Throughout Europe, there has been a history of persecuting the Jewish people. From the
first crusades through the Nazis in Germany, many European countries have at one point or
another attempted to wipe out their respective Jewish populations. However, one notable
country has refrained from this practice: Italy. Despite the fascist policies of Mussolini in the
early to mid-twentieth century, Italy generally refrained from acting forcefully against its Jewish
countrymen. In their articles, R. Anthony Pedatella and Michael A. Ledeen both present
arguments about the treatment of the Jewish people during the fascist years of Mussolini.
Despite the slightly differing opinions on the leniency of treatment towards the Jews, both agree
that regardless of official state policy, the treatment of the Jews in Italy far surpassed that of any
other European nation.
Although there were examples of the mass persecution of the Jewish people that occurred
in different parts of Europe, Italy has been a guiding force of tolerance. In his article, Italian
Attitudes towards Jewry in the Twentieth Century, Pedatella notes that, “Thomas the Cynic
casually notes that „nature and history have rained many afflictions on my country, but we have
been spared one at least: Italians don‟t know the meaning of anti-Semitism.”1 Pedatella argues
that even other Jews can recognize that their treatment at the hands of the Italians is significantly
better than of any other nation that has attempted to persecute the Jews. Pedatella goes on to
point out that, “there have always been abundant references to Italy and its long history of
fairness to the Jews.”2 In spite of the persecutions that persisted throughout Europe and Russia
during the mid 20th centry, Italy was able to remain a bastion of tolerance. Pedatella states that
Italy is one of the few places in Europe that has not succumbed to hatred of Jews or, for that
Pedatella, R. Anthony. 1985. Italian attitudes toward Jewry in the twentieth century. Jewish Social
Studies 47, (1) (Winter): 51-62.
matter, any of their fellow countrymen. The Italians have focused more on being a unified group
rather than a nation of different religions and beliefs.
In his article, The Evolution of Italian Fascist Anti-Semitism, Leeden points out how
even though many of the laws passed against the Jews during the reign of Mussolini, there never
really was any real attempt at persecution. Ledeen explains the phenomenon that “the racial laws
were unpopular with the people and directed them against an element of the people that had been
on excellent terms with the current regime.”3 Despite the laws that required the Italian people to
be anti-Semitic, Leeden points out that they essentially paid no heed to these laws. Leeden goes
on further to say that even the anti-Semitic laws appeared to be more political than based on
actual hatred of a specific group of people.
Both authors agree that the Italians have a strong history of not being anti-Semitic. Even
when the anti-Semitic laws passed in Italy, there was little or no enforcement of them. However,
Leeden goes on to point out that, “there was always just enough anti-Semitism in high places to
keep the more perceptive Italian Jewish community anxious.”4 Leeden also points out that this
concern is not based on the common people of Italy but rather those in power. In this regard,
Leeden and Pedatella are in agreement because both view the anti-Semitic feelings as stemming
more from the fascist government in power than any real threat or hatred from the actual people
of Italy themselves. In contrast to these author‟s statements, there were also examples of Jewish
Italians in power. Therefore, to utterly include the Italian government as responsible for pressing
anti-Semitic laws is a contradiction. Furthermore, it is apparent that the government was made up
of Italians, so the anti-Semitism in high places must have been very high up the latter.
Ledeen, Michael A. 1975. “The evolution of italian fascist antisemitism” Jewish Social Studies 37, (1)
Ibid., p. 11.
On one hand, the authors‟ arguments compliment each other. Leeden points out that,
“this anxiety stemmed from a perception of fascism‟s evolution in the direction of an ever more
ideological regime, and thus signs of Fascist anti-Semitism were rightly interpreted as more
ominous than earlier anti-Semitic outbreak in pre-Fascist Italy.”5 Once again, Leeden is pointing
out that anti-Semitism in Italy was more of an Italian political movement to appease Axis powers
than actually hatred against the Jewish people by Italian people. Pedatella‟s argument supports
this conclusion while stating, “It was this inability to harbor cold and systematic hatred…which
made Italy the foremost haven for Jewish refugees throughout the Hitler years and turned Italians
into Nazi Europe‟s finest keepers of their Jewish brothers.”6 Pedatella goes on to support
Leeden‟s point that anti-Semitism was more of a political movement than a hatred when he
states, “the irony, of course, is that this [lack of] behavior was a contradiction of official Italian
state policy as formulated in the racial purity laws of 1938.”7 Both authors point to the fact that
Italian anti-Semitism came from the Fascist government than from any common hatred of a
particular group of people.
Both Leeden and Pedatella present arguments that both compliment and support each
other. Both authors sustain the argument that the Italians are not an anti-Semitic people as a
whole. The Italian people generally did not follow the laws against Jewish people, even when
there were national laws set in place. Pedatella argues that the Italian people have been one of the
only nations in Europe that have united as a country rather than as a nation of separate ethnicities
and religions.8 Leeden presents a similar argument to Pedatella in that both authors agree that
the Italian people have represented a bastion of tolerance in Europe. Leeden goes further in the
Ibid., p. 2.
Pedatella, p. 51.
Ibid., p. 51.
Ibid., p. 54.
argument however by pointing out that the times when there has been anti-Semitism in Italy, it
has been based more on political reasons rather than any real form of actual hatred against the
Jewish race. Pedatella explains the Italian perspective the best when he says, “with its anti-
Semitic persecution, Fascism broke with the great majority of the Italian people and in particular
with most Catholics.”9 Despite being of different religious beliefs than the Jewish community,
many Italians refuse to identify themselves with just a simple religion but rather both authors
agree that the Italians identify themselves as a common nation rather than just individual beliefs.
Ibid., p. 60.