in the journal Razzismo a document was reprinted that was purportedly from the Central Committee of the Petrograd Section of the International Jewish League and addressed to all the other sections of the league. It declared:
   Figli d'Israele! L'ora della nostra suprema vittoria si approssima.
   Noi siamo sulla soglia del domino del mondo [...]. La Russia e
   conquistata ed inchiodata al suolo, sotto le nostre calcagna, ma
   non dimenticate un solo istante che bisogna essere attenti e
   prudenti. La cura sacra della nostra sicurezza non ci permette di
   esercitare ne la pieta, ne il perdono [...]. Dobbiamo distruggere i
   cosiddetti migliori elementi del popolo russo, perche questo paese
   non possa trovare piu dirigenti. Gli toglieremo, cosi, ogni
   possibilita di resistere al nostro potere. (11)

But, beyond the Jews' alleged conquest of Russia, this document also purportedly revealed how the Jews had similarly overtaken the capitalist nations of the West:
   La guerra, la lotta di classe, distruggeranno la cultura dei popoli
   cristiani. Ma, Figli d'Israele, siamo prudenti e riservati. La
   nostra vittoria e prossima, poiche la nostra potenza politica ed
   economica, come anche la nostra influenza sulle masse, fanno rapidi
   progressi. Noi siamo padroni delle finanze e dell'oro dei governi
   e, per conseguenza, siamo onnipossenti sulle borse degli stati.

In another notorious antisemitic journal, Il Tevere, the reader was told: "Gli ebrei sono stati durante sedici anni all'avanguardia dell'anti-fascismo internazionale: e questa la proposizione che ci spiega nella maniera la piu eloquente il razzismo fascista e le misure prese dal Gran Consiglio avverso i giudei." (13) The Jews in charge of the plutocratic West not only obstructed Italy in Ethiopia, but this international anti-fascism further extended to the Spanish Civil War: "E quanto nella Spagna martoriata l'Italia fascista si schiero, in nome della civilta, contro i negatori della religione [a reference to the Soviet-backed Republicans in the conflict], il giudaismo internazionale, affiancandosi al bolscevismo, alla massoneria e a tutta la feccia del fronte popolare, si mise ancora di contro, non con le schiere dei suoi combattenti ma con l'elargizione del suo oro. Ed e stato sotto i colpi pagati dall'alta finanzia ebraica che i nostri legionari d'Africa e di Spagna immolarono la loro giovinezza." (14) Regime fascista reminded its readers that President Roosevelt was surrounded by Jews, who coordinated the international anti-fascist campaign from Washington and who counseled him to oppose the Axis nations. (15) And to make clear that Italian Jews were not exempt from this denunciation, Il Tevere declared: "Abbiamo finalmente conosciuto il vero volto di Israele ed in quel volto raffiguriamo, senza alcuna eccezione, tutti i giudei." (16)

But the international band of Jews was not the only threat. After the Racial Laws, the antisemitic press was filled with warnings specifically about Italian Jews. In February/March 1939 Antieuropa published an open letter to Bottai informing him that "parecchi ebrei levantini, originari di Salonico e di Stambul, dopo aver assunto da qualche anno la cittadinanza italiana e dopo essere riusciti a ottenere l'iscrizione al Partito, si sono anche intrufolati nel corpo degli insegnanti delle nostre scuole all'estero." Il telegrafo noted "il riprovevole comportamento di alcune aziende lavoranti per la Marina e per l'Escercito, che mantengono ancora degli ebrei in posti di responsabilita." (17) Two weeks later the same journal and the Corriere adriatico lamented the various ways Jews tried to avoid the Racial Laws, such as changing their names to Aryan ones. (18) Il popolo di Trieste publicly requested that the Ministry of the Interior publish the names of Jews who had asked for exemption from the Racial Laws so to avoid their future "tricks." Another local paper, Il piccolo di Trieste, alerted its readers to the notable percentage of Jews in all professions, while Il popolo di Brescia wrote of "l'enorme influenza avuta dagli ebrei nelle professioni libere in Italia e particolarmente nell'avvocatura." (19) La vita italiana warned its readers that all the recent conversions of Jews to Catholicism could not possibly be sincere, as there were so few conversions in the nineteenth century. (20) Once the war started, Il telegrafo warned that "gli ebri cercano, profittando del momento, di rialzare la testa; e che e necessario sorvegliarli." (21) And once Poland had fallen, Il popolo di Brescia declared that "anche questa roccaforte dell'ebraismo e crollata e [the journal] ritiene che l'attuale conflitto dovra essere la premessa necessaria alla radicale e definitiva sistemazione e soluzione del problema ebraico." (22)

