Italian Racial Laws

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The Italian Racial Laws (Italian: Leggi razziali) were a set of laws promulgated by the Kingdom of Italy from 1938 to 1943 to enforce racial discrimination in Italy. This was directed mainly against the Italian Jews and the native inhabitants of the colonies.

The first and most important of the leggi razziali was the Regio Decreto 17 Novembre 1938 Nr. 1728. This restricted civil rights of Jews, banned their books, and excluded Jews from public office and higher education. Additional laws stripped Jews of their assets, restricted travel and finally provided for their internship in internal exile, as was done for political prisoners.

The promulgation of the racial laws was preceded by a long press campaign and by publication of the Manifesto of Race earlier in 1938, a purportedly scientific report by fascist scientists and supporters that asserted racial principles, including the superiority of Europeans over other races. The final decision about the law was made during the meeting of the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo, which took place on the night between 6 and 7 October 1938 in Rome, Palazzo Venezia. Not all the Fascists supported discrimination: while the pro-German, anti-Jewish Roberto Farinacci and Giovanni Preziosi strongly pushed for them, Italo Balbo strongly opposed the laws.

After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25, 1943, the Badoglio government suppressed the laws. They remained in force in the territories ruled by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana until the end of the war (and were made more severe.)

The Italian Racial Laws were unpopular with most ordinary Italians; the Jews were a small minority in the country who had mostly migrated in from the Iberian countries after expulsion in the late 15th century and had integrated deeply into Italian society. Most Italians were not widely acquainted with Jews, and Italian society was unaccustomed to the kind of antisemitism that had been relatively common for centuries in German-speaking countries and other parts of northern and eastern Europe where Jews had been present in numbers for a long period of time.

No racial laws were promulgated in Fascist Italy prior to 1938. William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich suggests that Mussolini may have enacted the laws to appease his powerful German allies, rather than to satisfy any anti-Semitic sentiment among the Italian people.

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