Much of the credit for the Fascist charge in the 20th century belongs to Mussolini. The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds nearly 1,000 pages that mention him.
There is an important anniversary this week; however, it is not an occasion for celebration. It is an anniversary of a dark day in European history. One hundred years ago, on Oct. 28, 1922, Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III handed power to Benito Mussolini and asked him to form a government. The king and his colleagues foolishly thought they could control Mussolini.
Mussolini, with the help of his fanatical henchmen, the “Black Shirts,” soon established a totalitarian state. This was the beginning of modern political Fascism in the world. Mussolini became an inspiration to Fascist idealogues such as Francisco Franco and his Falangists in Spain, and the worst of them all, Adolf Hitler and his Nazis in Germany. In fact, in the Dec. 29, 1922, issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, Hitler was cited as the “Bavarian Mussolini.”
Recently, we’ve witnessed the rise of extreme right-wing nationalism in Europe and America. De facto dictatorships rule in Hungary, Belarus, Russia and elsewhere. Last month, far-right parties gained significant power in democratic Italy and Sweden. The United States also has its extremists. One only needs to consider the infamous “Unite the Right” rally held five years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, by neo-fascists, neo-Nazis and other like-minded individuals.
Historically, Fascism has led to the worst forms of antisemitism. The Nazis promulgated the Holocaust. The participants in the “Unite the Right” rally spewed hatred of Jews. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in today’s America.
Much of the credit for the Fascist charge in the 20th century belongs to Mussolini. The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds nearly 1,000 pages that mention him. Although very interesting reading, the reports and articles are sobering, to say the least.
Beginning in 1922, Mussolini became a topic of news items and editorials in the Chronicle. For example, see the blunt editorial, “Fascismo and Democracy” in the July 18, 1924, issue: “We are opposed as much to a dictatorship of Mussolini and Fascismo as we are to Lenin, Trotsky, et al in Russia.” Mussolini is discussed in many additional editorials and articles in the 1920s.
In the 1930s, reports of Mussolini competed with those about Nazis, but he had not yet completely acquiesced to Hitler. In some instances, he is even portrayed as a defender of Jews.
Once World War II began, Mussolini is mentioned on hundreds of pages of both the Chronicle and the JN as an Axis leader. This was especially so after he embraced Hitler’s desire to round up Italian Jews for the concentration camps (Dec. 10, 1943, JN). In the aftermath of the war, until today, Mussolini remains a serious topic for historians, political scientists, and other writers and documentarians.
I decided to write this column after reading about the Brothers of Italy, a right wing descendent of a Fascist party formed after World War II. Last month, it emerged from elections as the largest political party in Italy. Its leader, Giorgia Meloni, has stated that “the Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Let’s hope this is the case. Too often, however, we’ve heard similar utterances from Mussolini and other Fascists, statements that turned out to be forlorn hopes.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.