Friday, February 16, 2007

Giuseppe Bastianini

I recently obtained a copy from Italy of Giuseppe Bastianini’s memoirs, first published in 1959 by Vitagliano, a small Milanese publishing house, republished in June 2005 by BUR Saggi under the title “Volevo fermare Mussolini”.

Giuseppe Bastianini was the Italian Ambassador in London 1939-1940. Subsequently he was governor of Italian occupied Dalmatia. He then succeeded Ciano as Foreign Secretary. In July 1943 he voted for the Grandi motion which led to Mussolini's fall. In early 1944 he took to the mountains, a wanted man by Germans and Republican fascists. At the Verona trial of Ciano and others in 1944, he was condemned to death in absentia but managed to cross the mountain border to safety in Switzerland. In 1947, having returned to Italy, he was arrested living incognito in Calabria and put on trial in Rome for his Fascist past, but absolved and acquitted. He died in Milan in 1961. In 2003 he was honoured, along with other Italian Fascist diplomats and military personnel, in the Israeli documentary 'Righteous Enemy', screened at the United Nations, for his part in saving over 40,000 Jews in Yugoslavia, whilst he was governor of Dalmatia, by issuing false documents and helping them get to Switzerland [he himself says he halped about 2,000].

I bought the book primarily for his account of his return to Italy in June 1940 on the Monarch of Bermuda then, from Lisbon, on the Conte Rosso to Sicily. … continued in Comments


Blogger Peter G said...

This is how I remembered that momentous journey:

“About three weeks after his arrest, without warning, my father was unexpectedly released under police escort. We were given a few hours to pack one suitcase each and to catch a train to Glasgow; my mother and father, myself and my young sister, Gloria, aged four. The train up north was crowded with soldiers and I remember sitting in the corridor, with a kilted soldier, on his kit bag. The train went right into the Glasgow docks where we got off to board a ship, the Monarch of Bermuda. After a rigorous search, my collection of stamps and an atlas I had just got for my birthday were confiscated and thrown aside. There were 629 of us, led by Giuseppe Bastianini, the Italian Ambassador, a high ranking Fascist who was subsequently made governor of Italian occupied Dalmatia. A senior member of the Fascist Grand Council, Bastianini later played a prominent role in the downfall of Mussolini in July 1943.

From Glasgow we sailed for Lisbon, constantly zigzagging to avoid mined areas and U-boats. I remember there was lots of boat drill, when we were all kept on deck standing in lifebelts for what seemed like hours. No doubt it was necessary given the constant danger, but a little anti-Italian feeling may also have crept in, in dealing with what were enemy nationals; we were treated fairly, but coldly. The crew were no doubt brave merchant seamen charged with an unusual task (one of my own maternal uncles, John Granelli, served with distinction as Second Engineer on the British ship, the SS Sacramento, constantly sailing between Hull and New York throughout the war). On 26 June we arrived in Lisbon. We were not allowed ashore, but were transferred directly to the Conte Rosso, an Italian Lloyd-Triestino liner, which had arrived from Italy with the British Embassy staff and a reciprocal number of expatriate British citizens.

In contrast to the Monarch of Bermuda, on the Conte Rosso we were given first class treatment and the finest food and wines. We were in the dining room when Bastianini and his entourage appeared resplendent in full Fascist uniform. Prior to this I had only glimpsed him in on the Monarch of Bermuda in a drab suit. Bastianini went from table to table, briefly chatting with all of us. Several weeks before the fatal 10th of June I had double-fractured my right arm and it was still in plaster, and it was way past the date for its removal. I can remember Bastianini asking me about it, talking to my parents, and ordering that the plaster be removed the next day; which it was.”

Bastianini’s memoirs have shown me once again how unreliable our memories are. I now learn that the train on which we travelled to Glasgow was a sealed train which left from London calling at various cities to pick up Italians. I remember it being full of soldiers, I now learn the reason, we were under armed guard. The Monarch of Bermuda left Glasgow on 13 June, so just three days after my father’s arrest, not three weeks as I remembered. The shock of those three days must have had an effect. All the port holes on the Monarch of Bermuda were painted over, no one could see out and no light came in; we were forbidden to go on deck except for boat drill. What is more impotant is that I now learn that one night we were stopped in the Bay of Biscay by a U-Boat. It had surfaced to torpedo when the Monarch of Bermuda, lit day and night and with ‘Diplomat’ painted in huge white letters on each side, had signalled that the Italian ambassador was on board, and an officer from the U-Boat was sent over to check Bastianini’s diplomatic credentials.

