Issue 11 /
October 2017 Focus Introduction

Italy’s Fascist Jews: Insights on an Unusual Scenario

DOI : 10.48248/issn.2037-741X/36
Renzo Ravenna with Italo Balbo and Vittorio Emanuele III. Ferrara, 31 October 1928.
Photo published in "Dalle leggi antiebraiche alla Shoah. Sette anni di storia italiana 1938-1945", eds. V. Galimi, A. Minerbi, M. Sarfatti, L. Picciotto (Milan: Skira, 2004).


On 23 March 1919, in a small hall in Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, Benito Mussolini founded a movement called Fasci di combattimento [Fasci of Combat], which in November 1921 became the Partito nazionale fascista [National Fascist Party, PNF]. The Associazione nazionalista italiana [Italian Nationalist Association] merged with the party in 1923. On 31 October 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form the Kingdom of Italy’s new government. Mussolini was Prime Minister continuously until 25 July 1943. During that time, he reversed the principles of the liberal democracy that had previously existed, set up a dictatorship, and established a totalitarian regime.

The political program of the Fasci di combattimento and, up to 1937, that of the PNF did not include anti-Jewish views or aims. Fascism would proclaim and officially adopt them in 1938. For many years, therefore, Italian Jews who wished to do so could adhere to the Fascist ideology, join the PNF, become involved in the party’s public and inner life, and take on important administrative roles (like the podestà [mayor] of Ferrara, shown in the cover photo of this issue).

Between September and November 1938, after two years of an intense anti-Semitic campaign, the Fascist Italian government enacted a body of very harsh anti-Jewish laws: the rules relating to schools and those affecting foreigners, passed in Italy in September, were harsher than those in force in Germany in that same month. One decree concerned the “Aryanisation” of the PNF. The drafting process of this rule proved very complex. On 7 November the Council of Ministers approved the draft of a decree titled Modificazioni allo Statuto del Partito Nazionale Fascista [Changes to the Statutes of the National Fascist Party], which ruled: “Italian citizens who are considered of Jewish race as per provisions in law and do not fall within any of the exemptions provided for in the laws themselves cannot be members of the PNF.” The part about “exemptions” referred to a provision contained in another law, which decreed that Jews who had acquired so-called “merits” in war, towards the nation or towards Fascism would be exempt from some of the persecutory measures. This partial exemption was given the (nowadays absurd-sounding) name of discriminazione [discrimination]. Actually, despite all the announcements that were made, “discrimination” was very sparingly implemented,1 and in most sectors persecution struck both “discriminated” and “non-discriminated” Italian Jews equally. So it happened in the case of PNF membership: on 19 November the words “and do not fall within any of the exemptions provided for in the laws themselves” were expunged from the decree’s typewritten final draft and on 21 November the King appended his signature under the thus mutilated text. It is also of note that this decree was published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regno d’Italia [Official Gazette of the Kingdom of Italy] only on 13 February 1939, a very unusual delay.2 In conclusion, the official severing of the tie between Italian Fascism and Fascist Jews was no easy matter. It is also not without interest that, chronologically, the decree of 19 November was the last of the 1938 anti-Jewish laws to come into force.

In any case, all card-carrying members who were classified as “of Jewish race” (that is, both those that were born of two parents of that “race” and those who, while having only one parent of that “race,” were not christened) were expelled from the PNF within a short time.3

This issue of Quest is devoted to the subject of Fascist Italian Jews. Its main purpose is to trace and compare the life path of some of them and to start looking more closely at some aspects of their experience with Fascism and of their being Jewish. The focus will be on the twenty years during which Fascism allowed them to feel Fascist and to be card-carrying members of the PNF.

The history of Fascist Jews still awaits to be fully researched in its complexity. Several historians have described and commented on the periodical La nostra bandiera [Our Flag], which was published from 1934 to 1938. Their studies, however, focus almost entirely on those years and either ignore the fifteen years that went before or deal with them in a few sentences. Of course, the magazine’s pages are an important source of information about the views and expectations of those who wrote in it; however, it would be well not to forget that the history of Fascist Jews dates back to 1919.4 One truly remarkable fact ought to be mentioned briefly: an Italian scholar has invented (sic) the existence of second publication by Fascist Jews, allegedly called “Tempi nuovi (New Times)” and issued on the same dates and with identical contents as “La nostra bandiera,”5 but this obviously is of no interest to us here.

