Wednesday, 12 October 2016

MARGHERITA SARFATTI / VÍDEO:CIMA: Margherita Sarfatti Presentation with Rachele Ferrario

1880 – 1961
by Patrizia Acobas

Margherita Sarfatti was born in Venice on April 8, 1880, into the wealthy and cultured Jewish Grassini family. Her father Amedeo was a fiscal attorney for the Venetian government and an intimate friend of the anti-socialist Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto (1835–1914), later Pope Pius X (1903–1914). Like his father, Marco Grassini, he became a Knight of the Crown of Italy. Margherita’s mother was Emma Levi and one of her cousins, Giuseppe Levi (the father of Natalia Ginzburg), eventually became a major proponent of the anti-fascist movement in Turin. Margherita was the fourth and last child in the family. Her sister Colomba (Lina) committed suicide in 1907 after being widowed and her other sister, Nella, perished together with her husband on the way to Auschwitz in 1944. The family lived in an impressive fifteenth-century palazzo on the edge of Venice’s Old Ghetto until 1894, when they moved to the imposing Palazzo Bembo on the Grand Canal.

Sarfatti was educated by private tutors, among them Antonio Fradeletto (1858–1930), the founding director of the Venice Biennale. During her childhood, she began to be interested in art and poetry, influenced by Fradeletto, who introduced her to the theories of John Ruskin. One of her admirers persuaded her to read the works of Karl Marx and other socialist theoreticians, which caused a scandal in her family. In 1898, despite her father’s objections, she married Cesare Sarfatti (1867–1924), a Jewish lawyer from Padua, who was thirteen years her senior and whom she persuaded to join the Socialist Party. During their honeymoon in Paris she made her first purchase of Post-Impressionist art when she bought a set of lithographs and posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. On October 15, 1902, the couple moved to Milan, where they lived in an apartment situated on Via Brera. At this stage her major interests were the history of art and politics. Later Margherita Sarfatti began to write on feminism and on the most prominent artists of the time. In Milan she was introduced to Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), an old friend of her husband, met Filippo Turati (1857–1932) and Anna Kulischoff and became an intimate friend of Luigi Majino and his wife Ersilia, the president of the Feminist League of Milan. She gave birth to two sons, Roberto (1900–1918) and Amedeo (b. 1902). With the death of her father in 1908, Sarfatti came into a large inheritance, which enabled the family to move to a large apartment on Corso Venezia in Milan and to purchase a country home near Lake Como. In 1909 she began her Wednesday-evening salon, where she entertained the major Italian intellectuals and artists. When the Futurist Movement first appeared, Sarfatti’s salon began to be a regular setting for encounters between Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944, the founder of the Futurist movement), Carlo Carrà (1881–1966), Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916) and Luigi Russolo (1885–1947). The Sarfattis spent their holidays at their Como home, Il Soldo (The Penny), where they opened their salon to well-known people such as the poet Ada Negri (1870–1945) as well as to their Milan acquaintances. In 1909 Sarfatti became art critic of the daily newspaper Avanti! and in the same year gave birth to her daughter Fiammetta. In 1912, when Anna Kulischoff started La difesa delle lavoratrici (Women Workers’ Defense), Margherita Sarfatti wrote articles in support of the publication and provided financial support. On December 1, 1912, Mussolini became the manager of Avanti!. A deep friendship between the two soon developed into a love relationship, which was apparently tolerated by Cesare Sarfatti, but not by Rachele Mussolini.

In October and November 1914, Mussolini adopted an interventionist position. He resigned as editor of Avanti!, joined with pro-war leftists outside the Socialist Party and launched a new socialist newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy). The Socialist Party leadership viewed these acts as a betrayal and expelled him from the party. With the outbreak of World War I Roberto, Sarfatti’s older son, ran off to join the army, although he was under age. Though he was at first sent home, he enlisted legally at the age of seventeen, joining the elite Alpini mountain troops and was sent to the front in July 1917. On January 28, 1918, he was killed in battle while leading an attack on the Austrian front lines and was posthumously awarded Italy’s highest military honor. In 1921 Sarfatti published I vivi e l’ombra, a compilation of elegiac poetry commemorating her son.

