Jews were mass murdered in Germany during World War II. Why did the same thing not happen in Italy?

  • 9
    Mussolini had different priorities from Hitler
    – DVK
    Jan 1, 2013 at 11:55
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    – MCW
    Jan 22, 2020 at 11:19

4 Answers 4


It is wrong to say that Italian Jews were not exterminated. They in fact were, but only after Italy was occupied by German forces.

Regarding the stance of the Italian government and fascist party, it did not express much of anti-Semitic ideology. At the origins of the fascist party were many Jews, and also Jewish black-shirt brigades of Jabotinsky were trained in Italy in a preparation to invade British Palestine.

When the Holocaust started, Italy gave asylum to Croatian Jews who were killed by the Ustashe regime in Croatia. Despite demands of German government, Italy refused to transfer their Jews or Jews from the occupied territories to Germany.

It should be noted though that in the beginning of 1940s Italy under German pressure enacted some anti-Jewish legislation in exchange for Germany's consent regarding forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from Italy's South Tyrol. Hitler sought persecution of Jews as a more important task than protecting ethnic Germans in Italy.

The legislation was easily avoidable by the Jews though: to be exempt from prosecutions a Jew could either attend a Christian church or enroll into fascist party (some other categories such as WWI veterans were also exempt).

The situation changed when Italy declared war on Germany and was consequently occupied by German forces: all the caught Jews were sent to German extermination camps.

  • 1
    Italy declared war against Germany? So Musolini isn't that racist after all. They just try to look like one while helping jews in the back.
    – user4951
    Jan 1, 2013 at 13:30
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    @Jim Thio Italy declared war against Germany in 1943 after Mussolini was disposed.
    – Anixx
    Jan 1, 2013 at 13:47
  • A pretty good answer, but on one point I'd like to express a reservation: what "Jewish black-shirt brigades of Jabotinsky were trained in Italy in a preparation to invade British Palestine" actually refers to is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betar_Naval_Academy#cite_note-13, which is not quite the same. Jan 1, 2013 at 17:13
  • @Felix Goldberg thanks for the link but how it contradicts what I wrote?
    – Anixx
    Jan 1, 2013 at 17:58
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    @Felix Goldberg I do not know about any connotations, but Wikipedia says: "The group initially praised Mussolini for his anti-communism and fascist principles, leading it to adopt the black uniform shirt of Italian fascism for a short period." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betar In shot, they considered themselves Jewish black shirts, sharing views with Italian fascist black-shirt organizations.
    – Anixx
    Jan 1, 2013 at 18:15

First of all notice that although many Jews might have perished in Germany, by large the highest fraction was killed in the extermination camps of occupied Poland. Back to Italy now.

Even though the Italian Government put emphasis on the purity of the "Italian Race", it was not until 1938 that a specific law against the "Jewish Race" was approved. Italian Jews were normally admitted into the Fascist Party.

This because for Mussolini the rhetoric of the race was purely for propaganda reasons, and he did not intend to prosecute different "races". Italians living in the colonies (the Empire) had no particular problems mixing with the local population.

This changed with the aftermath of the war in Ethiopia. Italy decided to side with Germany: the British initiative at the Society of Nations (that punished Mussolini's war of aggression) removed his last doubts in that direction.

So it was more to appease the German Government than to fulfill any per-existing intention that the laws were approved.

When the extermination campaign was started in 1942, the location of extermination camps was chosen to be Poland, probably because of its lower population density, large forests and central position in occupied Europe.

Italy did not participate to the extermination at the beginning. However, following the Allied Operation Husky in 1943, and the Government inability to do anything to prevent the occupation of Sicily by invading forces, Mussolini was deposed and an armistice was signed by General Badoglio on 8th September 1943. Following the armistice, German forces occupied Italy and the Italian Army was largely dispersed due mostly to lack of instructions.

The Germans annexed parts of Northern Italy to the Reich and created a puppet state, the Italian Social Republic, or "Repubblichina" as it was derogatorily referred to by Italian partisans.

Deportation and liquidation of the Italian Jews happened only in this period of time, and within the parts of Italy occupied by Germany.

Now there is some rumor regarding the Risiera di San Sabba, according to some historians it was a (smaller scale) extermination camp, while other see it as a transit camp only. Because of the political implications the debate floats on lots of ideological noise, and I find it difficult to tell what happened. Numbers were likely small though (when compared to the overall holocaust dead).

