The January 1943 Anfa (Morocco) conference of Churchill, Roosevelt and de Gaulle heralded an allied offensive, particularly on the Mediterranean front.
The invasion of Sicily by the British Eighth Army and the United States Seventh Army began on the 10th of July 1943.
On the 19th, Hitler, though distrustful of the loyalty of some Italians, offered twenty divisions for the defence of the peninsula, but refused to post them permanently further south than a line from Pisa to Rimini.
By the 24th, the Yankees had started to appoint mafiosi as mayors of the cities they had conquered in Sicily. Mussolini, against whom the majority of the Grand Council of the Fascist Party had approved a motion of no confidence, both for the conduct of the war and for his Fascist policies, was removed from power by the King, and arrested the next day. Marshal Badoglio, promoted to Head of Government by the King, who had fled to Southern Italy with him and various other traitors, proclaimed his intention to continue the war, while prominent Fascists like Giovanni Preziosi and Roberto Farinacci had taken shelter in Germany. Hitler ordered the immediate reinforcement of Italy, to secure the communications of the German troops fighting in Sicily, and to command the Po valley and the important railway system of the north. On the 26th, he sent for Skorzeny to ask him to rescue Mussolini.
From the end of July, German troops poured into Northern Italy, and within a month eighteen divisions were available for the defence of the southern ramparts of the Reich. Six divisions south of Rome, and two in the general area of the capital, comprised the command of Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring. The remaining ten divisions formed Army Group B, under Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, with command of all forces in Italy and Italian-occupied Slovenia north of a line from Grosseto to Rimini. Kesselring opposed Rommel’s advice and advocated holding the invaders as far south as possible. Finally, Hitler decided to follow his strategy, but in vain.
On the 3rd of September, eighteen days after a secret envoy from Badoglio had appeared at the British Embassy in Madrid bearing an offer from the Marshal that, on invasion of the mainland, his Government would quit the German for the Allied side, the British landed at Reggio di Calabrio, and on the 8th the Italian forces capitulated. Badoglio declared war on Germany, while the United Nations recognised Italy as a cobelligerent. Having been declared an ‘open city’ on the 14th August, Rome was occupied by the Germans on the 9th of September, three days before the liberation of Mussolini, who immediately established the Republic of Salò in Northern Italy. The allied troops drove them from Rome on the 5th of June 1944.
Julius Evola wrote a diary from the 25th of July 1943 to the capture of Rome (i.e., 5th of June 1944). Here is the first part, up to the assassination of Ettore Muti on the 24th of August 1943.
I. Skorzeny in Rome after the 25th of July
Just after the crisis of Fascism, during the evening of the 26th of July, I was asked by elements in the German Embassy, with whom I had collaborated for a long time, whether, for reasons of prudence, I wished to move to Germany. This could have been arranged secretly for the next morning, by putting me on the military plane which was to carry Farinacci (1). I decided not to make use of the possibility which had been offered to me.
As a matter of fact, the factors which had suggested that I might be exposed to danger in Italy meant at the same time that I was most unlikely to be harassed for the time being. I had never held any official positions in Fascism, nor had I ever joined the Party. I had conducted all of my activity on the doctrinal plane, trying to favour and develop all the forces in the movement of Italian restoration which could culminate in an absolute, traditional, ‘Ghibelline’-orientated Right. I could perhaps consider myself exposed, if I was at all, because of my particular liaison with German elements, and my defence of the principle of the Axis, especially after Mussolini had, on his own initiative, contacted me to convey his approval of the special formulations which I had given to the problems of race and world-view. But, since only that day the King had declared that « the war would continue », despite the crisis of Fascism, there were grounds for thinking that my particular link with these elements in Germany, with which we were still allied, guaranteed me a certain immunity, at least for a time.
Indeed, this is how it turned out. Besides, I decided to remain in Italy, and in Rome, to see what, in general, could still be done. The danger of an inner collapse of Fascism, we had to a certain extent prepared for. What would have to happen in such an eventuality was discussed by me with the Minister of State, Giovanni Preziosi (2), whose friend and close collaborator I was, and a representative of the SS, precisely on the day before the fatal meeting of the Grand Council. Later on, we heard that Carlo Scorza had warned the Duce about what was brewing behind the scenes, but that his warning had not been taken seriously. In any case, the lack of any reaction to the treachery of the Grand Council, the absolute inertia of the greater part of the representatives of the regime and of the Militia itself, struck me, and friends who were close to me, for a long time, with a painful amazement : it confirmed the absence of well-tempered and strong forces behind the hierarchical and conformist structures, something which, unfortunately, had come to light on more than one occasion. Now, it was a matter of drawing all the consequences of this harsh lesson ; of seeing what elements had withstood the test, however much they might have been hamstrung by the deficiencies of the system, and what other, new, elements could be relied upon, in order to maintain, in a form appropriate to the circumstances, our militant stance with respect to the internal Italian political problem, as well as to the continuation of the war as part of the Axis alliance.
