Ettore Ovazza
Ettore Ovazza was a Jew from Turin
Turin is a city and major business and cultural centre in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River and surrounded by the Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 909,193 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat...

 who served for a time as a minister in Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

's government.

Early life and family

The Ovazza family was a Jewish banking family in Turin. His father and his three brothers voluntarily enlisted to fight in the First World War. The family was well integrated into Italian society and, while they followed Jewish traditions such as celebrating Passover
Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt...

, they spoke Italian rather than Hebrew at home.


Ettore Ovazza had studied law at university and then travelled to Germany with a view to a diplomatic career. At the outbreak of war he had volunteered and trained as an officer, only to suffer the humiliating defeat at Caporetto. His patriotic letters from the front were published in 1928 and received general praise. After the war, the city of Turin was badly affected by the turmoil of the Biennio Rosso with repeated strikes, lockouts and violent demonstrations. The Ovazza family were alarmed by these developments.

Ettore Ovazza was a committed Fascist from the start. He took part in the March on Rome in October 1922 and in 1929 he was invited to meet Mussolini as a part of a delegation of Jewish war veterans. He described the encounter later:
‘On hearing my affirmation of the unshakeable loyalty of Italian Jews to the Fatherland, His Excellency Mussolini looks me straight in the eye and says with a voice that penetrates straight to my heart: ‘I have never doubted it’. When Il Duce bids us farewell with a Roman salute, I feel an urge to embrace him, as a fascist, as an Italian, but I can’t; and approaching him at his desk I say: ‘Excellency, I would like to shake your hand’. It is not a fascist gesture, but it is a cry from the heart…
Such is The Man that Providence has given to Italy’.

In the 1920s and 1930s Fascist attitudes to the Jewish population began to change. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 came to power in Germany and, although Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 rejected his racist views, they influenced some leading Fascists in Italy. In 1934 several Jews were arrested in Turin for smuggling in anti-Fascist literature. Ettore Ovazza reacted by redoubling his efforts to support the Fascist regime. He founded a newspaper called Our Flag reminding Italians of the Jewish sacrifice for Italy in the Great War and attacking the idea that all Jews were Zionists. Taking a leading role in the Jewish community in Turin, Ovazza ensured that all the key positions were held by Fascist supporters. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, he immediately volunteered for service, an offer that was turned down probably due to his age (43). Despite the beginnings of anti-semitism, Ovazza was still being rewarded for his patriotism. In 1935 he was honoured for his contribution to the colony of Libya and in the following year was invited to be part of the honour guard at the tomb of the royal family in Turin.

In 1938 when a series of anti-semitic laws were passed, the Ovazza family were hit hard. They were no longer allowed to marry ‘Aryan’ Italians, to send their children to state schools, to employ Italian servants or be in the army. Much more damaging were the rules that stated they could not employ over 100 people, or own valuable land or buildings. This put an end to the Ovazza business and banking operations. Ettore Ovazza was expelled from the party and his brother from the military. In 1939 Jews were banned from all skilled jobs and cafes in Turin displayed signs saying that Jews were no longer welcome. Jewish organisations were disbanded and many Jews converted to Catholicism or emigrated abroad. As Mussolini's government began to implement antisemitic measures during the 1930s, his two brothers left the country and advised him to do the same, but he stayed. However, Ettore Ovazza accepted the racial laws without renouncing his faith. He was reluctant to leave the country, hoping that the Duce would alter his views. He wrote an anguished letter to Mussolini, expressing his pain:
‘Was it all a dream we nurtured? I can’t believe it. I cannot consider changing religion, because this would be a betrayal - and we are fascists. And so? I turn to You – DUCE – so that in this period- so important for our revolution, and you do not exclude that healthy Italian part from the destiny of our Nation’.

At the end of the war the SS
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

intercepted and eventually killed him and his family close to the Swiss border.

His nephew wrote a fictionalized version of his life.

External links

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