Friday, 16 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

Historically, a far more interesting part is Bastianini’s account of the role he played in saving Jews in the Italian occupation zone in France. The background to this can be found here

This was when he was recalled from Dalmatia to succed Ciano as Foreign Secretary. Strictly speaking Mussolini nominated himself as foreign secretary with Bastianinisucceed as his deputy.

Here it is Bastianini’s account in full:
Early one morning the head of Gabinetto Babuscio-Rizzo telephoned me requesting that I arrange an appointment with the Apostolic Nuncio on a matter of extreme urgency. I immediately went to the ministry where Monsignor Borgoncini Duca quickly joined me. The Holy Father had summoned him early in the morning and had requested him to see me as early as possible and to implore me not to consent to the German request to transfer from the Italian occupied zone in France to the German occupied zone the 20,000 Jews who lived there. I told him that no such request had been made, at this the Nuncio expressed his great surprise that such wrong information could have been given to the Holy Father. I confirmed that no such request had been made and I added that I would give him my word that if such a request were to be made it would be rejected.

Not thirty minutes had passed after this when I received a telephone call from Palazzo Venezia [Mussolini’s seat of government]; von Mackensen [the German ambassador] was phoning from Mussolini’s secretary’s office to inform me that, on the orders of Hitler, he had gone directly to the Head of Government to make such a request, and that he had received an affirmative answer and had been asked by Mussolini himself to convey the decision to me and to request me to immediately telegraph the commandant of the Italian zone of occupation in France to make the necessary arrangements. The transfer, Mackensen added, would be carried out immediately by the Vichy government’s police force assisted by elements of the Gestapo who would be sent there. I replied that I did not take orders from Mussolini via intermediates and I would require further clarification.

A few minutes later Mackensen was in my waiting room, and since I had him come to see me in a hurry, he excused himself for having arrived panting, explaining that he had received instructions from Ribbentrop, on the orders of Hitler, to go directly and at once to Mussolini. I replied that it was totally unacceptable for Ribbentrop to try to install such a procedure in the Italian Foreign Affairs ministry which he himself would not have tolerated in Berlin, and I added “Had I been present at your interview with the Duce I would have flatly rejected such a request as you have put forward, as I reject it now, because it is an insult to Italy and to the Italian flag under whose protection are all who live in the zone of France occupied by our troops.”

I saw Mackensen turn red and check himself for an instant, but he gained control of himself and observed that the German police believed that the persons to be transferred were enemy agents and that, having obtained Mussolini’s consent, he had already assured Ribbentrop that the transfer would be effected. To this I retorted calmly that I knew my job and undertook my responsibilities exactly as the German Embassy in Rome did and I therefore assured him that whilst I was behind the desk that separated us, I would not allow anyone to stain the Italian flag, neither in France nor elsewhere. I wished him to take note that it was also in the interests of Germany that Italy, her ally, should continue to be treated as a respectable Nation.

I have reason to believe, because after this vibrant discussion our personal relationship became genuinely friendly, that deep in his heart Mackensen approved of my firmness, but he could not refrain from asking me what he should communicate to Ribbentrop or how I intended to resolve this now complicated situation. I replied that his second point was my affair; as to the first he should give Herr Ribbentrop my exact words, from first to last. I told him that by noon I should have more to communicate to him on the matter.

When I presented myself for my usual eleven-thirty report to Mussolini I at once raised the issue putting before him the terrible responsibility which would fall on him by carrying out the transfer which meant certain death for the major part of those 20,000 men, women, and children, who had up until now not been charged with anything by our military authorities in France. Following an act such as this our prestige in France and everywhere would suffer a grave blow because the protection accorded by the Italian flag to those who live under it could not be limited except by Italian laws. If all those Jews, children included, were spies, all the German police have to do is to provide us with the evidential proof and they will be brought to judgement by us. Mussolini, expressing surprise, observed that we could not veto the police of the Vichy government, recognised by us, from carrying out a round-up; to which I counter-replied that in cases of a political nature and one of such major significance as this, the French police could only act with the mandate of the Italian commandant of the occupying force.

