Italian Jewish Community Rejects Apology by Fascist-era King's Heir for Race Laws

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This 1938 file photo, which was taken during the official visit of Adolf Hitler to Rome, shows among others Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and king Vittorio Emanuele III.
This 1938 file photo, which was taken during the official visit of Adolf Hitler to Rome, shows among others Benito Mussolini, left, Adolf Hitler and King Vittorio Emanuele III.Credit: Farabola / leemage via AFP
Saviona Mane
Saviona Mane

Jewish organizations in Italy rejected an apology by the heir to the country's disbanded royal family for his ancestors' role in rubber-stamping Mussolini's infamous race laws. 

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"I ask my Jewish brothers for forgiveness on behalf of my entire family, although I do not expect to receive it," Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia wrote in a letter to the Jewish community ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, disavowing the actions of his great-grandfather, Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele in Italian).

"I condemn the racial laws of 1938, the weight of which I still feel on my shoulders, and with me the entire Royal House of Savoy. ... We completely dissociate ourselves from the signature of Vittorio Emanuele III on an unacceptable document, an indelible shadow for my family, a wound still open for the whole of Italy," wrote the last heir to the House of Savoy in an emotional missive, parts of which were published in Italian media outlets.

"The time is upon us to come to terms with history and with the past of my family, which I came here today to represent," he wrote, adding: "I write on the occasion of the day [January 27] of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a symbolic date that Parliament chose in 2000 to mark the tragedy in which  6 million European Jews perished, 7,500 of whom were Italian."

Prince Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia during a funeral in Dreux, northern France, February 02, 2019.Credit: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU - AFP

It is the first time that a member of the House of Savoy unequivocally repudiates its role in the racial laws and asks for forgiveness. In 1997, the prince's father, Vittorio Emanuele, refused to apologize, saying the laws "were not so bad." He retracted his statement the very next day, calling it an "egregious error." Now his 48-year-old son is obviously trying to make amends.

But in the Jewish community, the aristocrat's apology was met with a cool reception.

"No Jewish community can grant forgiveness in the name of all the Jews who were discriminated against, handed over to the authorities, expelled and murdered," the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, said in an interview with La Stampa. "We have taken note of the repudiation, it may perhaps have some value on the personal level, but it is certainly not a route to expiation. That might be what he would like, but the crimes of Victor Emmanuel III and of fascism were an abomination, a tragic break in Italy's history, and they will serve as a warning for generations."

Representatives of Rome's Jewish community echoed the same feelings. "It is a belated gesture that cannot repair the force of the injury," the community said in a statement published in la Repubblica. The Italian paper also quoted the Jewish Italian author Lia Levi, saying this was one moment too late. "In 2018, the 80th anniversary of the racial laws, we expected a gesture [from Emanuele Filiberto], but it did not come," she said.

Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator, speaks at the dedication ceremonies of Sabandia, central Italy, September 24, 1934.Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Marco Steiner, the vice president of Milan’s stumbling stone Holocaust memorial project, said that it would have been better for Emanuele Filiberto to remain silent.

In November 1938, Mussolini enacted race laws, which stripped the oldest Jewish community in Europe of all their civil rights. The laws went into effect after being ratified by King Victor Emmanuel III, and were intended to oppress the Jewish community, and expel them from the country.

Among other restrictions, it forbade them from marrying non-Jews; studying or teaching in state-run educational institutions; working in the public sector or liberal professions; owning property above a certain value; working as a peddler, in the music industry, or in theatre; selling used items; owning a radio; registering in a phone book; raising horses or carrier pigeons; and posting death notices.

Emanuele Filiberto is the grandson of Italy’s last king, Umberto II. He was born and raised in Switzerland, where his family moved in 1946, after the Italian monarchy was abolished and they were deported from the country. He returned to Italy in 2002 at the age of 30, after the order forbidding members of the House of Savoy from entering the country was cancelled. Since his emigration, Filiberto has been starring in commercials and has participated in the reality television show “Dancing with the Stars.”

About two years ago, he announced that he intends to establish a royalist political party in Italy, which would aim to restore monarchic rule. Shortly after, an opinion poll was released, according to which about 12 percent of Italian citizens supported the idea.

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