Italian Fascists on Trial, 1943-1948

Italian Fascists on Trial, 1943-1948

Italian Fascists on Trial, 1943-1948

Italian Fascists on Trial, 1943-1948


Roy Domenico describes and evaluates the controversial efforts in Italy to punish Fascists after the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943 and the more violent efforts to do so after the liberation of German-occupied northern Italy in 1945. He focuses on the trials and bureaucratic purges of Fascists and illuminates the political struggles between those who favored the sanctions and those who opposed them.

According to Domenico, sanctions against Fascists were complicated by a widespread inability to define and place blame. Those most likely to be tried, he argues, were symbolic or strategic figures who were prominent in the dictatorship or were otherwise closely identified in the public's mind with the regime and whose prosecution would make a dramatic impression. The scope of sanctions was restricted further by focusing on those who served Mussolini's collaborationist Salo regime and away from the Fascists of the 1922-43 dictatorship.

The British and Americans were ambivalent about prosecuting the Fascists in part, says Domenico, because they did not look upon Italian fascism as nearly as objectionable as German nazism. In theory, they wanted the most notorious Fascists to be investigated and punished, but in practice, they did not want to create bureaucratic chaos in what was left of the weak Italian state or to strengthen the far Left. Further, the outbreak of the civil war in liberated Greece in the winter of 1944-45 alarmed many, who feared that civil war might erupt in northern Italy as well.

Domenico concludes that although Italy dismantled a dictatorship and became a democratic republic in the space of three years, the Italian experience nevertheless illustrates the resilience of the old order and its tenacity in maintaining influence.

Originally published in 1991.


Between 1943 and 1945 Fascists, National Socialists, and collaborators were forced to come to terms with the unstoppable rush of Allied troops, Resistance fighters, and popular violence that has been collectively labeled the liberation of Europe. The leaders and functionaries of crumbling empires feared, waited, and prepared for whatever might come -- fates that neither they, nor anyone else, could clearly forecast. What indeed would the war's end bring for the adherents and opportunists of the fallen regimes?

We know, almost fifty years later, many of their destinies. Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, and others took their own lives deep below the streets where raged the hellish battle of Berlin. A good number vanished. But many more lived to face their accusers. Punishments and retribution against them, against members of the old governments, appear to us random and uneven: at once violent and mild. Benito Mussolini's smashed and bloodied corpse, hung upside down from a gas station beam, is seared forever into our images of the Italian dictator. In France jury members shouted "swine" at Pierre Laval before he was propped up, half dead, before his firing squad. Insanely, maniacally defiant to the end, Germany's Julius Streicher hurled invectives at his executioners as a rope was being adjusted around his neck.

Conversely, anti-Fascists all over Europe insisted that not enough . . .

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