Resisting the ‘final solution’? Ordinary fascists and Jewish policy in Italianoccupied southeastern France, 1942-1943
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This thesis investigates fascist Jewish policy in Italian-occupied southeastern France between November 1942 and August 1943. The fascist government repeatedly refused to hand over to its Nazi ally or to its French enemy foreign Jewish refugees in the Italian occupation zone. This decision, which was tantamount to a refusal to collaborate in the extermination of the Jews, was partially overturned in mid-July 1943. This thesis seeks to explain the rationale for the fascist government’s decisions concerning the fates of foreign Jewish refugees in southeastern France. Current scholarship justifies the fascist government’s decisions as a manifestation either of humanitarianism or political expediency. This thesis argues instead that the Italian refusal to partake in the extermination of the Jews was ideological. As the fascist and Nazi leaderships attributed different relevance to the ‘Jewish question’, they consequently prescribed different methods to ‘solve’ it, in the context of their common military effort to win the war. Through the in-depth reconstruction of fascist Jewish policy in southern France, this thesis argues that although the fascist rulers acknowledged the existence of a ‘Jewish problem’, they never considered its solution as vital to their effort to win the war. Unlike the Nazis who considered their war against the Jew as the pivotal issue, thus rendering the physical eradication of all Jews as a conceivable action in the context of a total war, the Italians considered Jews as a secondary threat compared to communists or enemy aliens residing in their occupation zone. In turn, by analysing fascist Jewish policy in the broader geopolitical, diplomatic and military context of the occupation of southeastern France, this thesis demonstrates how, and to what extent, other ethical and practical considerations interacted with the larger ideology in operation. The overall result was a policy in which the murder of Jews was considered politically inexpedient and morally unacceptable, but which was, nevertheless, still persecutory (the Italian authorities interned foreign Jewish refugees in southern France and took measures to prevent their arrival in the Italian occupation zone). At the same time, this thesis reveals that, although the Jewish policy was consistent with the regime’s declared goal to ‘discriminate, but not persecute’ the Jews, it was not a necessary consequence of that goal. Instead, this policy could be negotiated and adjusted should the political need arise, as proved by the decision (ultimately without consequences) to surrender German Jews in mid-July 1943.