- By Joshua Keating
As I noted earlier this month, it’s not particularly unusual for mainstream Italian politicians to defend Benito Mussolini these days, but a Holocaust Remembrance Day event was probably not the most appropriate forum for it:
"It’s difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time," said Berlusconi, 76, who is campaigning ahead of elections in February.
"Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler’s Germany rather than opposing it," he said. "As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well."
In 1938, Mussolini passed laws barring Jews from academia and many professions. After 1943, when Germany occupied parts of the country, more than 7,000 Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps, with many perishing at Auschwitz.
Berlusconi’s remarks have been criticized by Jewish groups and Berlusconi’s leftist opponents, one of whom is calling for a criminal investigation of the remarks. But it’s not exactly news that Berlusconi — whose party is allied with the late dictator’s granddaughter’s bloc in parliament — admires Mussolini. In 2011, he compared himself to the wartime fascist dictator shortly before leaving power. In 2003, he told the Spectator that Mussolini "never killed anyone" and merely "sent people on holiday to confine them."