Fascism and the "Defence of Race": From 1938 Racial Laws to the present

November 26, 2018
Fascism and the "Defence of Race": From 1938 Racial Laws to the present


On Sunday–Monday, 4–5th of November, SICSA held a colloquium titled: Fascism and the "Defence of Race" From 1938 Racial Laws to the Present.The context of the discussion are the 80 years from the Italian Racist Laws (ItalianLeggi razziali) but the colloquium tackles questions of antisemitism, racism and fascism, nationalism and the question of civil and political liberty of the Twenties and the Thirties with a look, ex-cathedra, at the present political situation in the European countries and in the Extra-European countries. The Italian case is therefore understood a synecdoche for broader contexts.

Fascism and the Defence of Race

The Laws

The racist laws were a set of laws promulgated by Fascist Italy from 1938 to 1943 to enforce racial discrimination in Italy, directed mainly against the Italian Jews and the native inhabitants of the colonies.

The first and most important of the laws was the Regio Decreto 17 Novembre 1938 [Nr. 1728] which restricted civil rights of Jews, banned their books and excluded Jews from public office and higher education. Additional laws stripped Jews of their assets, restricted travel and finally provided for their confinement in internal exile (confine), as was done for political prisoners.

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The promulgation of the racial laws was preceded by a long press campaign and by publication of the "Manifesto of Race" earlier in 1938, a purportedly-scientific report by fascist scientists and supporters that asserted racial principles, including the superiority of Europeans over other races. The final decision about the law was made during the meeting of the Great Council of fascism (Gran Consiglio del Fascismo), which took place on the night between 6 and 7 October 1938 in Rome, Palazzo Venezia. Not all Fascists supported discrimination: while the pro-German, anti-Jewish Roberto Farinacci and Giovanni Preziosi strongly pushed for them, Italo Balbo strongly opposed the laws. The laws prohibited Jews from having any professional position and prohibited sexual relations and marriage between Italians, Jews and Africans.

Fascist Italy highly publicized a publication titled "Manifesto of the Racial Scientists" which included a mixture of biological racism and history; it declared that Italians belong to the Aryan race, that Jews were not Italians and that it was necessary to distinguish between Europeans and non-Europeans.

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After 1943, after the fall of Mussolini on July 25, 1943, and the creation of the Repubblica Sociale di Salò (Italian Social Republic) which ruled the Italian territories in the center-north until the end of the war, the question of racial laws was dealt directly by the Vatican; by Cardinal Luigi Maglione and by the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi. Tacchi Venturi believed that the racial laws should have been abolished only for Jews converted to Christianity and the restrictions on those who belonged to the Jewish religion should have been maintained. In receiving letters from the Italian Jewish community that invited him to intercede, because the Italian Anti-Jewish laws were completely abolished, he denied his support by saying: "looking carefully at the mention of the total repeal of a law (the racial laws) which, according to the principles and traditions of the Catholic Church, they have provisions that must be repealed, but they also contain other deserving ones of confirmation". The secretary of state, Maglione, was of different opinion and did not oppose the abrogation of racial laws by the Badoglio government.

On October 18, 1943, the first transport of Italian Jews left from Rome to Auschwitz, after the squad raid in the Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

Fascism and the Defence of Race4

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