The first research on La nostra bandiera was published in 1961 by Guido Valabrega. He described the various issues of the magazine and claimed that “basically, [it] can be compared in many respects to those instances of extensive collaborationism we saw in the Warsaw Ghetto in the actions of the local Judenrat.” Valabrega conceded that in 1934-1938 there was no anti-Jewish persecution in Italy, but reasserted that the magazine “fits exactly into the logical path that would lead some Jewish groups to […] cooperate to the last with the executioners of the Jewish population.”6 Such statements are unacceptable. Put simply, Valabrega’s analysis was political, not historical, and prompted by anti-Fascism. Having said that, it is worthy of note that, due to his role as Director of the Centro di documentazione ebraica contemporanea [Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre] and to the fact that his essay was published by the Federazione giovanile ebraica d’Italia [Jewish Youth Federation of Italy], his article also took on relevance as being a first research on how Italian Jews (or rather, many Italian Jews) became followers of Fascism, and carried out by a representative of Italian Jewry at that. In Italian historiography, such a critical enquiry into “our own” recent past, conducted by a member of Italian society, was somehow ground-breaking. In that same year 1961, in his ampler and more detailed historical analysis, Renzo De Felice wrote that Fascism had had a considerable following among Jews, and that this was due to the fact that “the middle-class character of Italian Jewry [il carattere spiccatamente borghese dell’ebraismo italiano]” found itself in agreement with “the upper-class nature of the Fascist party at the beginning [il carattere classista del fascismo delle ‘origini’].”7 I believe this statement to be incorrect, as in the first year of its existence Fascism had also radical features and not just “middle-class” ones, and even more so because the reasons why individual Jews came to adhere to Fascism were varied.

Further on, writing of La nostra bandiera, De Felice stated that its supporters were mostly “deeply assimilated (but non detached) Jews [ebrei profondamente assimilati (ma non distaccati)].”8 This equation of allegiance to Fascism with “assimilation” was taken up again by Stefano Caviglia in 2013.9 I believe this interpretation to be mistaken in general terms, because we ought to regard anti-Fascist Jews and even non-Fascist Jews as “assimilated” too, since they all followed choices or behaviours that were widely present in majority society, and also with respect to individual people, each of whom had their own identity and personality, which moreover changed over time. Take for instance Massimiliano (called Max) Ravà from Venice (1875-1955), a lawyer, banker, “a conservative all his life”: in the early Thirties he was President of the Jewish Community of Venice and member of Executive Board of the Unione delle Comunità israelitiche italiane [Union of Italian Jewish Communities, UCII], in the second half of that decade he was among the promoters of the Fascist association called Comitato degli italiani di religione ebraica[Committee of Italians of Jewish Faith, CIRE], of which more will be said further on, and after the start of the anti-Semitic persecution he converted to the Catholic Church.10 The historian Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987), who aged sixteen had requested that exams in state schools be not scheduled on Saturday, wrote ten years later that he did not “consider Judaism to have any present value of faith.”11 The entrepreneur Federico Jarach (1874- 1951), card-carrying PNF member since 1926, President of the Jewish Community of Milan in the Thirties and President of UCII from 1937 to 1939, always maintained a strong bond with the religion of his fathers.12 The banker Ettore* Ovazza (1892-1943), a native of Turin and founder of La nostra bandiera, in late 1938 left the Jewish Community of Turin to prove his loyalty to Fascism, but in October 1939 wrote the following letter to the Community’s President: “The undersigned Ovazza Ettore [...], herewith submits the present petition, respectfully requesting that on the anniversary of the passing away of his lamented and revered Father, Commendatore [Commander] Ernesto on (14 October) 1 Cheshvan, he may be readmitted into the Jewish Community of Turin. This request reflects his feelings of attachment to the Religion of Israel, which has never waned, as his withdrawal was meant as a statement of Italian national devotion and did not involve any religious motive.”13 A different story again is that of Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951) of Florence, a scholar and professor of the Bible and of Hebrew, who in 1932, having sworn the oath that the Fascist regime imposed on universities, took the place of Giorgio Levi Della Vida (1886-1967), who was Jewish too and had refused the oath; Cassuto was expelled in 1938 and went on to teach at the University of Jerusalem.14

I believe that if we resort to the category of “assimilation” or to that of “collaborationism” we end up by disregarding the true situation of the times, which – and this is true also for Jews with different beliefs – saw the predominance of political choices, sometimes prompted by social class or by cultural environment, as well as by ideological and ethical considerations.

Luca Ventura’s 2002 research, which consists in a long and detailed reconstruction of the history and the contents of La nostra bandiera, did not add much as to historical interpretation. Ventura does question the definitions used by Valabrega and De Felice,15 but then centres his reflections and his contention around the number of Fascist Jews who subscribed in 1934-1938, rather than on their distinguishing traits.

In a recent essay on Italian Jews and Fascism, Ilaria Pavan has written that we need “exhaustive researches, without preconceptions, on the degree of adherence and interpenetration between the Jewish minority and the Fascist regime, called Jewish Fascism [des recherches exhaustives, sans préjugés, sur le degré d’adhésion et d’interpénétration entre la minorité juive et le régime fasciste, dit fascisme juif].”16 The author, however, does not explain what meaning she attaches to “interpenetration” and to “Jewish Fascism.” Although these terms are present in the historical debate, both on this issue and on others, I believe they do not simplify the research that still needs to be carried out.

Having said that, any careful consideration of the question of Fascist Jews must inevitably begin by examining their numbers.

