24 June 2011

Fascists, SS, and plunder in wartime Italy

After the promulgation of the anti-Jewish laws of November 1938 by Mussolini’s Fascist government, Jews living in Italy became second- and third-class citizens overnight.

Eventually, the same pattern that afflicted their brethren in Germany and Austria befell the Jews of Italy, after living under the illusion that they were protected owing to their high levels of assimilation in Italian society. Social, cultural, economic, professional exclusions, evictions, and pauperization became the three pillars of their calvary in that crucial period prior to the German invasion of Italy in mid-1943.

Thinking that conversions might help them, close to 6000 Jews may have left the Jewish faith, at least on paper, in order to forestall further persecutions. Others chose to leave while some committed suicide.

It is worth remembering, in any discussion pertaining to economic loss and forced sales, that the reduction to second- and third-class citizenship is a direct invitation to wholesale persecution, harassment, and exploitation.

After the German conquest of Italy—let’s call it for what it is!—and the imposition of military rule anchored in racialist hatred, the SS set about importing to Italy the ingredients and mechanics of the Final Solution--location, identification, mass roundups, incarceration, concentration, and deportation.

This is where the most skeptical should revisit their cynicism about how Italy should not be treated like other European countries at the core or periphery of the Final Solution because of how nice Italians were to the Jewish populace. Granted, many Italians were scandalized by the rudeness and cruelty visited upon their Jewish neighbors and friends by the invaders from the North. But was it because they wished for an “Italian” solution to the Jewish “Problem” as was the expressed desire of the Vichy Fascists who regretted the heavy-handedness of the German occupiers in wartime France? As noted by German propaganda specialists in the RSHA, that was indeed the wish expressed by their Fascist allies, that they should be left to take care of their Jewish problem.

Nevertheless, opportunity has a tendency to knock only once. When thousands of Jews were forcibly removed from their homes in order to be incarcerated and deported, it should come as no surprise that a number of those homes were ‘liberated’ and ‘occupied’ by good Italians, Fascist ones at that.

Questions to answer:

  • What happened to those properties?
  • What happened to the contents of those ‘liberated’ homes? 
  • Did the postwar Italian government go after those responsible for the illegal seizures who were not acting on German orders?