Previous posts in this discussion:
PostMussolini, RSI and Italy's Jewish Population (from Eugenio Battaglia) (John Eipper, USA, 02/13/13 7:41 am)
Eugenio Battaglia replied to my comments on his posting of 11 February:
My thanks to John Eipper for publishing the second part of my history of the Italians of the Eastern Adriatic, even if he believes it might be more controversial than my Part I.
JE pointed correctly that with the RSI it was the last time that the Tricolore flew over the city of Fiume. In Italy, April 25 is a national holiday remembering the liberation of Italy. However, for the Italians of the Eastern Adriatic, it connotes exile and the loss of all their belongings.
It is difficult to speak about nostalgia for the RSI, but it is possible to remember the commitment and sacrifice of the young and very young men who joined the Armed Forces of the RSI. They knew that they were doomed, but volunteered to save the honour of Italy. I have a friend that at 15 years of age joined the Fiamme Bianche (White Flames). They were supposed to receive only military training, but ended up in combat. This fellow was put in charge of an antitank gun, and distinguished himself fighting against the Allies crossing the river Po. He received one of the very last decorations, the Iron Cross, from the German commander of the large unit to which he was attached. After the surrender, the communist partisans arrived, who sought to put these boys in front of the firing squad. Fortunately for them, some US Officers arrived in Jeeps, who saved him and his comrades.
About JE's question whether the RSI followed orders to deport Jews, the answer is absolutely not. On the contrary, they offered a degree of protection. I already wrote about the family of the lawyer Del Vecchio hiding in the attic of the Government Palace in Milano. Sadly, many Jews were indeed imprisoned in some camps in Italy (Fossoli) but they were supposed to be under protection. The majority of the deportations to Germany occurred when the RSI was not yet active. Some may remember the fascist Perlasca, who passed himself off as Spanish Consul in Hungary, and saved many Jews in Budapest. Palatucci, chief of the RSI police in Fiume, managed to "disappear" more than 1000 Jews by giving them false documents and placing them in the neighborhoods. When in August 1944 the SS decided to deport the Jews from Fiume, none were found, so they arrested Palatucci on charges of taking bribes to save enemies. In spite of protests from the RSI, he was deported to Dachau, where he died few days prior to the liberation of the camp. (Two versions of his death exist: that he was shot or died of typhus. The latter is probably the case.)
However, in Italy there were also some fierce enemies of the Jews, such as Giovanni Preziosi, famous for publishing the "Protocols of the old wise men of Zion" or whatever its title might be English. Preziosi was never liked by Mussolini.
Unfortunately, in the first days after September 8 1943, several Italians joined the Germans or with their help organised some groups called "autonomous police" under the SS. These persons on several occasions participated in rounding up Jews. (The RSI tried to eliminate this groups.)
Finally, in a battery of the RSI division San Marco in Savona, there was a Jew enrolled as a soldier. He surprised his comrades with his "funny" way of not eating some foods and praying on Saturday. I have no idea how this young Jewish man could enroll.
I believe that the history of the Jews in Italy from the triumph of 1931 to the abyss of the 1944/45 should be better known. For instance, there were 746 Jews who participated to the Fascist March on Rome. In 1931 the Jewish Community received very liberal laws for conducting their internal affairs. The infamous racial laws of 1938 (which at first were conceived in order not prevent mixed-race people in the African territories) were perhaps anti-Zionist rather than anti-Semitic. In fact said laws were not applicable to the Jews who:
a) were in a family of a fallen soldier in the previous wars:
b) injured or decorated or volunteers in previous wars;
injured for having been attacked as a Fascist;
members of the Fascist Party in the years 1919-22, in the second half of 1924, ex-volunteers at Fiume with D'Annunzio;
those who had acquired special merits;
category b) was for all the family members of these individuals, too.
The independence of the RSI was real in front of the powerful Third Reich. The Government had to fight harsh battles with the Germans who were mainly concerned with their interests. Some Germans could not digest the treason of Italy's surrender to the Allies on September 8 1943, and others, especially Austrians, would have liked to go back to the "good old days" when they were the masters of Italy's northeast. For instance, when Hitler declared the military administration of the Alpenvorland (Trento, Bolzano and Belluno) and Kustenland (Trieste, Pola, Fiume, Udine and Gorizia), the soldiers of the RSI started singing songs about how the borders could not be touched and that they were ready to fight to defend them. As I said earlier, officially these two military administrations were not supposed to eliminate the Italian sovereignty.
JE comments: Giovanni Palatucci was named a "Righteous Among the Nations" in 2005:
Interestingly, the above article, as well as Palatucci's Wikipedia bio, make no mention that he was an RSI official. Rather, it is suggested that he sort of "hung around" as de facto Police Chief in Fiume after the Italian surrender of September 1943. Is this information incorrect, and has Palatucci's story been sanitized to protect his reputation from association with the loathed RSI?
This leads to a question about the Mussolini bureaucrats in the North: like Palatucci (if I understand correctly), did all the civil servants from the Old Regime keep their jobs during the short-lived RSI?
Once again, my thanks to Eugenio Battaglia for walking us through the complexities of Mussolini's "Jewish policy," both pre-1943 and under the RSI. It's a story that has been vastly oversimplified in the popular historical memory.