Yet, for all the effort to convince non-Jewish Italians that their Jewish neighbors were to be feared, marginalized, and were a problem that required a definitive solution, the state, at first, was incapable of coming up with a definition of who exactly was a Jew, whether Italian racism was to be strictly biological or of the spiritual/cultural variety that held out some possibility of assimilation, or if the Italian race was Aryan or Mediterranean. This confusion was, in fact, inherent in the formal announcement of Italy's turn to antisemitism in the Manifesto of Race. The document forthrightly declared that the different races were a fundamental and defining characteristic of humanity; that race was not simply common language and history but was biologically defined; that the Italians were part of the Aryan race, tracing their origins to the Lombard invasions, and that their racial stock had retained its purity since then. "That being the case, the manifesto argued that the time had come for Italians to recognize their racial distinctiveness, and their superior racial distinctiveness at that" (Ialongo, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti 261). The manifesto explicitly rejected that Africans had any connection to the roots of Europe, or that "Semites" were part of a common Mediterranean civilization. Specifically, the manifesto pointed out that the "Jews do not belong to the Italian race." Yet, immediately contradicting the claim that race was biologically defined, the manifesto argued that the Jews were not part of the Italian race because they had never assimilated, leaving open the question of what to do with Italian Jews that converted, married a Christian, and/or were not connected to any of the Jewish communities in Italy (Ialongo, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti 261).

This initial confusion was mirrored in the press. In the months after the Racial Laws were implemented, the Giornale di Genova reported that it had investigated the origins of the ancient Ligurians and rejected that the first Italian, ethnic stratum was possibly of African origins and criticized the usage by many of the expression "Mediterranean civilization," which was likely to cause confusion. (23) Nevertheless, within a few days of this clear enunciation in defense of a biological and Aryan definition of race, La tradizione published "alcune frasi tolte da discorsi del Duce per concludere che la dottrina del Regime [on race] e spiritualista e che quindi bisogna farla finita col razzismo materialista [or biological racism]," (24) The journal Liguria responded directly to the Giornale di Genova and published a chapter of a book that affirmed that "secondo gli ultimi risultati della scienza--i Liguri si devono considerare un popolo non ariano almeno un popolo misto. L'azione di Roma fu esagerata perche la coscienza etnica di Roma creava una unita ideale della patria romana che non era pero la realta biologica di una nazione." (25) In the summer just before the war, two journals took a hardline biological stance, with Il popolo di Trieste declaring "che bisogna sempre tener presente che gli ebrei discriminati [exempted from the Racial Laws], di qualunque gradazione, sono sempre ebrei," and Il telegrafo noting that "gli 'ebrei benemeriti' non dimenticano di essere fratelli anche dei non discriminati," and insisted that all Jews must be watched. (26) Yet, Dottrina fascista seemed to cast off all definitional restrictions and firmly came down on the side of a spiritual/cultural definition of racism, noting that "il nostro razzismo deve essere non di isolamento, ma razzismo espansivo, cioe veramente imperiale; e [the journal] osserva come la nostra razza possa a giusta ragione essere chiamata italiana, superando cosi qualsiasi concetto di mediterraneita, dinamicita, nordicita, ecc." (27)

The Direzione Generale della Demografia e Razza--the so-called Demorazza office set up in the Ministry of the Interior to implement the persecution of the Jews--was at the center of the efforts to eliminate this confusion over just how to define the Jewish enemy. In a document entitled "Definizione di ebreo," which appeared well after the Manifesto of Race had been released, and before the implementation of the Racial Laws, the office was still seeking to clarify how to categorize a Jew. The document stated, mimicking Germany's Nuremberg Laws of 1935, that having 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents qualified you as Jewish. If, however, you had 2 or fewer Jewish grandparents, you would still be labeled Jewish, and not Italian, if you joined a Jewish community after January 1938; professed the Jewish faith after April 21, 1931; married a Jewish woman after October 1, 1938; raised practicing Jewish children after October 1, 1938; or had clear evidence of "attivita nel campo ebraico." (28) The actual Racial Laws adopted this logic and simplified it, declaring that you were Jewish if you had Jewish parents, even if you did not practice the religion; if your mother was Jewish and your father's identity was unknown; or if you had one Jewish parent and were a practicing Jew as of October 1, 1938. (29)

