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HITLER PAYS STATE VISIT TO ITALY

Rome, Italy · May 3, 1938

On this date in 1938 Adolf Hitler began a six-day Ital­ian state visit to Rome, Naples, and Florence in a dis­play of Axis sol­i­darity. The choreo­graphed visit featured a parade by the Ital­ian armed forces (demon­stra­ting to German reviewers a lack of modern equip­ment), a review of the Ital­ian Navy (world’s fifth largest), a horse-drawn carriage ride into Rome’s city center with its historic archi­tecture (the Coliseum was illumi­nated by pyro­technics for the drive-by), and hours­long visits to the city’s museums and galleries. “Rome capti­vated me,” Hitler later remarked. To the Fuehrer’s annoy­ance, however, his host for the state visit was King Victor Emman­uel III, not Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.

This was not the first meeting between the two states­men. Hitler and Mus­so­lini had first met in Venice on the Ital­ian Adri­atic Coast in June 1934 and three years later in Ger­many, in Munich and Berlin. During that latter visit in Novem­ber 1937, Italy was prompted to join the sym­bolic anti-Com­intern Pact (anti-Com­mu­nist pact) directed against the Soviet Union, a pact that had already linked Germany and Japan.

The German leader’s 1938 visit to Italy had several im­por­tant objec­tives, one being Hitler’s show of grati­tude to Il Duce (Italian, “the leader”) for allowing, in a pre­arranged script, neu­tral Austria to be annexed to the Reich. The March 13 Anschluss (union) elimi­nated the buf­fer state between the two mili­ta­rized dicta­tor­ships that the Duce had long pre­ferred, a buf­fer that the Aus­trians had recently made cum­ber­some to Mus­so­lini’s thinking by their poli­tical dis­array. A second objec­tive was to secure Ital­ian neu­tra­lity when Hitler moved to occupy Czecho­slo­vakia with its Sudeten-German minority.

The third objective was to cement a bond of “eter­nal friend­ship” between the two dicta­tor­ships. This friend­ship logically led to the “Pact of Steel” (Ital­ian, “Patto d’Acciaio”) in 1939, which com­mitted both coun­tries to mutual sup­port in the event of war, though Mus­so­lini let the Ger­mans know that Italy would not be ready to wage war for sev­eral more years. The Pact (orig­i­nally named “Pact of Blood” which it did, in fact, become in June 1940), marked the for­mal crea­tion of the Rome-Berlin Axis, giving Italy an ally sym­pa­thetic to its pre­da­tory poli­cies in the Bal­kans and East Africa and Ger­many the ability to respond to poli­cies of en­circle­ment directed against it by the Western democracies—Great Britain, France, and Poland.





Mussolini and Hitler: On Route to the 1939 Blood Pact

Signing Pact of Steel, Berlin, May 22, 1939 Hitler and Eva Braun, Berghof 1942

Left: Signing the Pact of Steel in the Reich Chan­cel­lery, Berlin, May 22, 1939. From left, sitting, Italy’s Foreign Minis­ter Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mus­so­lini’s son-in-law; Adolf Hitler; and Ger­man For­eign Minis­ter Joachim von Rib­ben­trop. Behind Hitler, standing, is Luft­waffe chief chief Hermann Goering.

Right: Adolf Hitler with his mistress Eva Braun at the Berg­hof, the Fuehrer’s lux­u­ri­ous Bava­rian re­treat on the Ober­salz­berg, June 14, 1942. In her 1938 travel papers to Italy, the then 26‑year‑old Braun was given the fictitious title of “secretary.” Braun would even­tually become Hitler’s wife in April 1945, 40 hours before their suicides in the Fuerhrer­bunker beneath the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.

Hitler and Mussolini, Mussolini, Florence, Italy, May 1938 1941 Hitler and Mussolini stamp

Left: His face expressionless, Mussolini rides in a black con­ver­tible with Hitler in Florence, Italy, May 1938. City bells rang and Florentians waving banners bearing swas­tikas cheered the lumi­naries. Flying in tight forma­tions above their twenty-car motor­cade were air­planes of the Italian air force. Scrunched into Hitler’s 10 hours in Florence were visits to the Uffizi gal­leries and the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michel­angelo and Galileo were buried; dinner at the Palazzo Medici; and a Verdi perfor­mance. Through­out his six days in Italy, Hitler beamed and strutted like a pea­cock across his host’s stage, having pulled off his coup in Aus­tria (Anschluss) earlier in March after Musso­lini had abandoned his northern neighbor to the Nazi predator.

Right: 1941 German stamp of Hitler and Musso­lini. Trans­lation of text at the top: “Two Peoples and One Struggle.”

Hitler’s Visit to Rome, Naples, and Florence, Italy, May 1938. Foot­age from Ital­ian Newsreels (in Italian)


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