Berlusconi Defends Mussolini for Backing Hitler

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Byline: Associated Press

ROME Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Benito Mussolini for "having done good" despite the fascist dictators anti-Jewish laws, immediately sparking expressions of outrage as Europe on Sunday held Holocaust remembrances.

Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next months election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.

In 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, Mussolinis regime passed the so-called "racial laws," barring Jews from Italys universities and many professions, among other bans. When Germanys Nazi regime occupied Italy during the war, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps.

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi said of Mussolinis support for Hitler. "Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitlers Germany rather than oppose it."

Berlusconi added that "within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good."

More than 7,000 Jews were deported under Mussolinis regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.

Outrage quickly followed his words. Among those voicing condemnation were prominent Jewish figures abroad.

Mussolini "modeled his anti-Jewish laws after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws barring Jews from civil service," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement. "It is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a reincarnated good guy."

Berlusconis praise of Mussolini constitutes "an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy," said Rosy Bindi, a center-left leader. "Only Berlusconis political cynicism, combined with the worst historic revisionism, could separate the shame of the racist laws from the fascist dictatorship."

Italian laws enacted following the countrys disastrous experience in the war forbid the defense of fascism. …