However, once this definition of a Jew had been worked out on fairly aggressive biological lines, as Michele Sarfatti rightly points out (133), a pronounced exemption was carved out for Jewish family members of dead veterans of Italy's 20th century wars and for those that had fallen for the Fascist cause, as well as for still living Jewish veterans of the same wars, and Jews who were part of the Fascist Party between 1919 and 1922, during the second half of 1924 (when many members had abandoned the Party over the Matteotti crisis), had been legionnaires in Fiume, or had been granted exemption by a committee set up in the Ministry of the Interior. (30) As such, the definition of the Jewish enemy became muddled in these early months of the persecution. While broadly biological in definition, a space was opened up for Jews who had performed exceptional service to Italy and the Fascist Party, and would thus be considered virtually part of the nation. The result was a veritable avalanche of requests for exemption, or "discrimination," from the laws, leaving the antisemitic journals to lament, as noted above, that all Jews must be treated alike, regardless of their merits. (31)

And, the state was simply unready for this radical shift in policy against Italian Jews. Not only were the foundational documents of this shift, the Manifesto of Race and the Racial Laws, not altogether clear as to how to definitively identify this new enemy, the bureaucracy itself could not carry out the investigations necessary to determine who was a Jew. For instance, Chief of Police Carmine Senise complained to the Demorazza itself that there were far too many requests made to the various local police offices for confidential investigations into someone's race. These were impossible to carry out unless the police demanded the requisite documents from the accused, thus eliminating any confidentiality. Beyond that problem, he added, "il numero delle richieste e talmente elevato da paralizzare quasi ogni altra incombenza degli Uffici di Polizia." (32)

Yet, despite bureaucratic unpreparedness, and the determined, yet somehow contingent, biological definition of what a Jew was, as well as the continuing discussion of how the Italian race came into being, one conclusion cannot be denied: as the Racial Laws were implemented, the position of Jews in Italy immediately worsened. Jewish children and teachers were pulled out of state schools, marriages between Jews and non-Jews were banned, Jews could not serve in the military or have contracts with it, nor could they work for the state. Furthermore, limits were placed on property Jews owned and on the size of their businesses, their citizenship was revoked if acquired after 1918, and foreign Jews were forced to leave the country with few exceptions (Ialongo, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti 262; Sarfatti 138).

The Fascist government moved quickly, even before the Racial Laws were formalized, to begin the process of persecuting the Jews. The Demorazza office sent out a directive to all ministries on August 11, 1938 requesting a list of what they were doing to implement the goal of marginalizing the Jews in Italian society. The result was an immediate purge of Jewish civil servants throughout the state. For instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported to the Demorazza that they had begun a census of all personnel to determine their race, and had initiated the process of firing Jewish employees at home and abroad as well as investigating the wives and husbands of their employees, "al fine di evitare quell'ibridismo familiare che all'estero darebbe impresione che i principi in materia adottati dal Regime non hanno categorico valore." (33) These actions were dutifully replicated throughout the state's ministries.


The end result of Fascism's persecution of the Jews in Italy, despite the chaotic first few months of the new policy, was staggering: 8,529 Jews perished, or 26.24% of the 33,000 Jews that were caught in northern Italy after the Republic of Salo was established by the occupying German forces (Picciotto 220-21). The road to Auschwitz was set in the period leading up to the release of the Manifesto of Race, wherein the Fascist regime decided to target Italian Jews as internal enemies. One of the goals of this persecution was to address what was believed to be a weak national identity, and to revive it on racist lines aimed at the Jews. Italian Jews were marginalized, deemed outside the nation, and accused of working within a Jewish, anti-Fascist, and thus anti-Italian, international movement. Such representation was used to legitimate their initial persecution and later extermination.

The Fascists, however, did not originate the targeting of internal enemies as a means of nation-building. Concern for a weak national identity had already led Italian governments of the Liberal era to similarly target and ruthlessly eliminate their perceived internal enemies. This persecution was evident in the brutal treatment of the southern rebels of the 1860s, the anarchists of the 1870s, and the Sicilian Fasci and radical left of the 1890s. Regardless of the real threat each and all of these groups posed to the nation, the state invariably resorted to overwhelming force against them, precisely because of the persistent fear that the nation had not yet achieved a strong national consciousness, and that the process of "making Italians" was still incomplete.

