Life in Fascist Italy

Relations with the Catholic Church

Mussolini had to develop good relations with the Roman Catholic Church simply because, regardless of his absolute power as the Duce, the Catholic Church was a powerful institution. Over 90% of Italy’s population at the time was Catholic (History Learning Site) and if the Pope energized the people to go against Mussolini, the Italians would dispose him without questioning their religious leader. For Benito Mussolini, it was extremely important to make peace between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy ever since Italian unification in 1870 (Fun Front). In that year, the Papal Kingdom was confiscated by the Italian Kingdom, leading the Pope to refuse to recognize the Italian Kingdom. Popes declared themselves ‘prisoners in the Vatican’, since they refused to go out of the microstate.

In 1929, Benito Mussolini concluded the so-called Roman Question with the Lateran

Vatican Microstate

Treaty. This treaty established the Vatican microstate, the Holy See, in Rome. In exchange for recognizing the Kingdom of Italy and the huge territorial lost of the Papal States, the Holy See received  £30 million in compensation and 110 acres in Rome to create a new papal state – the Vatican. The Roman Catholic faith became the state religion and it was taught in primary and secondary school. The Church was also given control of marriage and banned divorce. Mussolini make it a crime to swear in public and made abortions and contraception illegal (Fun Front). The Lateran Treaty settled a political dispute that the Italian people had been torn on. It changed the lives of the people by reaffirming Benito Mussolini as their leader.

The relations with the Catholic Church soured when Benito Mussolini adopted the Manifesto of Race in 1938, that stripped Jews of their Italian nationality and prevented them from having most jobs. The Pope even wrote a letter to Mussolini, protesting the matter.

Relation with the Italian People

The population was subject to strict control by the Fascist State. The mass media; including the press, radio, cinema, and books were all strictly censored. Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts were given a lot of power. These men were mostly ex-soldiers who brought into line those who opposed the State. The motto of the Blackshirts was ‘I don’t give a damn’ (History Learning Site). Mussolini also created a secret police (OVRA) in 1927. Only 4,000 people were arrested by OVRA and up until 1940 ten people had been sentenced to death (History Learning Site). This figure was minuscule compared to the Gestapo secret police of Nazi Germany.

Benito Mussolini was extremely interested in the education of the futur generation. School children were taught that ‘Mussolini was always right’ and that ‘war is to man as motherhood is to woman’ to energize young boys to become ferocious soldiers (History Learning Site). Mussolini advocated that fighting for men was natural. Primary and secondary school pupils wore uniforms resembling those of the army.

While young boys were taught military exercises, young girls were encouraged to get married and have as many children as possible. Mussolini deemed the population size too small, so he launched a ‘Battle for Births’ policy to encourage reproduction. He lowered taxes for big families and raised them for bachelors (Fun Front).

Relation to Jews

The Jewish community was very small in Italy; only 47,000 in the 1930s. They were treated just like the other citizen and were not bothered. This racial indifference was  because fascism did not originally have racial prejudices in its ideology. When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, he added anti-Semitism and eugenics to fascism. In Italy, Jews were permitted to join the National Fascist Party. Benito Mussolini had even said in the beginning of his reign that it was important to the national identity to preserve the Roman Jews (Jewish Virtual Library). But in 1938, with the adoption of the Manifesto of Race to appease Adolf Hitler, the Jewish people lost almost all of their rights. Although they were the official rules in the country, the laws were mostly ignored and not imposed because they were incredibly unpopular with Italians. The status quo changed in 1943 when Italy was invaded in the south by the Allied Forces. Nazi Germans became present in the north of Italy and during this time, raided the ghettos in Italy, rounded the Jews, and sent them to internement camps in Germany and Poland. It is estimated that about 7,500 Italian Jews were victims of the Holocaust (Holocaust Remembrance). Primo Levi, an Italian Jew from Turin, is one of the most famous Auschwitz survivors that wrote If This is A Man and The Truce. 

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