According to an accurate reconstruction of the meeting in March 1919, the event was attended by between six and eight Jews, of whom only a few (between one and three) were “truly Fascist.”17 Both the movement and the party had Jews among their members; none of them held a high office at national level, except Ivo Levi, who was Secretary of the Federazione nazionale fascista universitaria [National Fascist Students’ Federation] from May-June 1922 to the early months of 1923, albeit with very limited powers.18 Of the PNF members who played major roles at national level in various fields, at least the economist Gino Arias (1879-1940), the intellectual Margherita Grassini Sarfatti (1880-1961), Guido Jung (1876-1940), an entrepreneur who for a brief period was government minister, and Angelo Oliviero Olivetti (1874-1931), revolutionary union leader, deserve a mention. Some years later the first three converted to Roman Catholicism.19

In the course of the Twenties and Thirties the number of Jews who joined the PNF rose constantly, as did the number of non-Jews. On 22 August 1938 Mussolini ordered a meticulous census of the people he would soon be persecuting, a census that actually resembled the collecting of data for police records. The census had a racist approach, in that it involved all persons who had a least one Jewish or formerly Jewish parent, whatever their religion or identity; it was thus aimed at “people even partially of Jewish race,” not at “Jews.” The census form included two boxes, one for the date of first joining the PNF, the other to indicate membership for the current year, i.e. Year XVI of the “Fascist Era.” (The “Fascist Era” was calculated from the “March on Rome” on 28 October 1922, Year XVI therefore went from 29 October 1937 to 28 October 1938.)20

The data from the forms were summarized in various statistical tables. The one on PNF membership included Italian citizens over 21 and showed membership figures in the Year XVI, first-time party memberships divided into five-year periods, and other connected data. To fully understand the data contained in these statistical tables one must always keep in mind that each single value sums up data relating to a very diverse spectrum of people, ranging from those with Jewish faith or identity to those who had just one parent who was born Jewish but had been baptized at a young age. We know that of all the Italians of whatever age included in the census, those that could be defined as “Jewish” amounted to 77.5 per cent of the total (the remaining 22.5 were people who had been baptized or who belonged to other categories).21

In the table that follows I have entered in columns 3 and 4 the data contained in the statistical table on PNF membership: 8,906 persons included in the census had current membership; 1,424 had been members but were no longer so in the current year; 22,736 had never been members. In column 5 I have entered – calling them “data processed by me” – the (rounded-up) numbers obtained by calculating the already mentioned percentage of 77.5: 6,900 “Jews” with current membership; 1,100 with past membership but not currently members; 17,600 who had never been members. In columns 1 and 2 I have inserted the total number of PNF members on dates close to those in the statistical table. Finally, in column 6 I have calculated the percentage of “Jews” among the total PNF membership for 1922: 2,40 per thousand, and for 1938: 2,17.

We need to keep in mind that there were obviously Jews who had been members of the PNF but had died before the 1938 census; moreover, as already mentioned, some people included in the census had been “Jewish” when they first joined but were no longer so at the time of the census; it is impossible, however, to conjecture to what extent these and other situations affect the census numbers. Also, we must consider that quite often the actions of individuals cannot possibly be mirrored in statistical datasheets. To name but one example: one Jew of Ferrara, born in 1873, joined the party in December 1920, left it in April 1922, joined it again in October 1932; he was therefore a member della prima ora[from the very first hour], was no longer a member at the time of the “March on Rome” and of the murder of the Socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti (June 1924), and overall had spent more years outside than inside the PNF.22

Having said all this, I believe we may conclude that, over the years, Italian Jews made up between 2.0 and slightly less than 3.0 per thousand of overall PNF membership.

Altogether Jews were less than 1 per thousand of the population, whereas the percentage of their membership is between two and three times as high, something which needs to be analyzed. I believe that the explanation lies not in a propensity of Italian Jews towards that particular party, but rather in the peculiarly Jewish tendency to engage in political life that arose out of their history as a minority, their higher level of education, and their living predominantly in towns. After all, some partial data about the number of Italian Jews who sided with anti-Fascism show their percentage to have been even higher.23 We may therefore conclude this complex analysis by saying that while Jews joined the PNF just like other Italians, they did so in numbers determined by their social makeup.

Sources * Emilio Gentile, Storia del Partito fascista. 1919-1922 movimento e milizia, (Rome-Bari: Laterza editore, 1989), 550 (his evaluation based on the number of 291, 438 on December 31, 1922); Partito Nazionale Fascista, “Foglio d’ordini,” n. 51, October 28, 1928 (October 25, 1928); Atti del P.N.F.Vol. III29 ottobre – 28 ottobre Anno XII E.F., (Rome: Palombi, 1934), 31 (October 1933); Partito Nazionale Fascista, “Foglio d’ordini,” n. 215,  October 28, 1938 (October 1938). See also Dante L. Germino, The Italian Fascist Party in Power. A Study in Totalitarian Rule, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1959), 52; Ital. transl., Il partito fascista italiano al potere. Uno studio sul governo totalitario (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2007), 115; Helga Dittrich-Johansen, Le “militi dell’idea.” Storia delle organizzazioni femminili del Partito Nazionale Fascista, (Florence: Olschki, 2002), 255.
** Archivio centrale dello Stato, Ministero dell’interno, Direzione generale per la demografia e la razza (1938-1943), b. 13, fasc. 43, table drawn up by the Istituto centrale di statistica, titled Ebrei italiani classificati secondo la data d’iscrizione al P.N.F. (my estimation). Data under g) are derived from another table, in Ib.; the minors (under 21) were 14.966. The Istituto centrale di statistica [Central Statistics Institute] supplied the Direzione generale per la demografia e la razza [Directorate-General for Demography and Race] with various updates of this table; the data included here are part of the last of those updates; De Felice, The Jews in the Fascist Italy,  65-6, 73, 85, has published the data of the two previous updates, but in a muddled way.
*** As explained in these pages, data in column 5 are the 77.5% – in round numbers – of data in column 4.

