The Racial Question

About the Images

The following citations are for the images shown above, left to right, illustrating books and other works included in the exhibit “Italian Life Under Fascism” in the Department of Special Collections in 1998.

  1. Paolo Orano. Gli Ebrei in Italia. 2nd ed. Rome: Casa Editrice Pinciana, 1938.
    • Orano’s diatribe (first published in 1937) provided the intellectual premise for the racial laws directed by Mussolini’s government against its Jewish subjects in the course of 1938. This subtle, nuanced, but devastating attack on Italy’s forty thousand Jews for their alleged Zionist sympathies, championing of “degenerate” avant-garde cultural expressions, and doubtful loyalty to the Fascist regime and its imperial claims, was an ominous prelude to the impending storm. Prompt responses to Orano’s work by prominent Jewish figures, also exhibited here, were to no avail. On loan from a private collection.
  2. Abramo Levi. Noi Ebrei. Rome: Casa Editrice Pinciana, 1937.
    • Levi’s Noi Ebrei, a response to Paolo Orano’s Gli Ebrei in Italia, is primarily an anthology of contemporary writings intended to demonstrate that the Jews in Italy, totaling a mere forty thousand in a population of forty-three million, did not constitute a problem for Italian society, but were instead loyal, fully integrated citizens, for the majority of whom Zionism had scarce appeal. Mussolini’s racial laws discriminating against Jews and depriving them of most of their civil rights were promulgated the following year.
  3. “Catholicus.” Io Cattolico e Israele. Rome: Pinciana, 1938.
    • This pseudonymous workbook of 1938 is another response to Paolo Orano’s book Gli Ebrei in Italia, agreeing with Orano’s contention that Jews, despite their small numbers, have a stranglehold on Italian life, dominating finance, industry, publishing, and so forth.
  4. Ettore Ovazza. Il Problema Ebraico. Risposta a Paolo Orano. Rome: Casa Editrice Pinciana, 1938.
    • On the eve of Mussolini’s discriminatory laws, this reply to Paolo Orano’s attack on Italian Jews came from the pen of a wealthy Piedmontese Jew who was also an ardent Fascist. He disclaimed Zionism and rejected any attempt to see Italian Jews as other than fully integrated into Italian culture and desirous of sharing the common destiny of the nation. Ironically, this champion of Fascism and his family were among the first victims of Nazi-Fascist persecution after Italy left the war in September 1943 and the Germans swiftly occupied the country. Less than a month later, Ovazza and his entire family were seized and brutally massacred on 9 October at Gressoney, near the Swiss border, while they attempted to flee to safety. On loan from a private collection.
  5. P.N.F. Il Primo Libro del Fascista. Rome: A. Mondadori, 1940.
    • As the introduction announces, “the first book of Fascism is a manual accessible to all to make known our Revolution, the Party, the Regime, and Mussolini’s State.” A short and concise history of Fascism is followed by questions and answers about the Duce, the Fascist revolution, the party, the army, the corporate state, and the defense of Italian purity. The chapter on “the defense of the race” explicitly excludes Jews from being considered of pure ancestral Italian blood and spells out government measures taken against them. Jews are accused, not without justification, of having led international efforts against Fascism.
  6. P.N.F. II Secondo Libro del Fascista. Rome: A. Mondadori, 1940.
    • School book containing Fascist guidelines for the treatment of the races, especially Jews. It discusses such questions as mixed marriages and the status of foreign Jews, with a series of official statements on race from 1917 to 1939.
  7. Liliana Picciotto Fargion. Il Libro della Memoria. Gli Ebrei deportati dall’Italia (1943-1945). Milan: Mursia, 1991.
    • This meticulously and painstakingly researched work reconstructs the deportation of Italian Jewry to the German death camps. Out of a Jewish population that by 1943 had been reduced by emigration to slightly over 40,000 (of whom 6,500 were foreigners), 6,746 were deported from Italy proper, and another 1,820 from the Dodecanese, Italian possessions in the Aegean. An additional 303 Jews were killed on Italian soil. Identities of at least 900-1,100 other victims have not been established. The present work lists in precise demographic detail the names of the known deceased together with the date and place of each arrest, initial place of incarceration, date of departure for Auschwitz, convoy number (forty-four trains set out from Italy), date of debarkation at the camp (the journey took about five days), and date of execution. For most, this was the same day as arrival. The cover photo shows two-year-old Fiorella Anticoli, seized with her entire family in the infamous roundup of almost 1,300 Roman Jews on 16 October 1943. The arrests were carried out by units of the S.S. specially trained for such “actions” and sent to the Italian capital for the purpose. Working under the very walls of the Vatican, the operation had to be carried out as efficiently and with as little tumult and commotion as possible. On loan from a private collection.

