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Mussolini in the company of his legitimate family, 1929.

Mussolini in the company of his legitimate family, 1929.

Pain behind the Pleasure: the Italian Social Republic

Salò was Mussolini’s German-backed experiment in ‘real Fascism’ and fine living. Italians find it hard to come to terms with its legacy.

The armistice between the Allies and Italy was made public on September 8th, 1943, five days after it was signed. It had a disastrous impact on Italians. Vengeful German forces, many already stationed in the peninsula, took over the northern two thirds of the country. At 5.10am on the 9th, Victor Emmanuel III, his son Umberto, other members of the Savoy dynasty, Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio and subordinate military ministers cravenly fled east from Rome to Pescara. Caring for their persons but not the people, they had ample funds (the king at least 13 million lire, Badoglio ten).  

With utter irresponsibility, they renounced the nation and their constitutional defence of it. They issued no clarifying orders to Italian forces, whether located in Rome, elsewhere in Italy or as partners of the Nazis in the Balkans, the Aegean and other fronts. They gave no warning to the civilians in their government but simply left the royal palace and ministry buildings in the hands of their bewildered portieri (caretakers). From Pescara, they embarked on a vessel that carried them further south to Brindisi, where they sought the protection of advancing Allied forces. Across the peninsula, the Anglo-Americans had made less successful landings around Salerno, meeting bitter German resistance. For the next 19 months Italy became a battleground: in that time, at least 240,000 Italians died, half of them civilians, more than doubling the country’s casualties in the war. Killings did not cease with the formal peace of April 29th, a day after the execution by partisans of the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

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