In 1938, therefore, PNF members were approx. 26.9 per cent of the entire Jewish adult population having Italian citizenship. Interestingly, a percentage not dissimilar to this is found in late 1937 among the small group of Chief Rabbis: 5 out of 21 were party members.24 All these data refer to Italy as a whole. Yet membership varied from town to town; in Ferrara, for example, the card-carrying “Jews” were 8 per cent of total membership before the “March on Rome” and 22 per cent of the town’s Jews in October 1938,25 numbers that are in the first instance considerably higher and in the second slightly lower than the national average. We lack a detailed study of this particular aspect. And any such research would inevitably be faced with the fact that very few of the archives of the PNF’s provincial federations survive (one of the few being the one in Turin).26 There is one more statistic in the table to consider: some of the people included in the census had joined the PNF in previous years, but were no longer members in 1937-1938. We may conjecture that for some the discontinuing of their membership coincided with the end of their working life.
For others it was instead a politically motivated choice. Some quit after the movement in 1920 relinquished the principles called diciannovisti [of the year nineteen],” i.e. the planks of its political platform of 1919, such as republicanism, anticlericalism, and some social demands.27 Nello (Sabatino) Rosselli, for instance, who was born in 1900 – who never joined the party, and in any case was not included in the 1938 census, having been murdered by Fascism in 1937 –, was thus described in 1927 by the Prefetto of his home town: “At the first rise of Fascism he was one of the main followers, because he hoped it would adopt a Republican party line. Since this did not happen, however, he immediately went over to the opposition, directly contacting its most noted supporters.”28 Others, such as Roberto Supino, who as an eighteen-year-old had taken part in the “March on Rome,” quit the party after the murder of the Socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti in June 1924.29 There were also those who left in the Thirties, such as Giuseppe Levi (later Levi Cavaglione), born in 1911, who was sentenced to confino [internal exile] in July 1938 for having “betrayed the Fascist cause.”30 Some Jews, on the other hand, acted in an opposite way: Renzo Ravenna (1893-1961), lawyer, podestà [mayor] of Ferrara from 1926 to 1938, joined the PNF in January 1924, a few months after Fascists had murdered the parish priest of Argenta, Don Giovanni Minzoni, and from April to November of that same year was the party’s provincial secretary.31

The increasing regimentation and fascistization of society and the growing numbers of Fascist followers entailed consequences also for Jewish associations. The first episode in order of time actually remained irrelevant to Jewish life, but cannot be left unmentioned. In September 1925 a young Jew in Pesaro circulated a letter calling for Fasci religiosi israelitici [Jewish Religious Fasci] to be established, in order to bring about a “reform of ritual and of organizations in accordance with the times.” Its author emulated Fascist language and concepts and declared himself in favor of setting up a new movement that was to be formed by Jews and to have a Fascist structure and Fascist aims. This project apparently originated from just one person and rapidly foundered.32

Among the Jewish Communities in Italy (of which there was only one in each town), the first to be affected seems to have been the one in Florence: when the elections for the new Council were held on 19 November 1926, a candidates’ list proclaiming itself “Fascist” was submitted, as a result remained the only competitor and won the election.33 Three years later, on the occasion of the elections for the Chamber of Deputies that were to be held on 24 March 1929 (the ballot contained a single list of candidates, put together by the PNF, and voters could only vote “yes” or “no”), the Community of Turin invited its members to

“give [their] warmest and most heartfelt consent to the national list headed by the name of Benito Mussolini! The great task of reconstruction achieved by the Head of Government and the Regime over the past seven years must be crowned by a superb success. [...] The Jews of Turin, having strong bonds of love and loyalty with the cherished Fatherland, and trusting in its lofty destiny, will want to be part of it, not only by casting their favorable vote, but also with an effectual propaganda among their friends, acquaintances and employees.”34

The actual situation, however, was not uniform at all: as late as 1934, for instance, just one of the five councilors of the Mantova Community was a card-carrying PNF member.35

In that same year 1934, after a group of anti-Fascists, many of whom were Jewish or had a Jewish surname, was arrested in Turin, the regime launched a harsh anti-Semitic attack, accusing those Jews or the Jews (the distinction was not at all clear) of being anti-Fascist and anti-Italian. This was a serious accusation, since by that time Italy, Nation and Fascism had become as one. In response, Fascist Jews founded a weekly magazine, La nostra bandiera, which was published in Turin from May 1934 to June 193836 and which – according to its editor – within six months had reached 1,100 subscriptions and a circulation of 2,800 copies.37 In the following months they also submitted their own lists of candidates in the elections for Community Councils, often winning them. Consequently, they reached an agreement with the UCII leadership whereby three of their main figures, Guido Liuzzi and Ettore Ovazza of Turin and Dario Nunes Franco of Leghorn, were co-opted into UCII’s Council (the first was also co-opted into UCII’s Executive Board). They joined Max Ravà from Venice, who was already in the Council. This arrangement, however, lasted only a few months, and in the course of that same year the dissent within Italian Jewry again burst forth in a public manner.38 While this was taking place, the instances** of State anti-Semitism were on the rise.