I explained these essential reasons for my decision to remain in Rome to my friends in the German Embassy, seeking to underline the decisive importance of coordinated action. However, on the one hand, persons in the diplomatic milieu demonstrated a limited, but still bizarre, trust in the assurances given by the Badoglio government, and on the other hand, the greater the involvement that any given Fascists had had in the actual events of the time, the greater the distrust these persons in the diplomatic milieu showed towards them. Yet, logically, the nonsensicality of an Italy which, having declared itself in favour of anti-Fascism, kept on fighting the world-wide anti-Fascist coalition in a war which was by then openly ideological, should have been very clear.
I let the rest of July and a part of August go by, with contacts and consultations with various elements, while making sure that I was kept appropriately informed of the developments in the situation, especially with respect to the German attitude. Here, a divergence took shape little by little between the views of the Auswärtiges Amt, that is, of the diplomats answerable to the Wilhelmstrasse, and the SS circles. The former thought that, in spite of everything, the war could be continued alongside the new regime. This ingenuousness was to achieve an extreme form later on, when Ribbentrop, although he had been told about the regime’s intention to conclude a secret deal with the Allies, let himself be reassured by the word of honour given to him by Ambassador Guariglia that this was not true. As is now well-known, this assurance was to be repeatedly given, even as the armistice was virtually concluded. The latter foresaw instead, as a natural consequence of the 25th of July, the armistice and, sooner or later, defection.
This uncertain situation found characteristic and dramatic expression in a little-known episode. In August 1943, Otto Skorzeny, who was later to free Mussolini, reached Rome, together with a group of SS officials. But, at first, even the German Embassy knew nothing about their real identity and their mission. They had arrived in Luftwaffe uniforms, and, avoiding the diplomatic circle, contacted Kesselring directly and told him what had been planned in Berlin. This was no less than a plan to stage a coup, by arresting Badoglio and his collaborators, and taking ‘measures of security’ with respect to the King and some of the members of the royal family, similar to those which had been taken with respect to Mussolini. Naturally, it was also a matter of finding out where Mussolini had been hidden, and freeing him before it was too late, that is, before the other side hastened to do away with him.
Kesselring did not feel able to personally approve a plan of this kind, and told the German Embassy about it. It was felt that this initiative would worsen the situation and cause dangerous reactions, because it would give the Italian people the feeling of an absolutely foreign intervention. An initiative of Italian elements, even if immediately supported by German forces in a decisive manner, in agreement with and on the formal request of the Italians, in order to restore a situation similar to that which existed before the 25th of July, if this had been carefully analysed, would have been a different matter. By then, it was too late to restore the prestige of Fascism in the eyes of large strata of the Italian people, since it had been destroyed by the defection of the members of the Grand Council, by the lack of resistance by the representatives of the Fascist revolution to the exquisitely ‘constitutional’ liquidation of Mussolini, who had become a mere head of government of the sort who offers his resignation, and, finally, by the sight of the sudden change of heart of many – especially ‘intellectuals’ – who, only a few days before, had exalted Fascism. So delicate a situation could not be resolved by merely offensive action.
Pondering these factors, the Embassy, rather alarmed, called Hitler directly. Days of waiting, and of bated breath, passed.
The fact that the German side expected an initiative by the Italians, in the form of a coup against the Badoglio government, even if it had to be supported immediately after the fact in an adequate and effective manner, was in all probability the cause of the end of Ettore Muti. Everything I have referred to previously had been kept strictly secret ; as I have said, at first, no one in the German Embassy in Rome heard of Skorzeny’s orders. However, someone who was reputedly particularly trusted by Himmler, Eugen Dollmann, heard of them. It is not clear how this person, originally a mere interpreter, had been able to win the confidence of the head of the SS. Dollman shared the ‘humanist’ mentality of some corrupt cultured German elements, and cherished a deep contempt in his heart for National Socialism and its men ; compared to his own estimate of himself, nothing seemed to him noble and aristocratic enough, and consequently he insisted on introducing himself by any means possible into the circles of the Roman Patriciate, on the sidelines of the Royal House itself. We may assume that, since he thought that the green light might be given to Skorzeny and his men for the operation against the new government, Dollman opportunely arranged for members of the Royal House to be informed, so that they could take cover. Naturally, this meant that even Badoglio came to hear about the danger.
