Retrospective: an infamous anniversary

Much of the credit for the fascist accusation in the 20th century belongs to Mussolini. The William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History contains nearly 1,000 pages that mention him.

There is a major anniversary this week; however, it is not a celebratory occasion. It is the anniversary of a dark day in European history. A hundred years ago, on October 28, 1922, the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III handed over 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 “Blackshirts”, quickly established a totalitarian state. This was the beginning of modern political fascism in the world. Mussolini became an inspiration to fascist ideologues such as Francisco Franco and his Falangists in Spain, and worst of all, Adolf Hitler and his Nazis in Germany. In fact, in the December 29, 1922 issue of the Detroit Jewish ChronicleHitler was referred to as the “Bavarian Mussolini”.

Recently, we have seen the rise of far-right nationalism in Europe and America. De facto dictatorships reign 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. Just consider the infamous “Unite the Right” rally held five years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia by neo-fascists, neo-Nazis and other like-minded people.

Historically, fascism has led to the worst forms of anti-Semitism. The Nazis enacted the Holocaust. Participants in the “Unite the Right” rally spewed hatred of Jews. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident in America today.

Much of the credit for the fascist accusation in the 20th century belongs to Mussolini. The William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History contains nearly 1,000 pages that mention him. While very interesting to read, the reports and articles are sobering to say the least.

From 1922, Mussolini became the subject of news and editorials in the the Chronicle. For example, see the direct editorial “Fascismo and Democracy” in the July 18, 1924 issue: “We are as opposed to a Mussolini dictatorship and fascism as we are to Lenin, Trotsky and others in Russia. Mussolini is discussed in many editorials and supplemental articles in the 1920s.

By the 1930s, reports of Mussolini rivaled those of the Nazis, but he had yet to fully acquiesce in Hitler. In some cases, he is even presented as a defender of the Jews.

Once World War II began, Mussolini was mentioned on hundreds of pages from both the the Chronicle and the jn as Axis leader. This was especially the case after he embraced Hitler’s desire to round up Italian Jews for concentration camps (December 10, 1943, jn). In the aftermath of the war, until today, Mussolini remains a serious subject 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 descendant of a fascist party formed after World War II. Last month it emerged from elections as Italy’s largest political party. Its leader, Giorgia Meloni, said “the Italian right has been putting fascism back in history for decades, unequivocally condemning the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws”.

Let’s hope that’s the case. Too often, however, we have heard similar statements from Mussolini and other fascists, statements that turned out to be vain hopes.

You want to know more ? Access the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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