Eventually, on 24 January 1937, Fascist Jews created a Comitato degli italiani di religione ebraica, which presented itself as an absolute alternative to the UCII leadership. Within a few months CIRE obtained the support of various Community Councils, such as Rome, Turin, Florence and Leghorn, but not that of Milan, Trieste, Genoa and Fiume.39 Comparing these two groups of Communities it is interesting to note that the former had a low (2-6 per cent) and the latter a considerable (15-30 per cent) presence of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.40 One might therefore legitimately conclude that a higher presence of Jews coming from European areas where anti-Semitism was rife did – at least partially – influence the choices of the Communities’ Italian members.

When the new UCII congress convened on 21 March 1938, however, the enactment of a Fascist legislation against Jews was actually impending. The two main groups therefore reached an agreement about the makeup of the new Council, which would be formed mainly by men appointed by CIRE. At the same time CIRE dissolved, while setting in motion the closing down of La nostra bandiera. By then, though, Mussolini had already chosen his new anti-Semitic course, based on a biologically racist criterion that totally ignored all diversity within Italian Jewry.

While the (good or bad) relationship between individual Jews and Fascism depended entirely on the political choices of each individual, the relationship between national Jewish organizations, first the Consorzio delle comunità israelitiche italiane [Consortium of Italian Jewish Communities], later UCII, and local ones (the Communities) on the one hand and Italian fascistized authorities (the fasces were proclaimed the emblem of the Italian State in 1926) on the other was a more complex matter. Jewish organizations, in fact, whatever the majority that governed them, were required to contact national and local authorities every time they needed to solve a problem, be it about a cemetery, a school etc. This continued to be so even after the establishment of the dictatorship and the rise of totalitarianism. It was with the Fascist government of the Fascist State that the Consorzio discussed and agreed upon the reform of the laws presiding over the functioning of Jewish organizations, which was enacted in October 1930. And it was the main representatives of that State (King Victor Emmanuel III, the Head of Government Benito Mussolini and the Minister of Justice Alfredo Rocco) that UCII presented with a gold medal, bearing on one side the Tablets of the Law and the menorah and on the other the crown and the fasces, in celebration of that reform.41 I believe that these public relations gestures towards central or local authorities, contrary to the rallying call to voters by the Turin Community in 1929, cannot in and of themselves be defined as “Fascist,” and only a close examination can determine if some of them had indeed politically or ideologically Fascist features.

There are many issues of fundamental importance that need to be examined in order to arrive at a full picture on the matter of Fascist Jews, such as the relationship between Jewish bodies and Fascist authorities, the anti-Fascist or un-Fascist stance of the other Italian Jews, the various branches of Zionism and their relationship with Fascism and with Italian foreign policy, the complex history of Mussolini’s and Fascism’s anti-Semitism, and many more, but they clearly cannot be analyzed within this essay.42 As for the last issue just mentioned, namely how Fascism and particularly Mussolini arrived at their choice of anti-Semitism, it needs to be stressed again, I believe, that this was taking place at the same time that Jews were joining Fascism in growing numbers. They were, however, just contemporaneous processes: the latter in no way influenced, nor could it possibly influence, the former. It was probably the significant number of card-carrying Jews in the PNF that determined the complex path of the decree ordering their expulsion in 1938 and caused the delay in promulgating it. The passing of the anti-Semitic legislation in 1938, however, was unrelated to the presence of Jews within the PNF. Its roots (and its coming to maturation) are to be found in the long history of Mussolini and of the Fascist leadership.

The Jews who joined the PNF represented the full variety of the Fascist universe: they might be nationalists, members of the 1920-1922 Fascist squads, reactionaries, men of order, “Mussolinians,” landowners adverse to Bolshevism, young men who believed in the new doctrine’s anti-bourgeois revolution, later (in the Thirties) young men who had been educated in fascistized schools, people who had joined for self-serving reasons or to follow the tide. People joining in the very first years were mostly, I believe, motivated by the nationalism and the profound patriotism that many had matured during the months and years spent in the trenches of the First World War, perhaps the strongest experience of sharing daily life (and death) with other Italians that Jews had lived through. Nationalism also evolved from the bond that had arisen between the Italy that had granted legal and social emancipation and the Jews who had benefitted from it, but I doubt this carried such a weight as to mark those adhesions as peculiarly “Jewish.” Those card-carrying Jews were also diverse in regard to religion: some would just observe certain rituals out of family tradition, others had a strong Jewish identity rooted in religion or culture. In the matter of ritual, some of them inclined towards a modernizing, “reform” Judaism, which did not evolve, however, into an actual movement. In late 1934 Angelo Sacerdoti (1886-1935), Chief Rabbi of Rome, wrote to Ettore Ovazza, asking him to

“dispel worries of a religious and spiritual nature that are widespread in the Italian rabbinical world due to some statements in the newspaper edited by you and to the past of some men that in some Communities declare themselves faithful followers of the movement led by you.”43

They all believed that rabbis should limit their activity to matters concerning worship, yet at the same time urged them to publicly extol the State, the monarchy, the Head of Government and even Fascism.

