Rome, Italy November 17, 1938

On July 14, 1938, Italy’s Manifesto of Racial Scientists (Mani­festo Degli Scien­ziati Raz­zisti) laid out a scien­ti­fic expla­na­tion for the poli­tics of bio­logical racism. Signed by 42 emi­nent Italians, the mani­festo, published in Il Giornale d’Italia, a news­paper strongly supporting Benito Mus­so­lini’s Fascist regime, declared that Ital­ians belonged to the Nordic race and were com­pletely “Aryan,” while Jews, being “Semitic,” “do not belong to the Ital­ian race” and “repre­sent the only popu­la­tion which has never assim­i­lated in Italy.” “It is time,” the Manifesto of Race insisted, “that the Ital­ians pro­claim them­selves frankly racist.” The mani­fes­to, exposed days later by the Ital­ian news­paper Il Popolo d’Italia to have been written in the Minis­try of Popular Cul­ture on Musso­lini’s instruc­tions, was thus pre­lude to Ital­ian racist laws, or Laws for the Defense of the Race (Provvedi­menti per la difesa della razza italiana), published on this date, November 17, 1938.

Owing something to the Nazis’ anti-Semi­tic Nurem­berg Laws of 1933–1935, as well as to Adolf Hitler’s never losing an oppor­tu­nity to pres­sure Mus­so­lini on the sub­ject of race, the Laws for the Defense of the Race reversed more than a cen­tury of social and eco­no­mic inte­gra­tion by Italy’s tiny and highly assimi­lated Jewish minor­ity. Among others things the new laws decreed that mar­riages between Aryans and non-Aryans (which included Italy’s North and East African sub­jects) were hence­forth illegal, banned Jews from em­ploying domes­tic ser­vants “of the Aryan race,” banned their books and publications, banned Jews from per­forming mili­tary ser­vice in peace­time or war, and barred Jews from owning or man­aging any busi­ness with more than one hun­dred em­ployees or which received defense con­tracts. Addi­tional regu­la­tions sought the com­plete segre­ga­tion of Jews from society and the pro­fes­sions; e.g., Jews could no longer work for banks or insurance companies.

An incensed Pope Pius XI sent a letter to Musso­lini pro­testing the new laws, which had been cham­pioned not by the “scien­tific com­munity” (that was Musso­lini’s cover story) but almost solely by tacti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions on the part of the ardent pro-German wing of the National Fas­cist Party (PNF) and by Musso­lini him­self, who stressed the impos­si­bil­ity of close national allies (meaning Italy and Germany) having a diver­sity of atti­tude. The effect of Ital­ian race laws was the “Aryani­za­tion” of busi­nesses, jobs, and edu­ca­tion; large-scale Jewish emi­gra­tion; forced labor and ghetto­i­za­tion; and the active collab­o­ra­tion of Ital­ians in killing over 6,000 Ital­ian Jews (or about 15 per­cent of Jewish Italians) and terrorizing countless more during the Holocaust.

Mussolini, Hitler, and the Italian Fascists’ Anti-Semitic Campaign

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, Munich, September 1937Italian Fascist Roberto Farinacci (1892—1945)

Left: Mussolini and Hitler review Nazi Party troops parading before one of two “Honor Temples” (Ehren­tempel) on Koenigs­platz in Munich, Septem­ber 25, 1937. Early in May 1938 Hitler paid a visit to the Ital­ian capi­tal. The most tragic effect of the German leader’s visit was the start of the Ital­ian racist and anti-Semitic cam­paign. Because he could not abide his closest ally not embracing his racist ideo­logy, Hitler sent a Nazi dele­ga­tion of race “experts” to visit the extremist wing of the National Fascist Party just one month after his visit. The out­come of that visit appeared in the Mani­festo of Racial Scientists in July 1938 and the Laws for the Defense of the Race that November.

Right: Supervising the Italian anti-Semite cam­paign was the anti­clerical, xeno­phobic Fas­cist poli­ti­cian, lawyer, and journalist Roberto Fari­nacci (1892–1945), seen here on Janu­ary 1, 1935, in the front row (extreme right) during a New Year’s func­tion of the party faith­ful. A mem­ber of the Grand Council of Fascism, the main body of Mussolini’s Fascist government from 1935 to 1943, Fari­nacci was a signa­tory to “Il Mani­festo della Razza,” a piece that appeared in the maga­zine Difesa della Razza in its August 5, 1938, issue. Mussolini selected him to intro­duce the unpop­ular Fas­cist race laws of 1938. After Mussolini was deposed by the Grand Council of Fascism on July 25, 1943, the succes­sor govern­ment of Marshal Pietro Badoglio suppressed the race laws. How­ever, in the terri­tories ruled by Musso­lini’s German-backed Italian Social Republic the race laws remained in force until the end of the war (and were made more severe). Sharing Musso­lini’s fate, Fari­nacci was cap­tured by Ital­ian partisans, sum­marily tried, and executed in Vimercate’s (Northern Italy) municipal square in late April 1945.

History’s Verdict: Benito Mussolini. Mussolini’s Anti-Semitism Described at 30 Minutes into Video