The History of Sicily

Sicily under Fascism

When Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) marched on Rome in 1922 (he proclaimed himself Duce, “the leader,” in 1924), the Sicilians, now immune to the promises of the national government, paid little attention. Two years later, Giacomo Matteoti (1885-1924), a Sicilian member of parliament, wrote an anti-fascist book, which damaged Mussolini’s reputation. The young author was assassinated shortly thereafter on orders from the Duce.

Upon hearing the news, former Prime Minister Orlando, another Sicilian, cut off all correspondence with Rome, and Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), the Sicilian playwright and Nobel Prize winner, who had previously joined the Fascist Party, tore up his membership card in front of a group of party officials. This act of defiance earned Pirandello the honor of being under constant scrutiny by Mussolini’s secret police.

In 1925, having done little to date to improve the lives of Sicilians, Mussolini decided that he would stamp out the Mafia, an organization that threatened his absolute power. To Palermo, he sent Cesare Mori (1871-1942). Known as the “Iron Prefect,” Mori was given full authority to do whatever was necessary and, by 1928, he had arrested over 11,000 Mafiosi.

On June 10, 1940, Mussolini joined with Hitler in a war against the Allies. He hoped that victory would force France to cede Nice, Savoy, Corsica, Tunisia, and Algeria to Italy. In 1914, the Treaty of Paris had given Libya, formerly a possession of the Ottoman Empire, to Italy, and Mussolini believed that adding these new colonies would be a major step in creating a new Roman Empire. However, after they invaded France, the Germans left the southern part of the country and its colonies in the hands of the puppet Vichy government.

When the Italians attacked Egypt from Libya in September 1940, the British rebuffed them. When they attacked Greece one month later, they had to call in German reinforcements. In June 1941, the Axis powers attacked Russia, a campaign in which half of the Italian troops lost their lives.

In 1943, a combined British and American force landed in Sicily. Enlisting the help of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962), who had been deported to Italy, and Albert Anastasia (1902-1957), a mobster who controlled the dock workers’ union in New York, the Americans hoped to make the invasion smoother. This, of course, also served to revive the Mafia in Sicily.

By this time, the Sicilians and most other Italians had had enough of Il Duce, and when the Allies landed on July 10, many of the Italian forces had little will to fight. However, the Germans had stationed two divisions on the island, and the fighting was furious. On July 24, 1943, Mussolini was deposed, the King forming a new government under Marshal Pietro Badoglio (1871-1956).