Weird History Almost Nobody Remembers How Horrible Everyday Life Was In Fascist Italy During World War II  

Lassie Smith
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The period between World Wars I and II brought about major political changes in Italy, and yet hardly anyone talks about what actually went on in Benito Mussolini's fascist state during those years. Mussolini implemented policies and reforms that led to a wave of censorship, nationalist propaganda, and widespread militarism, making daily life under Mussolini a tenuous existence.

In World War II Italy, life in the Italian Socialist Republic was about fear and, as a Nazi puppet state, staying on good terms with Germany. Mussolini's treatment of his enemies was harsh and often deadly, comparable to Hitler's ruthless killing of Jews, Roma, and other minorities in concentration camps. It was only with the death of Il Duce in 1945 that Italian fascism truly came to an end. 

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Photo: NicolaPasquale/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Palazzo Braschi Was Adorned With Mussolini's Face And Reminders To Vote "Yes"


In 1934, the Fascist Party headquarters building, the Palazzo Braschi in Rome, was decorated to tell the Italian people how to vote. On the side of the building, Mussolini's giant face was surrounded by posters exclaiming "SI" – meaning "yes" – the only vote acceptable with Mussolini's candidates for the upcoming plebiscite elections. This wasn't the first time Mussolini used large gestures to remind voters to vote his way. He similarly decorated the Palazzo Braschi with a picture of himself in 1929, although it wasn't as large or imposing. 

The decoration of the Palazzo Braschi was part of Mussolini's larger plan to adorn buildings all over Rome with fascist propaganda and to generally remake the city as he wished. To boost his prestige, Mussolini had architects design and build sports complexes, public markets, schools, and other buildings, as well as roads, all in the spirit of Roman emperors and Roman Catholic church leaders. 

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Photo: Jkelly/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Voting Left No Doubt, Choice, Or Secrecy When It Came To Who A Person Voted For


Voting in fascist Italy wasn't about options or choices, but votes had to be counted nonetheless. When a person voted, they were given two cards: a yes and a no. The "yes" – in support of all things fascist – was decorated with Fascist Party symbols, while the "no" ballot was simply white. The voter had to place each into an envelope and place one in the ballot box; the other was then given to a voting official. By doing this, the state kept track of how each person voted. With this system, Mussolini's fascists won 99.84% of the popular vote in the 1934 election.

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Photo: Istituto Nazionale Luce/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Getting Locked Up Was Common


Before Hitler's first visit to Italy in 1934, there was widespread concern about hiding anyone who could be perceived as the opposition. For example, a Jewish refugee in a small village on Lake Como described his unusual arrest:

[The police said] "We’re very sorry. We have to come to arrest you and put you in prison for a few days."

And he said, "Oh, yes, yes, I understand."

They said, "You know, the beds in our jail are very, very poor. We suggest perhaps with our help, we could move your bed from your hotel over for you. And the meals aren't good either. You’d better perhaps have them send you some meals while you’re there, and wine, too. Then that would be better."

He said, “Oh, yes, I’ll do that. I’ll arrange it. I’m sure the hotel will arrange it for me." And that is what happened. He said, “My jailers came in and drank some of the wine every day, and we played trick-track and various things together, and had quite an amiable time." After Hitler went home, those arrested were released.

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Communists, Peasant Dissidents, And Working Class Leadership Were Simply Eliminated


When Mussolini finally marched on Rome in 1922, he did so with an army of Blackshirts at his side. Blackshirts were his paramilitary force who, as their name implies, wore black shirts; he used them to evoke terror domestically and abroad.

From the earliest days of the Fascist Party in Italy, Mussolini's Blackshirts worked to get rid of any opposition. The Blackshirt's motto was Me ne frego or "I do not give a damn" – and they really didn't. They first targeted the Socialist Party in Italy, and within two months in 1921 had demolished multiple outposts for labor leaders and socialists. Once the fascists went from being an urban phenomenon to a wider Italian force, they then went after peasant leaders in the countryside, violently attacking any potential threat in villages, communities, and towns throughout the peninsula. They would humiliate their enemies – Communists, Socialists, anarchists – by making them drink castor oil and left them covered in feces, beat them, handcuffed them naked in public places, and did other things to humiliate them. 

After 1927, Mussolini also used the OVRA (the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism or Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo), his secret police, to root out subversives. Mussolini reinstated the death penalty in Italy and his forces arrested over 4,000 people. Many anti-fascists simply left Italy, setting up shop in Paris or other European cities to escape persecution.