Additional Exhibit Items

The following items were part of the original exhibit in the Department of Special Collections but are not pictured above.

  • Gennaro Marciano. Tuteliamo e Difendiamo la Sanità della Razza! Rome: Stabilimento Tipografico Europa, 1933.
    • The question of defending the Italian race came up precociously — five years before the regime promulgated its discriminatory laws — in this appeal for a concerted campaign against tuberculosis.
  • Omnibus. Rome, 15 October 1938.
    • The newly promulgated antisemitic laws resulted in a ruthless press campaign; this issue of Omnibus, for example, contains a photograph of a so-called “ghetto industrialist,” a peddler of used razor blades.
  • Giorgio Pisanò. Mussolini e gli Ebrei. Milan: Edizioni FPE, 1967.
    • A post-World War II attempt by a well-known journalist to refute the argument that Mussolini and the Fascists had fully endorsed and wholly supported Germany’s antisemitic policies. It offers evidence that Italian troops of occupation in southern France and Croatia actually protected Jews pursued by Germany, Italy’s Axis ally.
  • 1938. A Cinquant’Anni dalle Leggi Razziali. Discriminazione e Persecuzione degli Ebrei nell’Italia Fascista. A cura di Ugo Caffaz. Florence: Consiglio Regionale della Toscana, 1988.
    • A commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Mussolini’s antisemitic measures, which began with a manifesto on the race prepared by Italian “scientists” on 14 July 1938 and continued with successive, ever more draconian, edicts throughout the year. The present publication collects much of this legislation, which expelled foreign Jews from Italian soil and deprived Italian Jews of their civil rights, stripped them of party membership, expelled them from the armed forces, removed them from their positions in government service (and, thus, from educational institutions), barred students from the universities and the public schools, banned marriages between Christians and Jews, forbade Christians from domestic employment in Jewish homes and Jews from the ownership and management of large corporations, among other punitive measures. One of the most valuable features of this small volume is its listing of every Jew expelled from public instruction, specifying university affiliation and discipline. Actual physical persecution of the Jews and their deportation to the death camps would not begin for another five years. In the interval, many families, including numerous Jewish intellectuals, emigrated or sought refuge in Switzerland, a brain drain comparable to the exodus of German Jews earlier in the decade. On 8 September 1943 Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. The Germans, anticipating this move, immediately occupied the country and within a matter of a few weeks began the roundups and deportations of Italian Jews, which lasted until the end of the war. They would shortly be joined in these actions by the militia of Mussolini’s reconstituted Fascist republic of Salò. On loan from a private collection.
  • La Menzogna della Razza. Documenti e Immagini del Razzismo e dell’Antisemitismo Fascista. A cura del Centro Furio Jesi. Bologna: Grafis, 1994.
    • The racial laws promulgated in rapid succession in 1938 were accompanied by a vicious press and literary campaign against the Jews. The most scurrilous of these publications was the journal La Difesa della Razza directed by Telesio Interlandi. A recent exhibition in Bologna (27 October to 10 December 1994) has displayed the Fascist regime’s prejudices against its black colonial subjects, homosexuals, and, principally, Jews. On loan from a private collection.