  • Yea but the Italian didn't surrender their jews to german right?
    – user4951
    Jan 1, 2013 at 13:31
  • @Jim Thio even more: Italy was concerned about Germany's treatment of the Jews and suggested Red Cross inspections into German camps.
    – Anixx
    Jan 1, 2013 at 13:54
  • The camp you are referring to was controlled by the SS, not by Italian government.
    – Anixx
    Jan 1, 2013 at 18:05

It looks like you’re trying a theoretical comparison of fascisms using a theory of fascism where both Germany and Italy are considered fascist. You ought to consider nationalist revanchevist movements of radical extra parliamentary national renewal generally. Across movements like Salazar’s, Horthy’s, Franco’s or Pinochet anti-semitism is not an essential part of all these movements. Therefore anti-semitism should not be considered a core element of fascism and therefore there is no expectation that Italian fascism should have murdered Jews.

Fascisms describe an imaginary national community that needs to be renewed, but the constitution of the imaginary community varies from blood racism to linguistic racism to cultural racism in different fascist configurations. Many of these do not consider Jewish people to be fundamentally outside the national community.


This is something which have to do with the differences in ideology between the different totalitarianisms: fascism, nationalsocialism and stalinism.

It is nationalism on steroids with access to the methods and tools of an industrialized country/economy but with different reason and criteria for differentiating (or not) between groups in its own population.

The reason for differing between the groups in a population according to three different authoritarian ideologies is:

  • bolsjevikism/lenin-stalinism
    • sees society as competition between classes (the bourgeois as exploiters of the oppressed workers - both in industry and agriculture)
  • nazism:

    • communist ??? not good - you are possible competition
    • socialdemokrat ?? ok... don't argue with me (which includes forbidding socialdemokrat unions)
    • union activist ? Don't you want to be a member of my union ?
    • which religion and which is your race ?? (racism)
      • Jew ? not good (racism, but the nazi party also required a method of explaining Germany's loss in WWI)
      • Slav ? .. not good, also your land interests me (rasism and expansionistic urges)
  • Fascism

    • race or religion
      • Italian Jew ? no trouble, YOU are Italian ! I also don't want to control people's religion but i want a good relation with your congregation.
    • possible opposition:
      • Communist ? maybe a bit of trouble. Don't be vocally against me!
    • yugoslavian ? no trouble, i basically only wants a bit of your land (imperialistic/expansionistic)

One of the common traits of fascism (and the other totalitarian ideologies) is the demand on total control which means that forces which are potentially strong opposition needs to be quashed.

The wiki (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totalitarianism) describes fascism in Il Duce's own word as :

everything within the state, nothing outside it, nothing against it.

The fascist ideology isn't racist against groups while the nationalsocializm in Germany is (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism) One reason is that italian fascism were roman-romanticist ie they wanted to recreate the roman empire which did accept conquerred people as they were (but was loath to accept tries to gain independence - become a roman , alway a roman!)

Bolsjevikism viewed any opposition as something which should be destroyed while stalinism also wanted total control of economy of the state and control of people's thoughts.

In fact fascism is a little like the old authoritarian conservative monarchy. Think a Friedrich der Grosse with a modern army and a large bureaucracy on his hands (ie the tools which came with the industralization.)

Think nothing against me

The old authoritarians didn't have the means to control society to the same degree as some of the 20th century's dictators. Franco didn't have the desire to say:

everything within the state, nothing outside it

  • This answer has been flagged as potentially non-responsive to the question. Rather that delete the answer or decline the flag, I'd like to ask you to edit the question to address the flag. Could you edit the answer to make it explicit how these assertions answer the question above? Thank you for the extensive edits; I'm still not sure this answers why Italian Jews were not subject to Shoah.
    – MCW
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:08
  • I'm thinking: Italy was on the detente side in WWI but didn't get the profit which they believed they could get (they didn't get parts of Hungary, instead Yugoslavia was created) and also a desire for retribution like the german one didn't exist neither the want to blame the failure on some disadvantaged group. They did blame the non-existence of vast italian territory east of the peninsular on the other victorious countries. Jan 22, 2020 at 15:54
  • should i shorten down my answer ? The answer is basically to do with ideology but also that the italian fascists didn't need to point on jews as reason for their plight. French,US and british government was good enough (with regards to the small italian territorial gains in WWI. ) Jan 22, 2020 at 16:05
  • Your answer to the question appears to be "Italian fascists didn't need to point on Jews as reason for their plight." but that doesn't appear to be in your answer
    – MCW
    Jan 22, 2020 at 16:53

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