Nazi Germany, December 13, 1942: Joseph Goebbels documents in his journal his frustration toward the Italian treatment of Jews at the time. He said that,
The Italians are extremely lax in their treatment of Jews. They protect Italian Jews both in Tunis and in occupied France and won’t permit their being drafted for work or compelled to wear the Star of David.”
Joseph Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda, both infamous and considered as some kind of dark genius of his time. After all, he played an essential part in convincing Germany to follow Hitler. As the war continued, he pushed and encouraged Hitler toward some of the iconic, brutal outcomes of the war — essentially shutting down a civilian Germany and completely diving headfirst into total war. His final, arguably most infamous and personal act happened on 1 May, 1945 when he and his wife killed themselves with cyanide, poisoning and murdering their six children as well. Had he lived, he would have been in charge of succeeding Hitler (which he technically did, for a day).
The Italians, under the scrutiny from Goebbels and the Nazi powers, pushed and passed antisemitic legislation in an effort to appease their Nazi allies. They instated rules that defined Jews, took them out of government infrastructure, banned marriage between Jews and others, took them out of the Italian military, imprisoned foreign Jews and removed them from the media entirely. These sound harsh, though maybe not in comparison to Germany, but the laws did not find the traction that Goebbels and other Nazis would have hoped. Without rigid enforcement, the laws didn’t have much teeth to sink in, much to Goebbels’ dismay. As the war progressed, Italy did deport many Jews to concentration or kill camps.
Now that’s not to say that the Jews who remained in Italy weren’t viciously persecuted, it just wasn’t quite the same as in, say, Poland. The Italians never really liked the fact that they had teamed up with Germany in the first place, and each defeat in the war solidified this discontent. Jewish refugees on the run would often seek Italian-controlled areas, as they would generally be significantly safer than in the heart of Nazi Germany.
Still, any power even remotely complicit with the Holocaust has a deep stain on their history. This wanton disregard for human life often gets condemned with fire and fury after the fact, but is generally overlooked while it’s happening, and this has happened time and time again in every country around the world. To have the presence of mind to realize when these sorts of events are actively happening has actually been a rare occurrence — after all, the concentration camps and the attempt at a mass extermination of an entire people wasn’t why the U.S. involved themselves in the war.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.