The Assassination of Ettore Muti (3)
The search for men who could put themselves at the head of the Fascist reaction was not easy, because among the Fascists who remained faithful and who were the most exposed, some had already been arrested, while others had immediately taken shelter in Germany. Ettore Muti was considered, because he was less a politician than a representative of pure combattantism, even though he was the secretary of the Party for a short time, and because of his determination and his qualities of character. However, as soon as, as we have explained, the Badoglio government came to know what was being planned, it launched the Muti operation as a preventive measure, even though, until this moment, he had not been bothered in any way. I do not think that Muti even knew at this point what was going to be proposed to him. Besides, it is difficult to establish with accuracy whether the government wanted simply to arrest him, or to kill him : the formula « killed while trying to escape » is notorious, even stereotyped, in far too many cases, to start with that of Codreanu, the assassinated leader of the Romanian Iron Guard.
Because of all these facts, and because of the sense that the Badoglio government was now on its guard, the situation was becoming tense. If there was to be an action, it was not susceptible to postponement. In the meantime, orders had come from Berlin to cancel the whole Skorzeny plan ; instead, he was put in charge solely of finding out where Mussolini was and freeing him. Perhaps the best solution which was contemplated was that the Duce himself, if he wanted, should take the initiative in the reaction personally. As became clearer later, the deep friendship which Hitler had for Mussolini played a part in this. The Führer, right from the start, feared that whoever led the coup might, to a certain extent, supplant Mussolini. For this reason Farinacci was not selected, even though he was already in Germany and had offered his services in any action against the men of the 25th of July and the new regime. Here, far too much importance was given to rumours of a supposed rivalry between Mussolini and Farinacci, because Farinacci – whom I had the opportunity to know closely – was never prepared to bow his head in front of anyone, which opposed him to the style of servility peculiar to many Fascists around Mussolini, and yet he was a loyal man, devoted to the Duce.
An Eventful Journey
It was in this debilitating climate of uncertainty, and given the fluctuations which took place on the German side, that, around the end of August 1943, I agreed to go secretly to Berlin, to discuss the situation and contribute some clarification at first hand. I did not leave alone ; I was accompanied by a member of the armed forces, who could advise the Germans on the political attitudes of his comrades, by a representative of a well-known journalistic agency, and by a squadrist (who later was to become the victim of an air raid), who represented in a way the group of the ‘true believers’, who did not accept the 25th of July and had been wishing for a long time for a renewing and purifying ‘second wave’ of Fascist activism.
Our journey was not devoid of colourful incidents. We went separately to Bolzano, to a given inn, to the concierge of which we gave an agreed password. On the strength of this we were put in contact with local elements of the SD, who were waiting for the arrival of a military bus which was to cross the border. We got onto it, putting on military coats and German caps, and passed rapidly through the Brenner border post, whose guards did not venture to stop German military cars, especially if they were ‘Waffen-SS’. We reached Innsbruck, and from there we continued to Berlin by train. On the way, we just escaped an air raid. We had to remain for a long time in front of the bombarded city. Once we had entered it, we found a degree of chaos among the people who had been waiting for us, since a bomb had hit a part of the building where the offices of the SD dealing with the Italian sector were located.
To avoid attention (I, in particular, had many acquaintances in Berlin), we were accommodated in the main Potsdam inn. Days of meetings and contacts followed, during which an attempt was made to examine, from the point of view of the Axis, the most urgent problems posed by the Italian situation. Once again, the divergences between the circles of the SS and those of the career diplomats, prone to optimism or, at least, to the wait-and-see policy, appeared. However, I did not want to over-extend my absence from Italy, for various reasons, mainly because of the need to assess any possible developments in the situation and to find out whether new forces were gathering. My friends and those who accompanied me had already gone back, and I was ready to leave, when the Auswärtiges Amt, that is, the Foreign Office, which had finally heard of our mission, informed me that the Minister Giovanni Preziosi wished to see me. Because he was particularly exposed, owing to his various campaigns inspired by Fascist intransigence and his absolute faith in the Axis, Preziosi, with the help of the German Embassy in Rome, had left Italy, and was at this time living incognito, together with his wife and son, in Bad Reichenhall, near Munich. I readily agreed to meet him before going back to Italy. This was the occasion which was to lead me to visit Hitler’s General Headquarters, and to see Mussolini again just after his liberation.
