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Mussolini, the “nice” fascist” – Not Quite

September 17, 2021

Prevail: The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia’s Victory Over Mussolini’s Invasion, 1935-1941
by Jeff Pearce, Professor Richard Pankhurst (Foreword by)

Growing up in a New York City Jewish family as I did at the end of World War II (November 6, 1944 is when I first came into the world), it is not surprising that I heard some about WW2. Much of our extended family, both on the Prensky and Magaziner side were exterminated in places like Bialystok, Grodno, Prienai and Vilnius from whence my grandparents originated.

A number of my uncles (six by my unofficial count – Ira, Joe, Leo, Sam, Willie and family friend “Uncle Frank”) fought in “the War”. My father, then named “Herb Prensky”, did too. My father signed a waiver that permitted him to enter the military despite poor eyesight. His response as to why he signed up was simple, direct: “I wanted to kill Nazis” – an honorable goal, then and now.

He didn’t get to do so, as he spent most of the war stateside working directly under one Robert McNamarra is a special “statistical control” unit, the purpose of which was to stop the theft of fuel, weapons and other materials from U.S. military bases from where these items were being stolen, mostly with the connivance of commanding officers at the base.

No doubt my father’s finest moment – throwing criminal generals in jail for putting their personal greed before the national interest. “Of course” (sic!) these things no longer happen!! My father’s opposition to Nazism continued after the War had ended. He once told me that he contributed to Jewish hitman who combed South America for SS types hiding in places like Bolivia and Argentina. Although well traveled, he never visted Germany. He was upset not only that I did on many occasions, but worse, sincerely respected post war German youth of my own age who were active in their country’s peace movement, many of whom told me stories of questioning their Nazi parents… “How could you have?” I heard repeatedly. Postwar German youth, those who had to study and in many cases visit, concentration camps, had learned “history’s lessons” – and much better I would add, than the children of Americans who fought in Vietnam.

But if my father never believed that the children of Nazis could be that much different from their parents, his attitude towards Mussolini and his ilk, towards Italy was more generous, more forgiving. If he wouldn’t step foot in Germany, Italy was one of his favorite countries; he visited it frequently and spoke about how he enjoyed much of anything that is “Italian” – the people, their rich history, their food, you name it. That I grew up in a neighborhood where my early friends had surnames like Frabrizzi, Corragio, Macalusco, Napolitano might have something to do with it. But then it was only later that I learned that other than Frank Sinatra (who was an Italian anti-fascist) a large percentage of Italian Americans loved Mussolini and supported him repeatedly in hugh rallies throughout the 1930s.)

I have heard that “good cop, bad cop” comparison of Italian and German fascism most of my life, and not just from my father. I have long been more than a little suspicous. Yes, Italian fascism has a somewhat different trajectory than German Nazism. Yet all that “crap” – and that is all it is – about how benign, how “peace loving” the Italians fascists were compared to the Nazis – the kind of de-militarized military spirit that comes through in the Italian film “Mediterraneo” is the stuff of which propaganda is made. Italian fascism was as “benign” as the Chilean variety under Pinochet, or Franco’s Spain and in many ways far worse.

For anyone wanting to get a more accurate picture of the true face of Italian fascism, two words suffice: Libya and Ethiopia. Very little is written about either, although there is a fine film starring Anthony Quinn, “The Lion in the Desert” which gives a hint of Italy’s seething brutality in its conquest of Libya. A few books documenting the horrors of it’s 1935-1941 conquest and occupation of Ethiopia have appeared in recent years, among them, Jeff Pearce’s fine “Prevail: The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia’s Victory over Mussolini’s Invasion” and Ian Campbell’s “The Addis Ababa Massacre” detailing the three day orgy in which Italian occupation troops slaughtered tens of thousands.

Tying the two events together – the Libyan and Ethiopian Conquests – is the person of Rodolpho Graziani “Butcher of Fezzan” (Libya) and architect of the 1935 Addis massacre. Graziani – every bit as brutal as any Nazi SS officer, as Pinochet, Franco, is still celebrated as a great Italian patriot in the town of his birth, Affile, Italy.

I will be writing about Italy in Libya and Ethiopia over the next weeks.

I Campi Fascisti

Italian concentration camps in Ethiopia (in red). 1935-1941

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom Moore permalink
    September 17, 2021 8:15 pm

    I was born in 1938 Lived near an Italian community in Delaware Got some whiffs of Il Douche near the end of WWII but i was still very young.

  2. Robert Greene permalink
    September 18, 2021 11:42 am

    My family story is that Mussolini served under my grandfather in the Italian Army in WW1. The family story has my grandfather calling the roll in the morning and asking Mussolini, if Mussolini, who in the family story is a cheapskate and always borrowing money , had paid back any of the loans. The WW! Italian soldier was paid basically pennies. When Mussolini said no,my grandfather . My grandfather, then a saregant in the Alpini, the Italian Mountain troops, who had lent Mussolini money and cigarettes, leaving my grandfather without money to send home, began beating Mussolini. Apparently, according to the story, this beating went on for a long time. Which is why we’re here in the USA.
    THE WINTER WAR, by Thompson which is about Italy in the WW!, shows the failure of the bourgeoise parties to lead italy in the WW!. This failure allowed Mussolini the chance to fill the role of leader who knew what he was doing.
    Thanks for bringing up the invasion of Ethiopia and Libya, events that are forgot, but effects today.

  3. Michael A. Dover permalink
    September 18, 2021 12:07 pm

    I watched Lion in the desert last night. Given that that film came out in 1980, he would think that we would’ve realized that some other way could’ve been found to respond to the attacks on 9/11 then getting mired down in a war in Afghanistan.

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