Policing Holocaust History in Fascist and Postwar Italy

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:50 PM
Beekman Room (New York Hilton)
Alexis Herr, San Francisco State University
Unlike in the bloodlands of eastern Europe, with few exceptions, police in Italy did not murder Jews directly. Instead, their participation in the genocide of European Jews constituted actions that fueled genocidal outcomes. Italian police involvement in the persecution of Jews centered on surveillance, plunder, arrest, and deportation. These actions, conducted within Italy, were far removed from the killing sites in Poland and Germany where thousands of Italian Jews ultimately perished. Thus, Italian police were perpetrators on the periphery of genocidal killing. Despite the Italian police’s deep involvement in the annihilation process, nearly all Italian police (including those who served in Yugoslavia and Greece) who participated in the genocide never stood trial for their crimes, which in turn allowed for police who had once persecuted Jews to take on roles working directly with their former victims and Jewish refugees. For example, Mario Cortellini, the Deputy Commissioner and one of the heads of the Race Office of the Venice Police, was not only acquitted for his leading role in supervising the seizure of Jewish property, after the liberation he oversaw the Office for the Recovery of Jewish Property. His acquittal, along with more than 5,000 other Fascist collaborators, was part of the so-called Amnistia Togliatti, issued by the president on June 22, 1946. This paper will analyze how Italian police chiefs understood and performed their duties as the enforcers of Jewish persecution within Italy (1938-1945) and how Italy’s failure to hold them accountable for these actions weakened the position of police within society thereafter.