All Fascist Jews were opposed to the existence of international Jewish organizations. In regard to Zionism, they were united in their rejection of the prospect of emigrating to Palestine, but some supported the movement’s right-wing current. At the founding conference of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organization in 1935, Leone Carpi said that Fascism had brought Italy “to a state of progress and dignity such as never before had been reached” and that “it is undeniable that strong affinities are to be found between the guiding principles of the two movements as regards national ideology, as well as social and economic achievements; it is undeniable that we have much to learn from a movement that has caught the world’s attention and that actually has found itself in situations that show deep similarities with our own.”44 Over time, even La nostra bandiera began to publish some positive comments about “revisionist” Zionism. On one point Fascist Jews were in complete agreement with the other Jews, and that was in extolling the Italian Jews’ contribution to the Risorgimento and to the building of the national State and (after 1933) in their strong denunciation of Nazi anti-Semitism and of the favorable comments it elicited in some Fascist circles.
After 8 September 1943, when Central and Northern Italy were under German occupation and the Italian Social Republic was established, Fascist Jews shared the destiny of all other Italian Jews, be it death or survival. Among those who suffered the former was Ettore Ovazza, killed together with his family on Lake Maggiore by Nazi soldiers.45

This issue of Quest intends to enquire into the Jewish, political and social life stories of Fascist Jews and to bring into focus some aspects of their experience. Three scholars have researched the first of these subjects. Enrica Asquer investigates with a novel approach the applications for “discrimination” (as defined by the anti-Jewish laws) submitted by Jewish men and women in Milan, examines their trust-worthiness as a source and shows how these people described their own life and Fascist ideals. René Moehrle’s essay analyses the situation in Trieste, a town that became part of Italy after the First World War, and highlights the life stories of five Fascist Jews (or descendants of Jews), who played a role in the town or within the Jewish Community. Roberta Raspagliesi summarizes the life story of five people who held important positions in the country’s public or private economic sectors, highlighting both the different bond each of them had with Judaism (some converted to Catholicism) and the different way in which each adhered to Fascism. Simon Levis Sullam’s essay is perhaps the first research devoted to the topic of “muscular Judaism,” its features and its presence in Italian Judaism in the early 20th century and during the Fascist period, and pays special attention to revisionist Zionism and to La nostra bandiera, which diverged when it came to the question of national belonging, but were in agreement in their view of Fascism and in extolling “muscular” Jews.

The presence of Jews in a Fascist party in the period between the two world wars is rather unusual. Yet the study of unusual situations serves to complete and enrich the understanding of “usual” situations. It is with this in mind that we have devoted this monographic section to those Jews who in Italy, between 1919 and 1938, chose Fascism.

(Translation: Loredana Melissari)

* Editing correction on April 16, 2018: Ettore Ovazza, instead of Ernesto Ovazza ** Editing correction on April 16, 2018: instances, instead of chances

With great sadness, the Editors of Quest have to announce that Petra Ernst passed away on November 29th last year, shortly after the publication of our 9th issue “The Great War. Reflections, Experiences and Memories of German and Habsburg Jews (1914-1918)”, which she has edited together with Jeffrey Grossman and Ulrich Wyrwa. Petra Ernst had studied German literature, musicology, and linguistics in Würzburg and Munich and received her PhD form the University of Munich in 1992, where she also started her academic career as research assistant. In 1991 she became the head of the department for international relations of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz. Parallel to her administrative work she pushed on her research, and in 1996 she became part of the Research Project (SFB) 'Modernity: Vienna and Central Europe around 1900'. Within this international research network she was engaged in analyzing Judaism and Modernity from a literary perspective. In the year 2000, she cofounded together with Klaus Hödl, the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Graz. In the same year she founded, with Klaus Hödl and Gerald Lamprecht, the journal of the Center: “Transversal. Zeitschrift für Jüdische Studien”. Since then she conducted her German-Jewish literary studies until her passing. In the last years Petra was particularly interested in analyzing Jewish space in German Jewish literature in the 19th and 20th century and analyzed the representation of Jewishness and Judaism during World War I in German Jewish literature and the German Jewish Press. On all of these topics Petra published several articles and books, and just recently, in June 2017, her Habilitation thesis “Schetel, Stadt, Staat. Raum und Identität in deutschsprachig-jüdischer Erzählliteratur des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts“ released by the Böhlau publishing house in Vienna.
The Editors

