Sylvio Berlusconi Sparks Italy Outrage by Praising Mussolini at Holocaust Event

Defends Fascist Leader Who Backed Nazis

Trains on Time: Sylvio Berlusconi chose a Holocaust remembrance event to offer praise for Nazi ally Benito Mussolini.
getty images
Trains on Time: Sylvio Berlusconi chose a Holocaust remembrance event to offer praise for Nazi ally Benito Mussolini.

By Reuters

Published January 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi triggered outrage from Italy’s political left on Sunday with comments defending fascist wartime leader Benito Mussolini at a ceremony commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Speaking at the margins of the event in Milan, Berlusconi said Mussolini had been wrong to follow Nazi Germany’s lead in passing anti-Jewish laws but that he had in other respects been a good leader.

“It’s difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time,” said Berlusconi, who is campaigning for next month’s election at the head of a coalition that includes far-right politicians whose roots go back to Italy’s old fascist party.

“Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler’s Germany rather than opposing it,” he said.

“As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combatting and exterminating Jews,” he told reporters. “The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well,” he said, referring to laws passed by Mussolini’s fascist government in 1938.

Although Mussolini is known outside Italy mostly for the alliance with Nazi Germany, his government also paid for major infrastructure projects as well as welfare for supporters.

Berlusconi’s comments overshadowed Sunday’s commemoration of thousands of Jews and others deported from Italy to the Nazi death camps of eastern Europe. They were condemned as “disgusting” by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is leading in the polls ahead of the Feb. 24-25 election.

“Our republic is based on the struggle against Nazi fascism and these are intolerable remarks which are incompatible with leadership of democratic political forces,” said Marco Meloni, the PD’s spokesman for institutional affairs.

Antonio Ingroia, a former anti-mafia magistrate campaigning at the head of a separate left-wing coalition, said Berlusconi was “a disgrace to Italy”.

It was not the first time Berlusconi has defended Mussolini, whose status in Italy remains deeply ambiguous 67 years after he was executed by communist partisans while trying to flee to Switzerland in April, 1945.

Many Italian politicians, including the speaker of the Lower House of parliament, Gianfranco Fini, come from the ranks of the old Italian Social Movement (MSI) which grew out of the fascist party, although Fini and others have renounced the far right.

Others, including Francesco Storace, Berlusconi’s candidate for president of the Lazio region, have stayed true to what they see as the “social-right” tradition of the fascist movement.

Monuments to Mussolini, who came to power in 1922, still dot many Italian cities, including Rome, where a column to Il Duce stands close to the city’s main football stadium, within a stone’s throw of the foreign ministry.

Although never as fervently anti-semitic as his Nazi allies, Mussolini’s government persecuted Italy’s Jewish population, which was then estimated to number about 40,000, according to the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre in Milan.

The 1938 laws imposed oppressive restrictions on Jews and some 10,000 are estimated to have been deported from Italy between September 1943 and March 1945. Most of them died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

While anti-semitic behaviour has not been as prominently reported in Italy in recent years as in neighbouring countries such as France, acts ranging from anti-Jewish graffiti to chants at football matches occur periodically.

“We must be very careful to ensure that these sparks, which recur every now and then, cannot bring back tragedies which humanity should not suffer again,” outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Sunday.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.