As we look beyond the Liberal and Fascist era, it is worth asking if the representation of the migrant "crisis" in the Italy of 2018 is in some fashion a legacy of this penchant to identify an evolving list of internal enemies that are somehow always threatening the nation, a nation that is always somehow in crisis. In Italy's newest neo-Fascist incarnation, the Casapound Italia unambiguously declares: "L' infernale meccanismo immigratorio di massa e uno dei principali vettori di sradicamento e impoverimento sociale, culturale ed esistenziale a danno di tutte le popolazioni coinvolte, siano esse ospiti o ospitanti." (34) To deal with this new internal enemy, the party calls for the suspension of the Shengen Accords to stop the free flow of peoples into Italy, and the immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants.

More disturbing, because of his party's electoral strength, is the policy of Matteo Salvini. Having abandoned the separatist and anti-southern policies of the Northern League, he seeks to unite Italians on a populist, anti-migrant platform in the re-named "League." He has had some success. One of his southern coordinators declared: "Getting rid of the north on the sign [of the party] allowed a lot of us to get closer to the League. Because of the immigrants," he added, "we have come together." (35) In the March 4, 2018 general elections, the League, with its "Italians first" policy, and the 5 Star Movement that similarly exploited concerns over the migrants, triumphed at the polls and decimated the ruling Centre-left coalition. (36)

It would seem, then, that some Italians still seek to complete the process of "making Italians," or possibly re-making them, and thus re-making the nation, by identifying, and targeting, a new group that is deemed irredeemably outside of the nation.

Ernest Ialongo

Hostos Community College, CUNY

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(1) For good overviews of the historiography, see Pavan 2010 and 2013.

(2) My work on the internal enemy builds on the work of such scholars as Angelo Ventrone, Rosario Forlenza, and Marla Stone. These scholars focus on the 20th century, whereas I seek to place the idea of the internal enemy as beginning with the unification of Italy.

(3) Richard Drake and John Thayer have shown that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century there was a broad belief amongst politically active intellectuals that the so-called Post-Risorgimento was failing to live up to the hope that Italy would re-create the glories of ancient Rome. Mario Isnenghi and Ernest Ialongo ("Solving the Nation's Ills Through War") have demonstrated that war was the consistent solution offered across the political spectrum to unify and strengthen the nation; and Mussolini's definition of Fascism explicitly endorsed war as a means of creating a truly national identity.

(4) By placing the persecution of the Jews within the broader context of Italian history, I do not seek to question the unprecedented nature of the Holocaust, as defended by Omer Bartov, amongst others (Rosenfeld). However, the debate over the Holocaust's uniqueness has yielded valuable insights and methodological approaches, which I have adopted here. Following the path of Genocide Studies scholars, I argue that the persecution of the Jews in Italy was part of the European-wide process of nation-building and "people-making" from the mid-nineteenth century onward that sought national purity on racial, ethnic, or political grounds (Moses, "Conceptual Blockages" 33-34; Dan Stone 128; Bloxham). Furthermore, as Moses has argued, and as I claim in this paper, the state's perception of a threat from an internal enemy, and their foreign allies, was far more important than the reality, and was used to legitimate their persecution ("Paranoia" 572). Finally, I believe it is critical to view Italian Jewish history within the context of Italian history, and not only within the context of broader European Jewish history, as Blatman argued when seeking to understand the national origins and dynamics of the Holocaust in Poland.

(5) On this issue more generally, see Patriarca.

(6) Certainly, there are instances of the state targeting internal enemies in the first two decades of the twentieth century, such as the syndicalists of the pre-World War I years, the Socialists and Communists of the immediate post-war years, and, under Fascism, the broad and diverse political opposition at home defined simply as anti-Fascist. For the purposes of this paper, however, I limit myself to the examples analyzed here.

(7) I use Fascism to refer to Italian Fascism, and fascism to refer to the more general term in its various international incarnations.