At the end of the war, Sarfatti too was expelled from the Socialist Party because of her interventionism. Thereupon she began to work for and collaborate with Popolo d’Italia, the official newspaper of the fascist regime, but also wrote articles for the Turin newspaper La Stampa and for Gerarchia, a revue of political theory edited by Eloisa Foà. After 1922 she became the manager of this revue. Meanwhile she strengthened her liaison with Mussolini. At a public meeting on March 25 in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Rome, Margherita was at Mussolini’s side. Although formally their relationship remained secret, since both were married, Sarfatti began to collaborate in Mussolini’s writing and even prepared the plan of the march on Rome in late October 1922. Indeed, she was so close to Mussolini that she can be described as one of the planners of Fascism.

In 1924, when her husband died, Sarfatti moved to Rome, where she held her salon on Friday afternoons. In 1925 she published a personal memoir and biography of Il Duce, The Life of Benito Mussolini, in an English edition. Mondadori published the biography in Italian in 1926 under the title Dux. The book was translated into seventeen languages. In 1925 she was engaged as a vice-president of the Exposition des arts decoratifs in Paris, a task which won her the Legion of Honor. In 1926 she was a theoretician and a leading force of the first exhibition of the Italian Novecento, the opening of which was attended by the Duce himself. In 1927, in Rome, she organized an exhibit of the Dieci artisti del Novecento italiano, in the framework of the Esposizione degli Amatori e Cultori. Towards the end of the 1920s she espoused the evolution of Fascism, with its heroic rhetoric and strict discipline. In the 1930s she openly combined the Novecento movement with the aggressive passion and renewal from which the Fascist Redemptive Action (Opera redentrice del Fascismo) eventually emerged. In 1931 she was often attacked by the revue Regime Fascista but tenaciously sustained the role played by the Novecento group in the diffusion of Italian art abroad. Margherita Sarfatti was one of the protagonists of Italian political and intellectual debate in the age of Giovanni Giolitti (1842–1928).

Towards the end of 1926 Sarfatti moved to Via Rasella in Rome and when Mussolini moved to Villa Torlona in 1928 Margherita Sarfatti, together with her daughter Fiammetta, moved to live in close proximity to the Duce’s residence. That same year she converted to Catholicism. Despite her lover’s anti-Zionist and antisemitic unsigned writings in newspapers and journals she claimed that there was no “Jewish question” in Italy and declared that Mussolini would never follow Hitler’s antisemitic policies. On July 14, 1938, “The Manifesto of the Race” appeared in the Roman daily Il giornale d’Italia. Composed primarily by Mussolini himself, this document condemned the corruption of the Italian Aryan race through intermarriage with Jews.

Sarfatti sensed that, despite her conversion to Catholicism, she was not immune to the antisemitic laws passed in 1938. After her son Amedeo left Italy for Argentina in 1938, Sarfatti followed him, first traveling to Switzerland to deposit Mussolini’s letters in a safe place. In Argentina she continued to be involved in art criticism but did not meet with the same success as she had enjoyed in Italy.

Returning to Italy at the end of 1947, she continued to write, publishing an unapologetic memoir, Acqua Passata, in 1955. She died at her Il Soldo residence on October 30, 1961.

Mussolini’s Jewish Lover Who Crafted Italian Fascism
Margherita Sarfatti wasn’t just the dictator's most erudite paramour; she was his secret adviser and ideologue. The English version of her memoirs is finally out.

Saviona Mane Nov 23, 2014 8:38 PM

My Fault: Mussolini As I Knew Him, by Margherita Grassini Sarfatti, Enigma Books, 323 pages, $26

