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April 8: Mussolini’s Jewish Lover

April 7, 2015

MARGHERITE-SARFATTIMargherita Sarfatti, an Italian journalist and socialite who served as a propaganda adviser to the National Fascist Party and was Benito Mussolini’s mistress as well as biographer, was born in Venice on this date in 1880. She was raised in great wealth but became a socialist in her teen years and ran away from her family to Milan, where she and her leftwing attorney husband became very prominent in the arts scene, hosting weekly salons. In 1911, Sarfatti met Mussolini and took him as a lover. After her husband died in 1924, she dedicated herself to writing a biography of Mussolini, which was ultimately published in seventeen editions and eighteen languages. In 1928, Sarfatti converted to Catholicism, but continued to claim that there was no “Jewish question” in Italy and that Mussolini would never mimic Hitler’s anti-Semitism. But on July 14, 1938, “The Manifesto of the Race” appeared in the press. Written primarily by Mussolini, it condemned the corruption of the Italian Aryan race through intermarriage with Jews. Sarfatti left Italy that same year for Argentina and Uruguay, where she worked for El Diario of Montevideo. After World War II, she returned to Italy and again became an important patron of the arts. She wrote an unapologetic memoir in 1955 and died in 1961.

“[S]he espoused the evolution of Fascism, with its heroic rhetoric and strict discipline.... she was so close to Mussolini that she can be described as one of the planners of fascism.” —Patrizia Acobas, Jewish Women’s Archive