Berlusconi defence of Mussolini at Holocaust service causes outrage
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has courted controversy by suggesting that “apart from the racial laws”, Benito Mussolini had done all right.
Mr Berlusconi, who is leading the centre-right in the current general election campaign, made his highly controversial remarks while attending a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Milan yesterday.
“It is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of those who decided those things back then [in the second World War], certainly the government of that time,” he said, “given that it was frightened that German power might become a German victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler’s Germany rather than to oppose it.
Forced to take part
“Within the context of this alliance, Italy was forced to take part in the persecution and extermination of the Jews. Thus you could say that the racial laws were the worst thing that the regime did. Apart from that, though, in many other ways, the [Mussolini] regime had done well . . . ”
Renzo Gattegna, head of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities, called the comments “superficial and inopportune” and “deprived of historical foundation”.
“The persecutions and the anti-Jewish racial laws were in place before the war and were autonomously introduced by the fascist regime, which later became an ally and enthusiastic accomplice of Nazi Germany, all the way to the final catastrophe for Italy.”
Mr Gattegna totally rejected Mr Berlusconi’s claim that Italy somehow did not quite know what it was getting itself into and that its moral responsibility was “different” from that of Germany. On the contrary, he said, Mr Berlusconi’s comments showed how difficult it remained for Italy “to truly come to terms with its own history and its own responsibilities”.
Centre and centre-left politicians joined in with the condemnation of Mr Berlusconi’s comments, widely labelled as “shameful”.
Anna Finocchiaro of the Democratic Party said: “Berlusconi’s words are outrageous, Mussolini and his regime were guilty, not only of introducing the atrocious racial laws but also many other things, starting with the suppression of democracy in our country and ending with the pact with Nazi Germany.”
About 8,000 Italian Jews were deported to their deaths in concentration camps during the second World War. In the wake of the 1938 racial laws, the Mussolini regime systematically confiscated Jewish property and dismissed Jews from jobs in the civil service, in schools, universities and in the banking and insurance industries.