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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Galeazzo Ciano's Remarkable Diaries

Galeazzo Ciano was Mussoini's son-in-law and Italian Foreign Minister from 1936 to 1943. He was executed in January, 1944. Ciano left us with his diaries, which he maintained from 1936 through 1943 (entries for 1938 and later are available in paperback: Simon Publications, 2001).

The diaries are a thoughtful, judicious commentary on Ciano's contacts with many of the protagonists of World War II, including Hitler, von Ribbentrop, Himmler and, of course, Mussolini, with whom he worked on a daily basis--the Duce at Palazzo Venezia, Ciano at Palazzo Chigi. The photo above, taken before the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, has Ciano at far right and, to his right, Mussolini and Hitler. Neville Chamberlain, the architect of what became known as "appeasement," is at left.

This isn't a "tabloid" diary--for example, Ciano's wife--Mussolini's daughter--seldom appears, and Ciano is appropriately consumed by the major developments of the day, including the war in Africa, the invasion of Greece, and developments on the Eastern front. But there are many revelations and observations of a personal nature, some of which I offer here.

March 10, 1939
"The Duce commented, 'The German people are a military people, not a warrior people. Give to the Germans a great deal of sausage, butter, beer, and a cheap car, and they will never want to have their stomachs pierced.'"

March 3, 1940
"I speak with the Duce about the eventual exportation of works of art. He is favorable, but I am not. He does not like works of art, and above all detests that period of history during which the greatest masterpieces were produced. I recall--he recalls it too--that he felt a sense of annoyance and physical fatigue unusual in him on the day he was obliged to accompany Hitler on a detailed visit of inspection to the Pitti Palace and to the Uffizi. "

May 28, 1941
"Mussolini inveighs against Roosevelt, saying that 'never in the course of history has a nation been guided by a paralytic. There have been bald kings, fat kings, handsome and even stupid kings, but never kings who, in order to go to the bathroom and the dinner table, had to be supported by other men.' I don't know whether that is historically exact...."

October 11, 1941
"The Italians, too, are pulling in their belts to the last hole: the one that the Italians call the 'foro Mussolini'--'the Mussolini hole.' [The Italian word foro means both forum and notch, or hole....]."

May 8, 1942
"Vidussoni [general secretary of the Fascist Party] wanted to close the golf courses. I questioned him, and he, who is very simple-minded and is never able to find a way out, answered candidly that he intended to do this because 'golf is an aristocractic sport'....I consider it a great mistake because nothing is gained and one does not even earn the gratitude of the masses, which are inconsistent and changeable as the sands."

August 2, 1942
"Edda [Ciano's wife] attacked me violently, accusing me of hating the Germans, saying that my hatred for the Germans is known everywhere, especially among the Germans themselves, who are saying that 'they are physically repulsive to me.'" That's Galeazzo and Edda, below.

August 7, 1942
"I spoke with Vidussoni [see above]....He said that he did not know who De Chirico was, because for two years he had been too occupied for read modern writers.'"

August 28, 1942
[After a visit to the Venice Biennale]: "....the Spanish pavilion is the best. We had two painters who are important: De Chirico and Sciltian." A Sciltian painting from the 1930s is at left.

October 16, 1942
From the Duce's entourage we learn that he may not be in a condition to receive [Reichsmarsal Hermann] Goering on Monday. In any event, he will have to receive him at home, and the Duce is somewhat embarrassed on account of the modesty of his living quarters [Villa Torlonia]."
Mussolini's home at Villa Torlonia is below right.

December 7, 1942
[Ciano speaks with the King of Italy, who recalls the advice of his grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel II]: "In speaking with people, one must say two things in order to be assured of a good reception, 'How beautiful your city is!' and 'How young you look!'"

December 19, 1942
"I believe that at heart Hitler is happy at being Hitler, since this permits him to talk all the time."

January 4, 1943
"The personal indifference of the Duce to personal possessions is moving. At home he owns only one good piece: a self-portrait by Mancini, which was a gift from the painter."


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