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Benito Mussolini

Fateful Alliance with Germany

Mussolini was at first cool to Adolf Hitler and opposed his designs on Austria. However, Mussolini's diplomatic isolation after his attack (1935) on Ethiopia led to a rapprochement with Germany. In 1936, Hitler and Mussolini aided Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War; the Rome-Berlin Axis was strengthened by a formal alliance (1939), which Mussolini's son-in-law and foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, helped to create.

In 1938, Mussolini allowed Hitler to annex Austria and helped bring about the Munich Pact; in Apr., 1939, he ordered the Italian occupation of Albania. Under German pressure, he inaugurated an anti-Semitic policy in Italy, which found little popular response. The Ethiopian and Spanish wars had diminished the Duce's popularity, and he did not enter World War II until France was falling in June, 1940.

The failure of Italian arms in Greece and Africa and the imminent invasion by the Allies of the Italian mainland at last caused a rebellion within the Fascist party. In July, 1943, the Fascist grand council refused to support his policy—dictated by Hitler—and the king dismissed him and had him placed under arrest. He was freed two months later by a daring German rescue party and became head of the Fascist puppet government set up in N Italy by Hitler.

On the German collapse (Apr., 1945) Mussolini was captured, tried in a summary court-martial, and shot with his mistress, Clara Petacci. Their bodies, brought to Milan, were hanged in a public square and buried in an unmarked grave. Mussolini's body was later removed, and in 1957 it was placed in his family's vault.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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