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Italian Anti-Semitism

The first victims of “the battle of the race,” which the Italian government has just launched, have been those who saw in fascism the continuation of the “Roman Tradition” The Pope, we know, has protested against the association of this civil universalism with religious universalism. “The Romans,” he said, “had not even a word to indicate the concept of race!”

In fact, the idea of and the word for race are of quite recent origin. The Italians and the Germans got both from France. And it isn’t so very long ago that the Germans did not even use the word Rasse, but the French equivalent race, which was taken from the writings of Count Joseph Arthur Gobineau [the originator of a racial theory and the first to use the word “Aryan” in its mistaken racial, instead of its correct linguistic sense. -Translator]. It seems also certain that the French word race comes from the Spanish raza and that the Spaniards, in turn, received it from North Africa, where it had transmigrated from Ethiopia. In the Amharic language, spoken in the latter country, even today ras indicates the chief. The word razza, which Mussolini has just adopted in his political dictionary, is therefore neither Latin nor Aryan, but Semitic in origin.

The Roman Tradition. - The President of the American Zionists, Rabbi Goldmann of Chicago, in 1932 paid a visit to Mussolini. The conversation exchanged between them is a matter of record. “In Italy,” declared Mussolini, “there will never be any anti-Semitism.” (Alas, no man is a prophet in his own country.) “The Jews were numerous even at the time of the burial of Julius Caesar,” added II Duce.

The Rabbi: “On that occasion they wept even more than the Romans themselves.” Mussolini, intrigued: “Who told you that?”

The Rabbi: “The historian Suetonius, Your Excellency, the biographer of the Caesars.”

Mussolini: “Why did the Jews weep so much?”

The Rabbi: “Because they are a grateful people and have an excellent memory for any favors they receive.The Roman administration was in the habit of distributing the doles to the unemployed on Saturdays. This caused the Jews among the unemployed religious scruples. When this was brought to his attention, Caesar promptly gave orders to relieve the impecunious Jews on Sundays henceforth.”

It would be stretching a point to see in this historic episode recalled by Dr. Goldmann a proof of the Roman republic’s social conscience in its attitude toward “foreign labor.” Such sentiments would have been anachronistic. In the framework of a political demagogy designed to assure to the dictator the support of the Roman plebs against the patricians, this was merely a gesture of political tolerance for a foreign custom. And tolerance was the very foundation of the Roman Empire.

The first meeting between Romans and Jews had taken place in the year 140 B.C. One of the founders of the Maccabean dynasty, Simon Maccabeus, sent a delegation to Rome to propose to the Senate an alliance against the Syrians. The agreement was duly concluded. Since that time Rome has had a permanent Jewish colony. Jewish legionaries rendered important services to Caesar in Egypt. Caesar understood the great value of the cooperation of this active and intelligent people in holding his empire together. The same politics were followed by his successors. Even the Roman wars of 60 B.C. and 70 A.D. against the Jews in Palestine failed to change in the least the situation of the Jewish residents of Rome, whose number increased by the ransom of prisoners of war. Tertullian tells us that at the end of the Second Century the Jews had the privilege of special tribunals, presided over by rabbis and judges of their own faith.

The Jewish Renaissance in Italy. - Until the ninth century, the center of the post-Biblical Jewish cult remained in Asia Minor, then from the ninth up to the fourteenth, it moved to Spain, and was established in Italy from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The Italian renaissance was instrumental in bringing about an authentic Jewish renaissance which lasted until the beginning of the last century. In an epoch in which Jews “were expelled from many other countries, they received asylum in Italy. This asylum, it is true, was strictly circumscribed, but at least it allowed them to save their cultural patrimony and to give it new scope. The Jewish communities on the Italian peninsula became the spiritual center of international Judaism. The title of “Prince of the Community” was conferred upon the Italian rabbis. In spite of restrictions of a material nature, poetry, the drama, philology, biblical exegesis and law reached a very high level. Even now their riches have remained partially unexplored by critical research. Modern Jewish literature in Germany, Poland, the United States and other countries is merely the continuation of Jewish literature in Italy.

The Jews during the Risorgimento. - It is a well known fact that there were several Jews among the volunteers who donned the red shirt and followed Garibaldi. The hero of Garibaldi’s novel, “Cantoni il Volontario,” was a Jew. The Jewish Colonel Cesare Rovighi, aide-de-camp of King Victor Emmanuel II, was the founder of The Italian Israelitic Review. Though the Jews constituted only one per thousand of the population in 1848, their participation in the three wars for Italian independence was far higher in proportion, as follows:

In the war of 1848-49 …………………………… 1: 55

In the war of 1859 ………………………………… 1: 115

In the war of 1866 ………………………………… 1: 74

The defender of Venice against Austria was the Jew Daniele Manin. In addition to him, it is sufficient to recall, among others, his co-religionists Finzi, Pincherle, D’Acona, Sereni and Luzzato. After the unification of Italy a few Jewish personages played a political role of the very first rank. We shall only remind our readers of the following: Ernest Nathan, former follower of Mazzini—the father of Italian unity—who was mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1910: Luigi Luzzato, Minister of Finance from 1891 to 1906, head of the government in 1910, the founder of popular banks and an economist of repute} Sidney Sonnino, Foreign Minster from 1914 up to the Versailles Treaty; General Guiseppe Ottolenghi, Mimster of War.

The Jews and Facism - Approximately three thousand Jews were decorated for bravery during the Great War. Three Jewish university professors—Elie Levi, Adolfo Viterbi and Veneziani—were killed at the front.

In 1934 the King of Italy, receiving a delegation of foreign Jews, remarked with satisfaction that the Italian army counted eleven Jewish generals.

