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Between the Lines

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The death of Dr. Angelo Sacerdoti, Chief Rabbi of Italy, is a blow not only to the World Jewish Congress, of which he was one of the organizers, but also to Jewish interests in Germany, Austria and in other countries where attention is paid to Mussolini’s opinions.

It was Dr. Sacerdoti, and no other, who succeeded in preventing an anti-Jewish boycott in Hitler’s Germany on large scale. When the boycott against the Jews was proclaimed in Germany on April 1, it was Dr. Sacerdoti who influenced Mussolini to warn Hitler that such a boycott was not advisable. The boycott was called off, though very few know that this step was taken by Hitler and Goebbels much against their will and only because of Mussolini’s intervention.

A similar situation arose in Austria where drastic anti-Jewish decrees were to be promulgated. Depending much on Mussolini’s good-will, the Austrian government refrained from proclaiming the projected anti-Jewish laws upon the advice of Mussolini.


Fate made Dr. Sacerdoti play perhaps the most important and responsible role in Jewish life during the last two years, since the Nazis came into power. Himself behind the scenes, he always succeeded in securing protection for Jews in Germany and Austria through Mussolini’s interference. He was the key man through whom Jewish organizations could approach Mussolini for assistance.

Many who were present in Geneva and who heard Dr. Sacerdoti advocate a united front for Jewish rights were at first startled. Coming as Dr. Sacerdoti did from a Fascist country, it was surprising to hear him speak of the necessity of a Jewish world representation on a democratic basis. This amazement evaporated later, however, when it was discovered that Mussolini himself permitted Dr. Sacerdoti to participate in the international Jewish conferences in Geneva held for the purpose of fighting for Jewish rights.


Dr. Sacerdoti was an intimate friend of Mussolini. He had won the confidence of the Fascist dictator, not as a Fascist but as a Jew. This confidence he used not for his personal interest but for the interest of Jewry as a whole. He influenced Mussolini on a number of occasions publicly to denounce anti-Semitism. These statements made at a time when the star of Hitler was rising were of great diplomatic value to the Jews. They have had an effect upon many Nazi leaders in Germany.

As to the role played by Dr. Sacerdoti in Italian Jewry, it is sufficient to say that he won the confidence of all the Jewish communities of Italy. He was strictly orthodox and was especially opposed to mixed marriages. In combating the growth of mixed marriages in Italy, he succeeded in inspiring stronger Jewish feelings in the Italian Jew.

Though a highly devoted patriot of Italy, Dr. Sacerdoti was also helpful to Zionist leaders in their work in Italy. He is responsible for a number of audiences procured by Weizmann and others with Mussolini.

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