How Italians Dealt With Losing Heads of State

From a post on Delanceyplace.com about the death of Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy during World War Two—this section is from the book Year Zero by Ian Buruma:

Among the victims of the partisan reprisals in April 1945 were Mus­solini himself, with his mistress, Clara Petacci. They were caught while attempting to escape to Austria with German soldiers. When they were stopped at a roadblock manned by partisans, the Germans were told to go on their way; the partisans had no more interest in them. But the Italians had to stay behind. Mussolini, despite wearing a German army greatcoat over his red-striped Italian general’s riding trou­sers, was recognized. On April 28, he, Clara, and fifteen fascists picked at random were machine-gunned in front of a country villa on Lake Garda. The following day, they were hung, like game, upside down from a girder at an Esso gas station on a square in Milan, exposed to the wrath of the mob. . . .

Edmund Wilson was shown the spot where it happened a month later.

The names of the executed were still daubed in black on the girder of the now abandoned Esso station. Wilson wrote: “Over the whole city hung the stink of the killing of Mussolini and his followers, the exhibition of their bodies in public and the defilement of them by the crowd. Italians would stop you in the bars and show you photographs they had taken of it.”

But this was just one instance of possibly twenty thousand killings of fascists and collaborators in the north of Italy between April and July. . . .Many were summar­ily executed by partisans, dominated by communists. Others were quickly tried in makeshift people’s courts, the so-called justice of the piazza. The killings were swift and sometimes involved innocents. Known fascists were gunned down together with their wives and children. Most recipi­ents of rough justice were police officers and fascist government officials. Even those already in prison were not safe. On July 17, the Schio prison near Vicenza was raided by masked partisans, who murdered fifty-five incarcerated fascists. . . .

In Italy, too, however, revenge often had a political agenda; it was a revolutionary settling of scores. Communist partisans saw the purges as a necessary struggle against capitalism. Since big corporations, such as Fiat in Turin, had worked with Mussolini’s regime, they were seen as legiti­mate targets. Even though the most powerful businessmen from Turin or Milan had usually managed to save their skins by crossing the Swiss bor­der, or buying potential killers off with black market goods, the corpses of lower-ranking figures did have a way of ending up dumped in front of the gates of local cemeteries. . . .

 

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