A tight, focused history of “the Italians who contributed to the genocide of the Jews” during World War II.
About 9,000 of Italy’s 47,000 Jews were deported to Nazi extermination camps after 1943. This is minuscule compared with tiny Belgium or Holland, but the details are no less shameful. In this short academic—but not turgid—monograph, Sullam (Modern History/Ca’ Foscari Univ. of Venice; Giuseppe Mazzini and the Origins of Fascism, 2015) carefully documents Italian government complicity in the Holocaust. After the war, Italy joined other European nations in suppressing information about their complicity. According to the author, “Italy boasts dozens of centers for the study of the Resistance but few for the study of Fascism. Yet the Resistance lasted a year and a half and involved only limited parts of the country and a small minority of Italians. By contrast, the Fascist regime lasted two decades, covered the whole country, and involved millions.” Mussolini paid little attention to anti-Semitism until 1938, when, responding to Hitler’s hectoring, he promulgated Italy’s racial laws, which restricted Jews’ civil rights and banned them from public office. Little happened until after the 1943 Allied invasion, when Mussolini was driven from office. The Nazis restored him but took over governing and quickly announced that it was time to round up the Jews. Finding Jews required the close cooperation of local governments. In nations that refused—e.g., Denmark and Bulgaria—Jews weren’t deported. Sadly, Italian officials went along, and Sullam delivers precise details of the bureaucratic maneuvering and tactics of various regions, the individuals who carried them out, and their postwar fates. Few were prosecuted, and almost all convicted were amnestied.
Stories of individuals rescuing Jews fill popular histories of that period, but Sullam’s fresh, pointed research makes it depressingly clear that most Italians kept quiet and officials followed orders.