(By Our Rome Correspondent, David Kleinlerer)
The position of the Jews in Fascist Italy and the role of individual Jews in the Fascist regime, are of more than ordinary interest when it is remembered that the Italian Jews are known traditionally as fighters for liberalism. The movement of liberalism in Italy, seeking the separation of church and state and the complete equality of all citizens, found some of its most valuable and loyal champions among the Jews.
Two Jewish statesmen, Luigi Luzzatti and Sonino, were over a period of many years among the most powerful defenders of Italian liberalism. A Jewish General and Minister for War, Otolengui, who for many years was instructor to the present King of Italy, did much to make liberal influence felt at court and the King himself was largely influenced by his liberal ideas.
The patriotic participation of the Italian Jews in the Great War (two of the three university professors who were killed were Jews, Viterbo and Levi), the activity of the Jews in the Trieste Irredentist movement which was almost entirely led by Jews (Baasilai, Seure, Maier, Venizian, and others), and the support given by the Jews to the various Liberal Governments over a course of many years, not only strengthened the prestige of the Jewish element in Italy, but definitely linked up its destiny with the destiny of Italian liberalism.
The rise of Fascism, which declared war against the whole of the liberal regime, therefore necessarily put the Jews in a difficult position and made them uncertain with regard to their future. Italian Jewry as a whole has for that reason maintained an attitude of reserve with regard to Fascism and the Mussolini Government. There was some anxiety even lest the cloud of anti-Semitism appear in the hitherto clear sky of Italy.
However, Mussolini has realized the difficult position in which Italian Jewry was placed by the fall of the liberal regime and he has realized also the value of the Jews to Italy, their patriotic zeal and their influence in the country, and he did his utmost therefore not to alienate the Jews and to win them over to his side, especially in the early period of his Government.
Mussolini himself, by the way, had many close friends among the Jews who helped him considerably at the beginning of his remarkable political career. There was Finci, one of the foremost of Italian airmen, who, together with d’Annunzio, conducted the Fiume campaign. Finci was for long Mussolini’s right hand man and when the Black Shirts occupied Rome Mussolini made Finci the Minister of the Interior. Finci held this post until his part in the Matteoti affair forced him to resign.
One of Mussolini’s closest friends is the famoous Jewish authoress of Milan, Margherita Sarfati, who for a time collaborated with the Duce in editing the official organ of the Fascist party, “La Gerarchia.” Margherita Sarfati is undoubtedly one of the central figures of the Fascist movement and enjoys great influence with the Italian dictator, and her biography of him is the standard work on Mussolini and has been translated into several languages. There is another Jewess holding an important place among the Fascists, the Jewish artiste Amalia Besso, who till quite recently was President of the Federation of the Fascist Women. Her daughter also is married to the President of the highest Italian Court of Appeal, d’Amelius.
A Jewish student, ### Levi, was President of the Fascist Students’ Unions during 1922-23, and there are several Jews today at the head of the various Italian provinces.
When Mussolini set up a commission of fifteen learned lawyers in order to make changes in the Italian Constitution in consonance with Fascist principles, he included three Jews. Professors Arias, Barone and Levi, and entrusted them with the most important of the work to be carried out in connection with his projected constitutional changes. In the parliamentary elections of April 1924, two Jews were elected on the Fascist ticket, Olivetti representing Italian big industry, and the well-known poet and playwright Sem Benelli. In the same elections, the Fascist party made wide use of a leaflei giving a speech by the American Jewish millionaire Otto Kahn, in praise of the Fascist Government and its leader Benito Mussolini.
Mussolini’s declaration in parliament that Italian Fascism has no anti-Semitic tendencies and the assurances he gave the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Dr. Sacercloti, have done much to promote the rapprochement between Italian Jewry and the new regime, especially in the economic and financial sphere.
The attempts of the Fascist Deputy Preziosi to carry on an anti-Semitic campaign in his paper “La Vita Italiana” has found no response in public opinion, perhaps for the simple reason that Italians can place no faith in a paper which includes among its collaborators German Hackenkreuzlers, the must embittered enemies of Italy.
Although Fascism has meant a great strengthening of the nationalist movement in Italy and on account of its pro-Pope policy has enhanced the clerical influence, it has nevertheless not allowed itself to be led into an anti-Semitic policy, for Fascism puts great value on the patriotic spirit of the Jewish population.
That this is so, is due largely to the splendid loyalty of the Italian Jews to Italy and to the great sacrifices of a number of Jews and Jewesses for the Fascist cause in the first difficult period of its existence and to their close personal friendship with the Fascist leader, Mussolini.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.