On November 14, 1938, shortly after the Italian Racial Laws were passed, Margherita Sarfatti slipped out of her home near Lake Como, got into her car and asked her chauffeur to drive her to the nearby Swiss border.
Among the few belongings the Jewish socialite and art critic had stuck in her two suitcases were 1,272 letters she had received from Benito Mussolini over their 20-year romantic and ideological relationship — a sort of insurance policy. Sarfatti, 58 at the time, would return to Italy only in 1947 after living in exile in France, Argentina and Uruguay.
In addition to art essays she wrote for local newspapers during her exile, Sarfatti published in 1945, shortly after Mussolini’s death, a series of articles in the Argentine paper Crítica in which she revealed details about her relationship with Il Duce. Scholars believe she waited until he no longer had the chance to harm the family members she had left behind in Rome.
Today, 70 years later, these articles have been published in the English-language book “My Fault: Mussolini As I Knew Him.” Dubbed by Enigma as “the unpublished memoir of Mussolini’s longtime lover,” the book’s 18 chapters come edited and annotated by historian Brian R. Sullivan, whose commentary is informed by three decades of research in Italy, France, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
Just as the story of the long, intimate relationship between Sarfatti and Mussolini lay forgotten in archives for years until Philip V. Cannistraro and Sullivan published their 1993 work “Il Duce’s Other Woman,” Sarfatti’s memoirs remained abandoned in the shadows of history for decades.
Indeed, Sarfatti wasn’t just one of Mussolini’s hundreds of lovers. The aristocratic, intellectual and ambitious wife of wealthy Zionist lawyer Cesare Sarfatti, and mother of their three children, did not only share her bed with Il Duce. She also helped him forge and implement the fascist idea; she contributed advice — and Sullivan says, money — to help organize the 1922 March on Rome in which Mussolini seized power.
During those 20 years she was his eminence grise and unofficial ambassador, glorifying him in her 1925 biography that was translated into 18 languages.
Il Duce's many frailties
It was Clara Petacci who has gone down in history as Mussolini’s most famous lover. In April 1945, Italian partisans shot her and Il Duce and hung their bodies upside down in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto. But after their intense 20-year personal and political relationship, Sarfatti was apparently the one who knew him best — maybe even better than his lawful wife, Rachele Guidi.

From the cover of Margherita Sarfatti's book
“Mussolini and Sarfatti had shown each other their souls,” Sullivan writes in the book’s long introduction. “She had listened to his secrets … she knew most everything about Mussolini’s hidden weaknesses, his human frailties, his crude behavior, his superstitions, his ignorant misunderstandings about so many scientific and medical matters, and about his syphilis.”
But according to Sullivan, as much as Mussolini feared that Sarfatti would expose details on their sex life, he feared even more that she would reveal other shortcomings — and destroy the demigod image he had worked so hard to create.
Although Sarfatti’s 1955 Italian-language autobiography “Acqua Passata” (“Water Under the Bridge”) does not mention her relationship with Il Duce, her memoirs make up for it. She recounts a raft of personal and political anecdotes, provides quotes from Mussolini and talks about his sex addiction and cocaine use. But she never slides into bedroom gossip.
From her descriptions Mussolini comes across as a brilliant, charismatic statesman — but also an egocentric one ridden by inferiority complexes, fears and superstitions. He was also an unbridled womanizer, not to mention a manipulator who didn’t hesitate in his youth to threaten suicide in a letter to his mother “if she failed to send him some money for food.”
Sarfatti, meanwhile, comes across as a haughty, self-confident woman who often boasts of her good judgment, intuition and wisdom in both political and personal affairs.
Despite the book’s title “My Fault,” chosen by Sarfatti decades ago for the memoirs, she expresses no regret over her relationship with Mussolini, who was responsible for the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law on their way to Auschwitz, the destruction of Italian democracy and the establishment of a dictatorship. On the contrary, Sarfatti evades responsibility, putting all the blame on Mussolini.
Pesky Pact of Steel
Sarfatti maintains that fascism began as a positive idea that was distorted over the years. She claims that even Mussolini underwent a complete change. “After less than a decade in power, Mussolini seemed to me to have become someone else,” she writes. “He began to deny even the right to interior freedom and to subject the very souls of his people to the power of the state.”
As Sarfatti puts it, Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany, which she opposed, was the main cause of his downfall. “But the Duce did not form the Rome–Berlin Axis or the Pact of Steel with the Führer by accident. Mussolini harbored within him a number of defects that attracted him to the Germans of his time. Thus he succumbed to the illness of power, to the madness of the Caesars.”
About one matter, though, she does accept the blame. “I cannot hide behind my work as an art critic. I must accept my responsibilities. I believed in Fascism and fought for it in the beginnings,” she writes.
“Worse, I wrote a book read by many that interpreted the goals of Fascism in a favorable light and proclaimed to the entire world that Mussolini was a hero of historic proportions. That was my fault .... It is my duty to declare that Mussolini fell because of his complete moral bankruptcy.”
Lamenting the failure of her “final, desperate attempt to guide Mussolini,” she adds: “Meanwhile, we discovered that behind the mask of Fascism lay an abyss of corruption, nepotism, favoritism and arbitrary lawlessness.”
Like most Italians, Sarfatti saw Mussolini as the embodiment of the “good tyrant,” adding that she had hoped he would turn out wiser, more level-headed and more just than the leaders produced by the ballot box.
Sullivan lambastes Sarfatti’s attempt to put all the blame on Il Duce. He writes that since it was Sarfatti, more than Mussolini, who crafted the ideological and philosophical basis of fascism between 1913 and 1919, she can’t evade responsibility for what others did based on her views. He adds that the original manuscript contains inaccuracies and spelling mistakes.
In his copious comments and remarks — often more comprehensive than the original text — Sullivan contends that after Sarfatti fled Italy, she agreed with Mussolini not to reveal details about their relationship. In exchange, no harm would befall her family still in Rome, among them her daughter Fiametta, her son-in-law and their three children.
But history lost out, Sullivan concludes, in that the book was not published in the late 1940s. Sarfatti possessed priceless photographs, letters and documents in Mussolini’s own hand.
“At least some of that historically precious material might have become available to scholars over sixty years ago,” Sullivan writes. “Instead, it passed into the possession of Sarfatti’s heirs after her death. They have refused permission to anyone to study those valuable records. Indeed, they have consistently denied their very existence. One can only hope they will have a change of mind.”