(8) Giuseppe Bottai to all University Rectors and Directors of Istituti superiori, "Rivista 'La Difesa della Razza'-Diffusione," 6 August 1938, Archivio Centrale dello stato (ACS), Ministero dell'Interno (MIN), Direzione generale per la Demografia e la Razza (Demorazza), Affari Diversi, 1938-1945, Busta (B.) 11, fascicolo (f.) 26, sottofascicolo (sf.) "Iniziative e Provvedimenti ... il problema della Razza c) Ministero Educazione Nazionale."

(9) Giuseppe Bottai to all "Regi provveditori agli studi" and the Presidents of the Istituti d'istruzione artistica, "Rivista 'La Difesa della Razza'-Diffusione," 6 August 1938, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-1945, B. 11, f. 26, sf. "Iniziative e Provvedimenti [...] il problema della Razza c) Ministero Educazione Nazionale."

(10) "I capisaldi della politica razzista nell'indicazione del Segretario del Partito all'Istituto Nazionale di Cultura Fascista," Il messaggero, 13 August 1938, found in ACS, MIN, Demorazza, B. 1, f. 1 Commenti alle questioni sulla razza.

(11) "Giudei e Bolscevici," Notiziario d'informazioni: dedicato al problema della razza, 1 September 1938, found in ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. "Notiziario 'Razzismo" (Catanzaro).

(12) Stesso riferimento della nota precedente.

(13) "Senza eccezione," Il Tevere, reprinted in Razzismo: Notiziario quindicinale d'informazioni, 1 November 1938, found in ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. "Notiziario 'Razzismo" (Catanzaro).

(14) Stesso riferimento della nota precedente.

(15) "Ebraismo e antifascismo di Roosevelt," Regime fascista, 21 August 1939, found in ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Problemi demografici e razziali all'estero.

(16) "Senza eccezione," II Tevere, reprinted in Razzismo: Notiziario quindicinale d'informazioni, 1 November 1938, found in ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. "Notiziario 'Razzismo" (Catanzaro).

(17) Report for the week of 26 February to 4 March, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(18) Report for the week of12 to 18 March, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare; 29 April 1939, in the report for the week of 16 April to 22 April, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938- 45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(19) 20 May 1939, in the report for the week of 30 April to 6 May, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(20) 27 May 1939 in the report for the week of 14 to 20 May 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(21) 4 October 1939, in the report for 17 September to 23 September 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(22) 7 December 1939, in the report for the week of 12 November to 18 November 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(23) Report for the week of 26 February to March 4, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Report for the Week of 19 March to 25 March, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(26) 5 June 1939 in the report for the week of 21 May to 27 May, 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(27) Report for the week of 18 June to 24 June 1939, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-45, B. 12, f. 29 (i), sf. Rapporto Settimanale del Ministero Cultura Popolare.

(28) "Definizione di ebreo," ACS, MIN, Demorazza, B. 1, f. 1 Commenti alle questioni sulla razza, f. 2 Questioni razziali da risolvere, Legislazione razziale nei vari paesi d'Europe [note these separate fascicoli were mixed within the busta].

(29) "DECRETO-LEGGE 17 novembre 1938-XVII, n.1728," cinemaematematica/adolescenza/leggirazziali.pdf (accessed 10 October 2017).

(30) "DECRETO-LEGGE 17 novembre 1938-XVII, n.1728," cinemaematematica/adolescenza/leggirazziali.pdf (accessed 10 October 2017).

(31) 15,000 people submitted roughly 9,000 applications for exemptions, out of a total Jewish population in Italy of c. 50,000 in 1938 (Sarfatti 137).

(32) Capo della Polizia Carmine Senise to MIN, Demorazza, 9 November 1938, "Informazioni sull'appartenenza ad una data razza," ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-1945, B. 11, f. 26, sf. "Disposizione concernenti la Razza, b) Disposizioni concernenti la razza."

(33) Ministro degli Affari Esteri to Guidi Buffarini Guidi, Sottosegretario di Stato per l'Interno, 17 August 1938, ACS, MIN, Demorazza, Affari Diversi, 1938-1945, B. 11, f. 26, sf. "Ministero Affari Esteri dispo sizioni concernenti la razza."

(34) "Una Nazione. Il programma politico di Casapound Italia," unanazione.pdf (accessed November 8, 2017).

(35) Jason Horowitz, "Anti-Migrant Anger Boils in Italy, and Populists Fan Flames," The New York Times, Tuesday, February 6, 2018, p. A4.

(36) "Italian General Elections, 2018," wiki/Italian_general_election,_2018 (accessed March 14, 2018).
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