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1938 Anti-Jewish legislation in fascist Italy

By Sara Berger and Marcello Pezzetti

Public opinion

Most of the non-Jewish Italian population, now defined as of ‘Aryan race’, approved of or adjusted to State anti-Semitism, showing an opportunistic indifference towards the tragic fate of their fellow ‘next-door’ citizens (‘Aryan’ MPs passed the persecution laws unanimously; ‘Aryan’ senators voted 154 ‘aye’ and 10 ‘no’).

Many took advantage of the disappearance of the Jews from universities, from public administration, liberal professions, and from the vast trade sector. Students and young intellectuals were among the main supporters and disseminators of racism and anti-Semitism, and the regime’s press praised persecution.

In December 1938, a ‘boycott’ action against Jewish economic activities took place in the whole country, with the support of the national press. Bills were posted with anti-Semitic phrases such as ‘Jews are not welcome’, ‘Aryan store’, etc.

In September and October 1941, a radical minority of the Fascist party launched violent attacks against the synagogues in Ferrara, Turin, Casale Monferrato, and Trieste, when they were not directed against individuals. In June 1942, the synagogue of Split (which was part of the Italian State) was brutally attacked by Fascists.

The hateful denunciation practice also spread consistently.

Only a few people, such as philosopher Benedetto Croce, director Arturo Toscanini, and Ernesta Bittanti, widow of irredentist Cesare Battisti, publicly staged their protest, subtly or in private, against State anti-Semitism (as in the then consolidated fascist dictatorship, this entailed serious risks).

The church itself merely protested against the prohibition of ‘racially mixed’ marriages and the persecution of baptized Jews.

Jews, who had been entirely excluded from Italian society, were then progressively abandoned to their tragic fate of persecution.

01 Padova

01 Padova

Padua, 19 December 1938. The Prefecture of the city reports to the Directorate General of Public Security ‘signs of pietism’ towards Jews. However, anti-Jewish legislation is strictly abided by. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

02 Vaticano

02 Vaticano

7 October 1938. The Italian Embassy at the Vatican reports the position of the Holy See regarding the ‘Declaration on race’. The only criticism is a ‘concern’ about the provisions concerning mixed marriages and Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Archivio Centrale...

03 Protestanti

03 Protestanti

Rome, September 1938. A ‘group of Roman Protestants’ declares its solidarity with the ‘Italian Israelite brothers’. Centro bibliografico dell’Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane, Roma

04 Bittanti (1) (2)

04 Bittanti (1) (2)

Milan, February 1939. Ernesta Bittanti (1871-1957), wife of the irredentist Cesare Battisti, performs a courageous gesture by publishing in the Corriere della Sera an announcement – partly censored – of the death of the Engineer Augusto Morpurgo. She reports this in...

04 Bittanti (3)

04 Bittanti (3)

Ernesta Bittanti Battisti at her desk, 1938. Museo storico in Trentino, Trento

04 Trieste

04 Trieste

Trieste, September 1938. An anonymous individual denounces an employee of the municipal tramways, Ignazio Isidoro Baroncelli (previously Grünhut), because he is allegedly a ‘Jew’. The Prefecture investigates and highlights that the denunciation is targeting a fervent...

06 Roma ambulanti

06 Roma ambulanti

Rome, January 1941. ‘Aryan’ street vendors do not want to stand near their ‘Jewish colleagues’. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

07 Roma

07 Roma

Rome, November 1941. In an anonymous letter to Mussolini anti-Jewish measures are proposed similar to those in force in Nazi Germany. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

08a Torino

08a Torino

Turin, November 1939. An unknown individual suspects that some Jews in the city, including former socialist publisher Arrigo Bonfiglioli (born in Ferrara in 1887), are involved in Georg Elser’s attack against Adolf Hitler, on 8 November 1939. Archivio Centrale dello...

