[N]o state is better suited than Italy as an ally for Germany. 1
In 1928 Hitler completed a rambling and repetitive exposition of policy objectives, otherwise known as his (unpublished) ‘second’ or ‘secret book’. In the manuscript Italy stands out as the country that held the greatest interest for the leader of the NSDAP. 2 Hitler’s verdict was resoundingly positive. The fact that Italy, in spite of its pre-war alliance with Germany, had joined the country’s enemies in 1915 and that, in 1919, it had gained South Tyrol with its large German-speaking community did not deter Hitler from his total devotion to achieving an alliance with Italy. Instead he demonstrated a very distinct commitment to explaining away both issues.
As early as 1919, at the very beginning of his political career, Hitler declared in a speech that Italy had entered the war due to its hatred of Austria, not because of any antagonism towards Germany. 3 The same argument he used repeatedly to explain away as unnecessary the previous conflict between Germany and Italy. Put plainly, Austria was ‘the determining force which drove the Italian people’ to go to war—‘and the visible possibility of being able to benefit their own Italian interests’. 4
By far the most significant of the ‘Italian interests’ was South Tyrol with its large Italian population, but also its substantial Austrian minority. In 1920, Hitler did not yet offer an explanation of how to resolve the obvious conflict of interests over that particular territory. It was clear, however, that the issue was certain to disrupt his goal of an alliance with Italy. At this early point in his political career, Hitler was, in fact, still in agreement with other German nationalists in demanding the integration of the territory into a Greater Germany. 5 Within the Nazi movement this stance found its official reflection in the party programme of 1920. By the end of the 1920s, however, the programme had been changed on