[1] Michele Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy. From Equality to Persecution, trans. by John and Anne C. Tedeschi, (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 2006), 135-7.
[2] Michele Sarfatti, Mussolini contro gli ebrei. Cronaca dell’elaborazione delle leggi del 1938, (Turin: S. Zamorani, 1994), 55-6.
[3] For a letter of expulsion, dated 29 November 1938, see Riccardo Di Donato, “Materiali per una biografia intellettuale di Arnaldo Momigliano, 1. Libertà e pace nel mondo antico”, Athenaeum83/1 (1995): 219 note 25; cf. also the relevant file in the PNF Turin Collection held in the Archivio di Stato di Torino (State Archives in Turin):
[4] Guido Valabrega, “Prime notizie su “La nostra bandiera» (1934-1938)”, in Gli ebrei in Italia durante il fascismo. Quaderni della Federazione giovanile ebraica d'Italia, 1, (1961): 21-33; later in Valabrega, Ebrei, fascismo, sionismo, (Urbino: Argalia, 1974), 41-57; Celeste Pavoncello Piperno, “La Nostra Bandiera”: l’adesione agli “ideali” fascisti di un gruppo di ebrei italiani,” La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 48/7-12 (1982): 15-22; Paola Spagnolo, “Aspetti della questione ebraica nell’Italia fascista. Il gruppo de ‘La nostra bandiera’ (1935-1938),” Annali del dipartimento di scienze storiche e sociali. Univesità degli studi di Lecce vol. 5 (1986-1987): 127-45; Luca Ventura, Ebrei con il Duce. La Nostra Bandiera (1934-1938), (Turin: Zamorani, 2002).
[5] Antonio Pellicani, “I gruppi israeliti italiani e il fascismo: la rivista ‘Tempi nuovi’”, in La Toscana nel regime fascista (1922-1939). vol. II, (Florence: L. Olschki, 1971) 583-590; Michele Sarfatti, “L’antisemitismo fascista e l’interruzione della stampa ebraica italiana nel 1938. Con un’appendice su una rivista,” Bailamme. Rivista di spiritualità e politica 11-12 (1992): 165-213; 210-3.
[6] Valabrega, “Prime notizie,” 21-2.
[7] Renzo De Felice, The Jews in Fascist Italy, (New York: Enigma Books, 2001), 66;  (Orig. ed., Renzo De Felice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo, 4° ed., (Turin: Einaudi, 1988), 74).
[8] De Felice, The Jews in Fascist Italy, 145. (De Felice, Storia degli ebrei, 155).
[9] Stefano Caviglia, “L’assimilazione impossibile: la tragedia degli ebrei fascisti,” in Lo spazio della storia. Studi per Vittorio Vidotto, eds. Francesco Bartolini, Bruno Bonomo, Francesca Socrate, (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2013), 270-87.
[10] Simon Levis Sullam, Una comunità immaginata. Gli ebrei a Venezia (1900-1938), (Milan: Unicopli, 2001), 208-24.
[11] Simon Levis Sullam, “Arnaldo Momigliano e la “nazionalizzazione parallela”: autobiografia, religione e storia”, in Gli ebrei e la destra. Nazione, Stato, identità,  famiglia, eds. Paolo L. Bernardini, Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, Piergabriele Mancuso, (Rome: Aracne, 2007), 61-93; 69-77 (also in Passato e presente  25/ 70 (2007): 59-82).
[12] Ilaria Pavan, Il Comandante. La vita di Federico Jarach e la memoria di un’epoca 1874-1951, (Milan: Proedi, 2001), 172 ff.
[13] Archivio storico della Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea CDEC [ACDEC], Fondo Ettore Ovazza, b. 2, fasc. 10, Ettore Ovazza al presidente della Comunità Israelitica di Torino Emanuele Montalcini, October 9, 1939.
[14] Gabriele Rigano, “Umberto Cassuto all’Università di Roma,” La Rassegna Mensile di Israel 82/2-3 (2016), tome I: 117-36; 131-2.
[15] Ventura, Ebrei con il Duce, 15-20.
[16] Ilaria Pavan, “Les Juifs italiens et le fascisme (1922-1938),” Revue d’histoire de la Shoah 204 (2016): 35-61; 36.
[17] Giorgio Fabre, Mussolini razzista. Dal socialismo al fascismo: la formazione di un antisemita, (Milan: Garzanti, 2005), 233-9 (quoted passage at page 239).
[18] Fabre, Mussolini razzista, 396-403.
[19] Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy, 16.
[20] Sarfatti, Mussolini contro gli ebrei, 129-182.
[21] Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy, 23-24.
[22] John Tedeschi with Anne C. Tedeschi, Italian Jews under Fascism 1938-1945. A personal and historical narrative, (Madison: Parallel Press, 2015), 241.
[23] Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy, 16-17.
[24] Gabriele Rigano, “I rabbini italiani nelle carte della pubblica sicurezza,” Zakhor 8 (2005): 135-73; 152.
[25] Ilaria Pavan, Il podestà ebreo. La storia di Renzo Ravenna tra fascismo e leggi razziali (Rome-Bari: Laterza editore, 2006), 38; note 32 on page 246.