(1) Roberto Farinacci (1892 – 1945) was a volunteer in the First World War and participated in the foundation of the Fascio di combattimento – the ‘Blackshirts’ – in Milan in 1919. He was Ras (local party leader) of Ferrara, and secretary of the local Fascio from 1919 to 1924 and from 1925 to 1929. A representative of the most intransigent side of Fascism, he opposed Mussolini’s attempted rapprochement with the Socialists in 1921. After the March on Rome, he tried to counter the legalistic and normalising stand taken by Mussolini, in the name of a ‘second wave’ of Fascism. Thanks to his loyalty to Mussolini in the Matteotti crisis, he was appointed General Secretary of the National Fascist Party in 1925, but was forced to resign only 13 months later, after divergences with Mussolini. In 1939, he founded the daily Regime fascista in Cremona, in which Julius Evola edited the column Diorama Filosofico, which was devoted to the publication of articles criticising egalitarianism, scientism, and biological racism. Regime fascista was at the head of the campaign against Jewry in those years.
It was only in 1935 that he was admitted to the Grand Council of Fascism and to the government. His return to favour was linked to the German-Italian convergence, which, like Preziosi, with whom he allied himself in the early 1930’s, he supported. With Preziosi he was one of the main instigators of the Italian racial laws.
After the 25th of July, he took shelter in Germany, but soon returned to Cremona, without however assuming any high position in the Republic of Salò. Captured by the partisans as he was trying to escape to Switzerland, he was tried and shot on the 28th of April 1945.
(2) Giovanni Preziosi (1881-1945) was the translator of the first Italian edition of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ (1921). In the early 1910’s, he had renounced the priesthood in favour of a journalistic career. In 1913 he founded the La Vita italiana al’estero – Rivista mensile di emigrazione, politica estera e coloniale, a review of a nationalist character which specialised in the question of emigration, and which became, two years later, La Vita italiana, the resolutely anti-democratic and anti-socialist publication in which, from 1932 to the end of 1941, Julius Evola published most of his articles and essays on the Jewish problem. As a matter of fact, in the early 1920’s, Preziosi had taken the path of anti-Semitism, drawing his inspiration, not from the religiously-based anti-Judaism of the Catholic tradition, but from ‘The Protocols’. The main theme of his thought is the intimate relationship between Judaism, Bolshevism and Freemasonry.
Preziosi uphold Mussolini’s rise to power consistently, while never missing an opportunity to criticise the republican, democratic, and masonic components of the regime, which had not taken an anti-Semitic stand yet, as harshly as possible, with the result that Preziosi remained rather isolated within it. Yet, in 1923, he was offered the editorship of Il Mezzogiorno of Naples, the only great newspaper in Southern Italy on which Fascism could seriously count.
In the 1930’s, the convergence of Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, and the colonial war, created an opportunity for his struggle ; while the first edition of ‘The Protocols’ sold only a few thousand copies, its second edition, published in 1937 by Preziosi with a preface by Evola, sold out in four months. The influence of Preziosi continued to increase with the intensification of the racist policy of the Fascist regime : he is considered the main instigator of the racial laws promulgated in 1938, the year in which he was appointed Minister of State by Mussolini.
On the 18th of November 1943, two months or so after the creation of the Republic of Salò, Hitler granted him an audience, during which Preziosi told Hitler about his uncertainty as to the effective capacity of Mussolini to fight Judaism. In a memorandum written in 1944 for Hitler and Mussolini, he stated that « Fascism has only one real enemy, the Jews, and their main instrument is the Freemasons. The Jews and Freemasons dominate the whole of our national life and are the real Italian government ». Later, he wrote Mussolini a long letter, in which he represented himself as an uncompromising anti-Semite, regretted not having been listened to in previous years, accused Mussolini of not having uphold the cause of anti-Semitism firmly enough, and proposed purging Italy of the subterranean dominion of the Jew. Mussolini yielded, and appointed him General Inspector for Race. In Spring 1945, after the fall of the Republic of Salò, he committed suicide with his wife.
(3) Ettore Muti (1902-1943) was also a volunteer in the Great War, at 15 years old he was among the ‘arditi’, or foot soldiers, specially trained for dangerous missions, and later he was among the legionaries in Fiume. At this time he met Mussolini, by whom he was instantly deeply impressed, and whom he never ceased to worship. In 1924, he was appointed Consul of the Fascist Militia. In 1927 he was seriously injured in an attack in Ravenna. At 34 years old he joined the Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant and served in Ethiopia and Spain. In 1939 Mussolini appointed him National Secretary to the National Fascist Party, to replace Achilles Starace. Nominally he remained Secretary of the PFN until October 1940, but from the 1st of June, he returned to the Air Force to take part in the war. After the 25th of July 1943 and the arrest of Mussolini, Muti continued demonstrating openly his cult for the Duce. Arrested at Fregene during the night of the 24th of August, he was shot while under military police guard in prison. One of the most notorious squads of the Republic of Salò was named after him.