Exposing Italian Crimes
Simon Levis Sullam reveals how Italian citizens were actively complicit in the extermination of Jews – and got away with it.
By Janet Levy, November 22, 2018
Contrary to the prevalent view that Italians were primarily among the so-called “righteous gentiles” who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Italy played a significant role in the genocide of its Jewish citizens.
Italians advanced blood libels, instituted persecutory racial laws, and later actively participated in the arrest and deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. In The Italian Executioners: The Genocide of the Jews in Italy, modern history professor Simon Levis Sullam explodes the myth of the “good Italians” promulgated after the war and exposes, for the first time, the cover-up of Italian responsibility.
As early as 1938, under the centralized authority of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), Italy introduced racial laws for its Jewish citizens that limited their economic activities, demonized them as inferior and enemies of the country, and persecuted them in employment, education and property ownership.
The Ministry of Popular Culture set up local centers to study the Jewish problem and crank out antisemitic propaganda for the media. A telling sentiment expressed on Radio Roma was the hope that “the Jews be burnt, one by one, and their ashes scattered in the wind.” All of this ultimately paved the way for Jewish annihilation.
Five years before any roundups began, Levis Sullam reveals, the Italian government conducted a complete census of the Jewish population and established an efficient bureaucracy to surveil and persecute this “disease of humanity.”
False and dehumanizing accusations about Jews, many promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church, were rampant.
Jews were viewed as deserving of segregation and persecution based on race alone. Officers in the Fascist National Republican Guard under Mussolini were well briefed in spiritual and biological racism theories.
From 1943 to 1945, a network of collaborators – police, militia members, customs officials and more – hunted Jews in their homes. They arrested, imprisoned and handed Jews over to the Germans for deportation to death camps. Jewish property and belongings were ransacked and stolen, often with impunity. Audaciously, Jewish victims of theft were charged an administrative fee for this confiscation of their assets, the book recounts.
To illustrate the depth of action undertaken by the complicit Italian population, the author describes the actions and involvement of three prominent community members. He shows how the sentiments of these people of note were representative of the general populace, helped create widespread hatred of Jews in the period leading to World War II and helped facilitate genocide.
Giovanni Preziosi, an RSI legislator, spearheaded the General Inspectorate of Race. He was responsible for identifying “racial status,” studying “racial questions,” disseminating antisemitic propaganda and devising solutions to the Jewish problem with full knowledge of the “final solution” adopted by the Germans. He was a willing and enthusiastic party to the joint Italian-German undertaking to perpetrate genocide. He was responsible for supervising the confiscation of Jewish property and infusing the educational system with antisemitic propaganda.
Giovanni Martelloni, a writer on the “Jewish question” and head of the Office of Jewish Affairs in Florence, joined the Inspectorate of Race in 1944 and carried out arrests and confiscations. An antisemitic writer who defined a “Jewish problem” that had plagued the world for 2,000 years, he was put in charge of coordinating anti-Jewish activities in Florence.
Physician and lecturer Giocondo Protti supported racist legislation and authored articles such as “The Jews as the Disease of Humanity” and “The Tragedy of Israel.” He ranted about the corrosive Jewish effect on society that he claimed was congenital and couldn’t be reversed by conversion.
The Italians proved useful to the Nazis.
They seized half of the country’s Jews and even ran their own concentration camp at Fossoli di Carpi, a way station for transport to Auschwitz. The camp was operated by Italian Fascist militias and strategically located close to a railway line. In his book, Levis Sullam, referring to an official document that called for a search for a second concentration camp, reasons that a network of labor camps likely existed in Italy. Operations against the Jews were carried out in Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice and other regions throughout the country.
The author describes many instances of Italians who served as informers and extracted large sums of money from Jews who wanted to cross the Swiss border.
Along the way, the guides, motivated by financial gain, personal vendettas or political convictions, betrayed the escaping Jews, alerted the authorities and collected a bounty for their capture.
At the close of the war, attempts were undertaken to recast the role of the Italian executioners. Remarkably, no one was ever prosecuted for carrying out Fascism’s antisemitic policies since persecution of the Jews was not considered a crime. By the summer of 1946, approximately 10,000 of the 13,000 people who had been convicted of wartime-related activities were granted amnesty and cleared of guilt and responsibility.
Italians who had engaged in enacting and carrying out racist legislation were fully able to flourish in their postwar careers, with some even going on to serve as judges and in political office.
The author discusses the peculiar “removal” of Italian responsibility and its replacement with historical accounts featuring the “good Italian” and their “tolerance and kindheartedness” toward Jews. Often, to move on with their lives, Jews accepted and supported this fallacious narrative.
Italians were falsely presented as opposing the German extermination policy and doing all they could to save Jews.
With the postwar whitewashing of their Holocaust role, Italians moved from the “era of the witness,” which highlighted the victims’ plight during genocide, to the “era of the savior,” in which Italy celebrates its role as alleged rescuer of Jews. The country has failed to recognize its own complicity in the murder of its Jewish citizens, bypassing the “era of the executioner.” That step would require the country to confront its woeful participation, faithfully described in this trailblazing book. Hopefully, Sullam’s account will begin this process with his uncovering of the Fascist regime’s role as a willing Holocaust perpetrator.
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From: Gerald Honigman Dec 2, 2018
Right near Rome’s Colosseum stands the towering Arch of Titus. It was built soon after the first major revolt of Judea for freedom (66-73 C.E.). Contemporary Roman historians recorded the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews
So, unfortunately, the Italians have had a long history of hostility towards Jews which preconditioned them to what Janet Levy writes about in her eye-opening review of this painful new book about Italian active complicity in the Holocaust.