[26] See
[27] Emilio Gentile, Storia del Partito fascista. 1919-1922 movimento e milizia, (Rome-Bari: Laterza editore, 1989), 66-101.
[28] Prefetto di Firenze, “Scheda biografica di Nello Rosselli, Firenze 7 giugno 1927,” Carlo e Nello Rosselli. Catalogo delle mostre ed edizione di fonti. Vol. II. Un’altra Italia nell’Italia del fascismo. Carlo e Nello Rosselli nella documentazione dell’Archivio centrale dello Stato, ed. Marina Giannetto, (Rome-Città di Castello: Edimond, 2002), 87; document kept in Archivio centrale dello Stato (ACS), Direzione generale della pubblica sicurezza, Affari generali e riservati, Casellario politico centrale, b. 4422, fasc. Rosselli, Sabatino Enrico.
[29] Bruno Di Porto, “Vittorio di Moisè e i discendenti,” I Supino. Una dinastia di ebrei pisani fra mercatura, arte, politica e diritto (secoli XVI-XX), eds. Franco Angiolini, Monica Baldassarri, (Pisa: Pacini editore, 2015), 186.
[30] Lidia Maggioli, Antonio Mazzoni, Il ponte setteluci. Biografia di Giuseppe Levi Cavaglione, (Pesaro: Metauro, 2012), 29.
[31] Pavan, Il podestà ebreo, 44.
[32] Olindo De Napoli, “Tempi difficili. Note sugli ebrei italiani nei primi anni del fascismo (1922-1925),” Passato e presente 35/101 (2017): 71-90; 87-9.
[33] “Le elezioni a Firenze”, Israel, December 20, 1926.
[34] “Un invito agli ebrei torinesi”, Gazzetta del popolo, March 23, 1929.
[35] ACDEC, Fondo Leone e Felice Ravenna, b. 9, fasc. 1, lettera del presidente della Comunità israelitica di Mantova al presidente dell’Unione delle comunità israelitiche italiane, June 11, 1934.
[36] Ventura, Ebrei con il Duce, 129-30.
[37] ACS, Ministero della cultura popolare, Gabinetto, 1° versamento, Affari generali 1926-1944, b. 12, fasc. 126, “La nostra bandiera,” Ettore Ovazza, Promemoria circa la situazione del giornale settimanale “La nostra bandiera,” [first half of November 1934].
[38] Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy, 69-96.
[39] Ibid., 113-6.
[40] Klaus Voigt, “Considerazioni sugli ebrei immigrati in Italia”, in Stato nazionale ed emancipazione ebraica. Atti del convegno, eds. Francesca Sofia and Mario Toscano (Rome: Bonacci, 1992), 223-43; 232-3. See also Klaus Voigt, Il rifugio precario. Gli esuli in Italia dal 1933 al 1945, vol. I, (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1993), 518-9 (Orig. ed., Zuflucht auf Widerruf. Exil in Italien 1933-1945, vol. I, (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1989)).
[41] “Dopo la legge sulle Comunità Israelitiche italiane. La consegna di una medaglia al Re e al Capo del Governo”, Israel, May 12, 1931; La menorà. Culto, storia e mito, ed. Francesco Leone, (Milan: Skira, 2017), 290, 358.
[42] See Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy and the bibliography listed there.
[43] ACDEC, Fondo Ovazza Ettore, b. 1, fasc. 5, Angelo Sacerdoti a Ettore Ovazza, June 16, 1934.
[44] Vincenzo Pinto, “Mitologie del realismo? La galassia del revisionismo sionista nell’Italia fascista (1922-1938),” Gli ebrei, eds. Bernardini, Luzzatto Voghera, Mancuso, 95-140; 128.
[45] Liliana Picciotto, Il libro della memoria. Gli Ebrei deportati dall’Italia (1943-1945). Ricerca della Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, 2nd ed. (Milan: Mursia, 2002), ad nomen.

Michele Sarfatti has been Coordinator of the activities (1982-2002) and Director (2002-2016) of the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea CDEC, Milan. He is one of the founding editors of the e-journal Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Questioni di Storia Ebraica Contemporanea (Editor in chief: 2010-2016). He is the author of Gli ebrei nell’Italia fascista. Vicende, identità, persecuzione, 2° ed., (Turin: Einaudi 2007) (engl. transl. The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: from Equality to Persecution, transl. by J. and A. C. Tedeschi, Madison 2006; germ. transl. Die Juden im faschistischen Italien. Geschichte, Identität, Verfolgung, transl. by Th. Vormbaum, L. Melissari, Berlin, 2014). He published several other works on Jews and anti-Semitic persecution in Modern Italy. 

  How to quote this article:
Michele Sarfatti, "Introduction" in Italy’s Fascist Jews: Insights on an Unusual Scenario, ed. Michele Sarfatti, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of the Fondazione CDEC, n. 11, October 2017

DOI: 10.48248/issn.2037-741X/36