In March 1919 Benito Mussolini founded a movement called “Fasci di combattimento”, which became the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) in November 1921. On 28 October 1922 he organized the “March on Rome”; the king Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy invited him to form a new government. Mussolini transformed the government into a dictatorship and then into a totalitarian state. After Italy left the League of Nations in 1937, the “Rome-Berlin Axis”, proclaimed in 1936, developed into a closer military alliance, the “Steel Pact”, in 1939. Having pursued an expansionist foreign policy in the Mediterranean and in Africa throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, the Kingdom of Italy entered the war alongside Germany on 10 June 1940. Its assault on Greece in October 1940 and the military predicaments in the Balkans and in North Africa triggered German interventions. In turn, Italy joined Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. On 10 July 1943 the Allies, who had already occupied the Italian colonies in Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya), landed in Sicily. Two weeks later, on 25 July, the king and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo toppled Mussolini, who was arrested. In early September, the new Italian leadership signed a separate peace agreement with the Allies. At this point, Italy's empire still encompassed the Dodecanese Islands (centred on Rhodes, today part of Greece), and extended to Greater Albania, Montenegro, and parts of Dalmatia (today part of Croatia) and Slovenia. However, the Allies were already in the process of invading southern Italy. This caused Germany to step in and occupy the remaining parts of Italy the Allies had not yet conquered. German forces also took over the Italian zones of occupation in Yugoslavia, Greece, and France. Parts of northern Italy were de facto annexed by the German Reich, designated as the Operationszonen Alpenvorland and Adriatisches Küstenland. While the king and his government fled south, Mussolini was freed from prison by SS paratroopers and was allowed to set up the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI) in Salò, northern Italy. The war front advanced very slowly: Rome was liberated in June 1944, Milan and the North in April 1945, when German forces withdrew from Italy altogether.

In 1938, Italy had a total population of approximately 42 million people (not including the colonies). Its Jewish community, one of the oldest and most integrated in Europe, numbered about 47,000 people. Unlike the Nazi party, the PNF did not include anti-Judaism in its Statute until 1938, and there were Jews who joined the PNF. Notwithstanding this fact, Mussolini veered towards public and generalized anti-Jewish action halfway through the 1930s. In the autumn of 1938, this translated into the implementation of harsh anti-Jewish legislation based on biological racism resembling the German Nuremberg Laws. Many adults were coerced into forced labour (1942) and foreign Jews saw almost all their residence permits cancelled (1938); those who stayed on were later (1940) interned in the camp at Ferramonti and in other smaller camps. Still, between 1938 and 1943 there was no systematic state violence against Jews and they were not deported. Apart from some limited exceptions, Italian authorities in the occupied territories did not grant any requests by the Croatian Ustasha or the Germans to hand over Jews. When the Germans occupied Italy, the situation of the Jews in the central and northern half part of Italy worsened drastically. Jews were arrested by both the German and Italian police and gathered in provincial camps that were situated in various buildings or in town jails; from there they were transferred to the national internment camp, first at Fossoli, then at Bolzano. Here, the German police organized their deportation. The vast majority of deportees was sent to Auschwitz. The Jews of Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland were arrested directly by the Germans and interned in the Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste, from where they were deported directly to Auschwitz. Over 300 Jews died in massacres in various places and the approximately 7,500 deported Jews, a little over 800 survived. Some thousand Jews took part in the Resistance. The remaining 30,000 or more lived in hiding, were able to reach Switzerland or the already liberated South. Overall, about 7,000 Jews from Italy perished during the Holocaust.

Archival Situation

The Italian Archives Administration (Amministrazione Archivistica Italiana) is in charge of the conservation of Italy's archival heritage. It leads a network of State Archives and sections of State Archives in the Provinces and major centres, as well as 19 supervision agencies (Soprintendenze archivistische). In addition to the state archives, there are also collections in private archives and museums.

The Italian system of record depositories relevant for Holocaust research can be roughly divided into public institutions such as the City Archives (Archivi Comunali), the State Archives (Archivi di Stato), mainly the branches in Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice, and Florence, the Central State Archive (Archivio Centrale dello Stato), the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Archivio del Ministero degli Affari Esteri), and the Archives of the Army General Staff (Archivio Storico dell’Esercito). With the exception of the abovementioned local branches, all of these institutions are located in Rome. The Archives of the Army General Staff allows limited access only. Furthermore, there are private archives such as the Parish and Diocesan Archives (Archivi Parrocchiali e Diocesani), which belong to the Catholic Church), the Archives of the Jewish Communities (Archivio delle Comunità Ebraiche), with the most prominent for documents from the period being the branches in Rome, Florence and Venice, and the network of the Institutes for the History of the Resistance Movement (Istituti per la storia della Resistenza), which has a central seat in Milan and a leading institute in Turin. The leading archive for documents concerning anti-Jewish persecutions in Italy is the Foundation “Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center” (Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, CDEC) in Milan. The National Museum of Italian Jewry and the Shoah (Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah, MEIS) in Ferrara and the Museum of the Shoah (Museo della Shoah) in Rome, which are currently under construction, intend to collect documents on the Holocaust in Italy. Political party archives hold collections with papers of activists, while company archives may hold relevant information as well, especially pertaining to the dismissal of Jewish employees or the seizure of Jewish property.

EHRI Research (Summary)

In Italy, EHRI has so far identified 49 archival institutions which hold Holocaust-relevant resources. This list includes amongst others the Central State Archive, the State Archives of Rome, the Library Archive “Renato Maestro”, the Foundation “Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center”, which has produced the most detailed database documenting the fate of the Italian Jews during the Holocaust period (now also available online) and the National Institute for the History of the Resistance Movement in Italy, which holds records on the period 1943-1945 and focuses on documenting anti-fascist activity. EHRI has yet to explore the exact nature and importance of their collections. Outside of Italy, EHRI found that the State Archives in Rijeka, Croatia, have four collections pertaining to the Holocaust-period. Especially important, however, are the vast holdings on Italy, which EHRI was able to identify at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.