Mussolini remained a few minutes in silence then he asked how we could retract after he had given his approval. I proposed that we should ourselves carry out the requested transfer, but to another region of France under our occupation and I suggested that the Savoy district was furnished with many large hotels, which currently stood empty because of the war, offered the possibility of housing all 20,000. He approved at once with evident relief and he personally telephoned there and then for Senise [Carmine Senise, Head of Italian Police 1940-43] to come immediately to Palazzo Venezia and, in my presence, commissioned him to study the feasibility of such a displacement.

On returning to Palazzo Chigi [the Italian Foreign Office] I informed Mackensen of the new turn the affair had taken and having called the Papal Nuncio to a further interview I announced that Mussolini had rejected Hitler’s request and had given an order to our chief of police to instead study the transference of the entire group of people to the Hotels and pensioni of the Savoy. Monsignor Borgoncini was profoundly moved, and he begged me to let Mussolini know that the Holy Father blessed him for having saved, in that way, a few thousand human lives. And Mussolini was pleased.

It was after this that Ribbentrop dubbed Bastianini a 'Honorary Jew', a title Bastianini says he accepted with pride. He died in 1961.

Translated by Peter Ghiringhelli

Friday, 16 February, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

This is proof that even in all out war there are humanitarians.
I have lately read of Germans both military and civilian saving Jewish peoples lives or in some cases hiding them.
People in the Balkans did the same and now Italian's.
I think there may be many untold stories such as this to prove there were people of those European nations who put their lives on the line for others.
It is good to read of such people.

Friday, 16 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

Alas, not nearly enough, Frank, not nearly enough.

But I do wonder how it is possible to have two ultra-right wing individuals like Bastianini and Eichman regard human life in such extremely divergent ways.

How can one of them react in horror at the prospect of extreme evil and the other just accept it?

And how does a Mackensen, who Bastianini describes as a fairly reasonable man, allow himself to be implicated in such iniquity?

There were very few Bastianinis and many thousands of Mackensens.

Friday, 16 February, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Peter -
a fascinating account of your journey which fills the few gaps in your original submission to the BBc series.
As you say there were never enough Bastianini's and too many of Eichman's and Von Makensen's - and it has to be said - Kesselrings for his actions at the Caves of Rome.
Bastianini will join Pacelli - Roncalli et al who also saved countless members of the Jewish faith in those days.

Friday, 16 February, 2007  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...


Thank you so much for this masterly piece on Giuseppe Bastianini. I confess to having known little about the man until now but will certainly remedy this in the near future.

I have already posted a piece about Sir.Nicholas Winton and the stirling work that he did in saving the lives of Jewish children.

I will shortly post something about my dear late friend Peter Morgan that I consider continues the theme of saving lives in wartime.

Saturday, 17 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

The account given by Bastianini is an important primary source.

If what the then Italian Foreign Affairs Under Secretary records is true, then this directly implicates Hitler and Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs, in the Holocaust.

Many doubters, whilst accepting that the Holocaust did take place, place all the blame on Himmler, holding that, other than rhetorical remarks made in his speeches, there is no evidence that Hitler was made aware of the full extent of the 'excesses'.

Yet here we have Ribbentrop ordering his ambassador in Rome to disregard diplomatic protocol by by-passing Bastianini and going directly to Mussolini, the Head of Government. And all this on the order of Hitler, so keen were both he and Ribbentrop to murder every Jew in Europe.

Unfortunately Italian protection ended in July 1943 when, with the fall of Mussolini, Italy was occupied by the Germans and Bastianini himself became a fugitive.

Saturday, 17 February, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

Of course never enough Peter and put against the many millions of all nations who died because of the actions of others a drop in the ocean.
Each one of those saved possibly raised families that would never have been and then passed on the story of how they came to be so that the world will remember.
The story shows that in evil times there is charity and so hope, we all need hope in our lives.

Saturday, 17 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

I mentioned a documentary film shown at the UN, The Righteous Enemy. It is briefly reviewed here; at the site scroll down about half way.

There is a thoroughly researched document at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre here. It is long and detailed but worth reading. This covers the period when Bastianini was governor of the Italian occupied zone of Yugoslavia.

The article is about the repatriation of Italian Jews from Germany and all occupied areas. It was during this time that, in addition to this, Bastianini bypassed regulations and granted Italian citizenship to any Jew who applied to him regardless of their nationality, in his memoirs he estimates about 2,000.

The events I described above relate to non-Italian Jews resident in France, the Italian Jews had already been brought home.

Saturday, 17 February, 2007  

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