08b Torino

08b Torino

Photo of Arrigo Bonfiglioli, from the Central Political Records Office. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

09 Trieste Castiglioni

09 Trieste Castiglioni

Trieste, November 1938. Mameli Castiglioni, non-Jewish owner of some shops, publishes an announcement in the main daily newspaper of the city to express his ‘Aryanism’ publicly. Il Piccolo, 20 November 1938. Archivio di Stato, Trieste

10 Milano Il Regime Fascista

10 Milano Il Regime Fascista

Milan, December 1938. Typical anti-Semitic poster. Il Regime Fascista, 18 December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

11 Milano Il messaggero

11 Milano Il messaggero

Milan, December 1938. Il Messaggero publishes the picture of the same ‘Aryan store’ as Il Regime Fascista. Il Messaggero, 16 December 1938. Biblioteca di storia moderna e contemporanea, Roma

12 Corriere della sera

12 Corriere della sera

Milan, December 1938. Putting up an anti-Semitic poster. Corriere della Sera, 17 December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

13 Milano Il popolo d’Italia

13 Milano Il popolo d’Italia

Milan, centre, December 1938. Poster with anti-Semitic text. Il Popolo d’Italia, 14 December 1938. Biblioteca di storia moderna e contemporanea, Roma

14 Firenze la nazione

14 Firenze la nazione

Florence, December 1938. Store with the inscription: ‘Entry forbidden for Jews’. La Nazione, December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

15 Roma Il Resto del Carlino,

15 Roma Il Resto del Carlino,

Rome, December 1938. Posting of anti-Semitic writings. Il Resto del Carlino, 17 December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

16 Bologna Il Resto del Carlino,

16 Bologna Il Resto del Carlino,

Bologna, December 1938. Posting of anti-Semitic writings. Il Resto del Carlino, 28 December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

17 Il Popolo di Trieste

17 Il Popolo di Trieste

Trieste, December 1938. News of anti-Semitic writings, which had appeared in the city. Il Popolo di Trieste, 17 December 1938. Biblioteca Civica ‘A. Hortis’, Trieste

18 Trieste Il Piccolo

18 Trieste Il Piccolo

Trieste, Volti di Chiozza 1, December 1938. Jews are invited not to enter the ‘Portici’ Coffee house. Le ultime notizie. Il Piccolo delle ore diciotto, 21 December 1938. Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, Milano

19 Il Popolo di Roma

19 Il Popolo di Roma

Rome, December 1938. Store with the inscription: ‘Attention. Entry forbidden to Jews’. Il Popolo di Roma, 15 December 1938. Biblioteca Civica ‘A. Hortis’, Trieste

20 Torino La Stampa

20 Torino La Stampa

Turin, December 1938. A library advertises the alleged ‘Aryanness’ of its employees. La Stampa, 18 December 1938. Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica Giovanni Spadolini, Roma

21 Comune di Torino

21 Comune di Torino

Turin, circa 1938, Anti-Semitic writing in a pub. Istituto piemontese per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea ‘Giorgio Agosti’ (Istoreto), Torino

22 Scritte Venezia

22 Scritte Venezia

Venice, March 1940. The Prefecture reports the posting of anti-Semitic bills in town. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

23 Bergamo

23 Bergamo

Bergamo, Sacerdote clothing stores. ‘Leprous Jew’ and other anti-Semitic writings. Sacerdote Family Collection, Bergamo / Fondazione Bergamo nella storia

24 Negozio ebreo

24 Negozio ebreo

Trieste, 1942. ‘Jewish store closed forever’. Graffiti on a shop window in Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 24 (nowadays Corso Italia). It is Giacomo Zitrin’s fabric and clothes store, with adjacent tailor’s workshop. The store was closed in 1940. Fondazione Centro di...

25 Manifesti Roma

25 Manifesti Roma

Rome, July 1941. Anti-Semitic flier, entitled ‘Down with Jews’, distributed in the capital. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

26 Aldo Gay

26 Aldo Gay

Rome, 1940s. Painter Aldo Gay draws the aggressions he suffered by anti-Semitic gangs at the Portico d’Ottavia (1940) and in via Appia (19 July 1943). Gai Family Collection, Roma

27 Trieste

27 Trieste

Trieste, October 19, 1941. The Legione territoriale carabinieri reali describes the anti-Jewish devastation performed by approximately 80 Fascists in a report for the Ministry of the Interior. Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma

28 Trieste 1941

28 Trieste 1941

Trieste, October 1941. The Synagogue soiled by fascist squads. Istituto regionale per la storia del movimento di liberazione nel Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trieste

29 Trieste 1942

29 Trieste 1942

Trieste, July 1942. The interiors of the Synagogue devastated by the fascists. Archivio fotografico dell’Istituto regionale per la storia del movimento di liberazione nel Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trieste

30 Ferrara

30 Ferrara

Ferrara, September 1941. The Temple of Spanish rite devastated by Fascists. Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, Milano

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