Il Grido Della Stirpe and Mussolini's 1938 Racial Legislation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Many Italian Americans turned a deaf ear to Fascism after the enactment of Italy's 1938 antisemitic measures. Others, however, did not. The latter included Domenico Trombetta, the editor and publisher of the New York City-based Italian-language weekly Il Grido della Stirpe. This article examines the editorial stand of Il Grido della Stirpe on Mussolini's racial legislation. This newspaper not only embraced the Fascist laws against Jews. It also endeavored to exploit the ethnic antipathies between Jews and Italian Americans in New York City to elicit support for the Duce's policies among Italian immigrants and their offspring. Furthermore, Trombetta's weekly showed an ideological commitment to antisemitism that even the Italian Americans who had anti-Jewish feelings usually lacked.

In 1938, after a number of forewarnings in the previous years, the Fascist regime launched an anti-Jewish campaign that was to align Italy's racial policy to that of her Nazi ally. The Italian antisemitic turn began on July 14, 1938, with the issue of the Manifesto della razza (manifesto of the race). This statement by a group of obscure university professors, who were on the payroll of dictator Benito Mussolini's Ministry of Popular Culture despite their academic affiliations, contended among other points that, since the Italian people were of Aryan origin, Jews did not belong to what was called the "Italian race." Such a declaration denied that the presence of different human races implied the existence of superior and inferior races. But it also called on the Italians to proclaim themselves to be racist. Furthermore, even if the manifesto was based on pseudo-scientific evidence, it offered the grounds for the discrimination of Jews and their progressive exclusion from the country's economic, political, and social life. Among the other provisions that followed the publication of the Manifesto della razza, Italian Jews were expelled from the Fascist party, state schools, and universities, were dismissed from positions with the state and local administrations, were banned from the army, could not own or manage companies that employed more than one hundred people, and were allowed to marry other Jews only. Jewish professionals could practice only for their fellow ethnics. Moreover, unnaturalized foreign-born Jews could no longer maintain legal residence in Italy or in her colonial territories, while Jewish immigrants who had been granted Italian citizenship after January 1, 1919, lost it and had to leave the country by March 1939.(2)

Scholars have usually held that most Italian Americans in the United States were not antisemitic and even resented Mussolini's 1938 anti-Jewish measures, although proFascist feelings prevailed in the country's "Little Italics" before the outbreak of World War II. In this view, Italian immigrants and their offspring stood by the Duce as long as the Fascist regime was popular in their adoptive society, too, and Italy's alleged accomplishments let them bask in the glory of the supposed achievements of their ancestral land. Conversely, they hurried to disavow Fascism as soon as supporting the policies of the Italian government became a liability in the United States. Therefore, after an outburst of enthusiasm for Mussolini following the Duce's conquest of Ethiopia and the establishment of an Italian empire in eastern Africa in 1936, two years later Italian Americans began to distance themselves from the Fascist regime in the wake of the passing of Italy's antisemitic legislation.(3)

As a handout by the organizers of a protest meeting against the antisemitic laws of Mussolini's regime read, "Italians Don't Hate Jews." Likewise, Italian-American anti-Fascist leaders such as Girolamo Valenti, the chairperson of the Italian Anti-Fascist Committee, or Luigi Antonini, the general secretary of local 89 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, denounced the Duce's 1938 antisemitic turn and urged their fellow ethnics to sympathize with Jews. …