Before the war the Italian Senate, whose members were all appointed by the King, had thirty Jewish senators. Among the senators appointed by order of Mussolini, fourteen are Jews: Ancona, Artom, Barzilai, Delia Torre, Dieno, Levi, Loria, Lustig, Mayer, Morpurgo, Mortara, Segré, Sartori, Supino and Bolterra. Under fascism, 203 Jews are—or were until recently— professors, associate professors or lecturers at Italian universities. Fascism has increased rather than diminished their number.

Among these university scholars are many who have made valuable and lasting contributions to Italian science and culture. They have all sworn fealty to fascism. The Jew Giorgio del Vecchio was appointed rector of the University of Rome and he has never hidden his admiration for the Fascist State. The Jew Cammeo Federico prepared the judicial basis of the State’s reconciliation with the Vatican. The Jew Guido Jung was a member of the Mussolini government, as Minister of Finance. The Jew Ludovici Mortara, Minister of State, was appointed the first president of the Court of Appeals. Only two biographers of Mussolini have been able to obtain II Duce’s collaboration for their work: an Italian Jewess, Margherita Sarfatti, and a German Jew, Emil Ludwig. An Italian Fascist has just published a book on the economic development of Italy since the unification—“Storia di una Nazione Proleteria.” Its author is the Jew H. Fraenkel.

Mussolini has just ordered an inquiry into the number of Jewish members of the Fascist unions. In proportion to the entire Jewish population of Italy, the number of Fascist Jews is very high. Therefore, the attempt to justify anti-Semitism in Italy by an alleged anti-fascism of the Italian Jews is not only based on a false premise but is in fact utterly ridiculous. Certainly, Italian anti-fascism is honored to count within its ranks some personalities of Jewish origin, as for instance, Modigliani, the artist, Professor Max Ascoli, now of the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research in New York City, Terracini and several others. Also of Jewish extraction were the regretted Treves and Carlo and Nello Roselli [the latter two brothers, anti-Fascist journalists in exile, assassinated in the south of France by order of Mussolini. – Translator]. But these are only a small and élite minority.

If the majority of Italian Jews have manifested sympathy for fascism, the reason must not be looked for in their race or religion, but rather in the fact that Italian fascism has recruited the majority of its members precisely from among the social classes to which the majority of Italian Jewry belong. This explains the admiration for Mussolini exhibited by a number of German and American Jews, and by certain American publications.

The Sources of Italian Anti-Semitism. -Those who will now try to prove the incompatibility of this Italian neo-racism and Mussolinian fascist ideology, or Italian tradition, are forgetting an important fact: namely, that ideology has played only a fifth-rate part in the development of fascism! It was not ideology that determined the orientation of Mussolini’s movement; on the contrary, its ideology has constantly been modified by and adapted to the contradictory necessities of that movement. According to the varying circumstances, the opportunistic Duce has played in turn the part of a follower of Mazzini or of monarchism, of Nietzsche or of clericalism, of Sorel, Maurras, pragmatism or paganism. The nonplussed observer, confronted with the succeeding ideological turn-abouts of Italian fascism, will merely waste his time trying to find their sources in the writings and talks of II Duce. The real explanation can be found exclusively in the realistic difficulties of Mussolini’s policy. It is the policy of the Berlin-Rome axis that has engendered Italian racism. One does not have to be a prophet, one has merely to know Mussolini, to foresee that the new by-product will live only as long as the axis itself.

The present foreign policy of fascism is particularly misunderstood by the Italian Catholics and Jews. The silencing of the anti-Hitlerian sentiments of the Italian Catholics and Jews by all available means is one of the important tasks included in the ideological preparation for the next war. And so the racial campaign has become an integral part of the propaganda drive for that objective. Even though in Italy public opinion has none of the normal means of expression that obtain in the democratic countries, Mussolini has had to take into account the public’s mounting aversion to the axis since the annexation of Austria by Germany. And to the general reasons for the public’s dislike, the Catholic and Jewish opposition had added a specific one—their confessional solidarity with their German and Austrian brethren who are being persecuted.

Mussolini would never have engaged in the present anti-Semitic campaign if he hadn’t decided to persevere in the policy of the axis. It goes without saying that he will use anti-Semitism not only for the fundamental purpose of reinforcing the axis in Italian public opinion, but also to attain certain secondary objectives which are an intrinsic part of his domestic policy. Though there are only about 65,000 Jews in Italy (including approximately 20,000 foreign Jews, soon to be exiled) out of a total population of some forty-two and a half million, nevertheless this small minority wields considerable power in business and in the intellectual professions of certain cities. Thus, by anti-Semitic measures, the government can create openings, which in turn will spell advancement for starving intellectuals and maggoty business men. The new movement can also provide scapegoats to explain a number of curious bankruptcies.

In the region with which I am most familiar and which the reader may now know through my novel, “Bread and Wine,” there have never been any Jews. But the Fascist powers-that-be have considered it useful to install a Jew from Ferrera at the head of the union of peasant workers. By now he will have had to hand in his resignation and already they will be saying to the cafoni (indigent peasants): “It’s the Jew’s fault that you’re still poor.”

Italian racism will also be useful in scaffolding the national pride, now suffering from an inferiority complex aggravated by the increasingly intimate relationship with the blonde Germans.

A German scientist, in a recent book on philology, has had occasion to insinuate that Mussolini is probably of Tyrolean origin, and that his ancestors were called Musselein. And that is only the first step. The next edition of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” for the use of Fascist youth, will affirm that Aeneas, the son of Anchises and Aphrodite, did not arrive at the Latium from Troy, but from Oslo, and that therefore the Latins are not of Mediterranean, but of “Nordic” origin.