Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi praised the fascist regime of dictator Benito Mussolini as he attended a ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The government of that time, fearing that German power might lead to an outright victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler’s Germany rather than opposing it,” he said. “Within this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst thing that Mussolini did as a leader, but he did many good things.”
Mussolini passed laws that prevented Jews from working in certain professions and kept them out of universities. Under pressure for the Nazi regime, many of Italy’s Jews were interned and thousands were deported to death camps in Germany and other countries.
Berlusconi also said that a visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz changed his life and that keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive was fundamental “so that young people and all citizens can understand what happened and to make sure that something like this can’t even be imagined in the future.”
Berlusconi’s comments sparked criticism from other Italian politicians.
“The error of fascism was in its birth, not just the racial laws,” Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the Union of Centrists party, said on Sky TG24. “Talking about the good things in a dictatorial regime is completely mistaken.”
Berlusconi later released a written statement saying that “some on the Left” were politicizing his comments to embarrass him during the campaign for the Feb. 24-25 elections.
“There can no equivocating about the fascist dictatorship,” he said in the statement. “I want to emphasize that.”