Il Duce and His Women by Roberto Olla – review
Sex was at the centre of the Italian dictator's image

Ian Thomson
Friday 13 January 2012 22.55 GMT

In 1919 Benito Mussolini, an obscure political agitator, assembled a ragbag of black-shirted followers in Milan, and launched the political movement that was to become, two years later, the National Fascist party. The party took its name from the classical Roman symbol of authority – an axe bound in rods, or fasces. Part idealist, part buffoon, Mussolini dreamed of a second Roman empire for Italy, and dominion over the Mediterranean. Occasionally he liked to wear a richly tasselled fez and would pose for the cameras, thrusting out his chin pugnaciously. He introduced the stiff-armed Roman salute, disapproving of the handshake as fey and unhygienic. As Mussolini's regime strengthened, the high priests of fascism began to hail their leader as "divine Caesar", and adopted the passo romano, the Latin goosestep, in parades. Behind the bombast, however, Italian fascism relied on bludgeons, intimidation and, according to Roberto Olla, Mussolini's vainglorious sexual antics and boastfulness.

Olla, an Italian writer and TV journalist, provides an absorbing account of Mussolini's self-proclaimed manful potency and "animal allure". In the course of his life, he had relations with hundreds of women, perhaps "as many as 400". The women were brusquely mauled by him under his desk or on mattress-like cushions installed for the purpose. Towards the end of his 23-year-dicatorship, facing defeat, he became addicted to a German-manufactured aphrodisiac pill trade-marked Hormovin. Taking this prototype Viagra was a "political act", says Olla, as it served to prolong the myth of the Duce as one who never flagged. Undeniably, sex was at the centre of the myth of Mussolini and his image as a man of power. Yet Mussolini's sexuality has been "ignored" by historians as being unworthy of study. In Il Duce and His Women, Olla remedies the deficiency, and gives us a portrait of Mussolini in all his priapic foolery – and occasional daring.

Mussolini's most notorious mistress, Claretta Petacci, saw a "god-like potency" and "bull-like" magnetism in her idol. A doctor's daughter, she began to court Mussolini in 1932 and before long, bouts of "savage, ardent sex" routinely occurred in his headquarters at Palazzo Venezia in Rome. Mussolini was by then married with five children, yet the more women he had, the more he felt puffed out with a sense of his own rank and self-importance. Petacci's diaries, first published in Italy in 2009 as Mussolini segreto ("Secret Mussolini"), are amply quoted by Olla. In spite of her adoring pillow talk ("Anchor yourself in me, my great and glorious ship"), Petacci has much to say about Mussolini's inner life, personality and politics. He forbade his daughter from marrying a Jew, yet one of his mistresses, Margherita Sarfatti, was Jewish. Sarfatti, a rather "overlooked character", according to Olla, exerted a stronger influence on the dictator than is generally realised.

She first met Mussolini in 1912, and was one of the masterminds behind fascism's pompous celebration of ancient Rome. The eagle motifs and suckling she-wolves visible today on fascist architecture in Italy are partly Sarfatti's legacy. Her bestselling 1926 biography of Mussolini, Dux, exalted the leader as a sacred manifestation of romanità ("Romanness") and the noble Italian race. Yet her name was dirt once Mussolini had committed Italy to Nazi Germany's antisemitic cause. A racial dogma that glorified blond northerners of course conflicted somewhat with the Mediterranean cult of romanità. Yet a latent tension had always existed between fascism and Italian Jews. Zionists, in particular, were seen by Mussolini as a self-regarding, supranational sect inimical to the sturdy Blackshirt. "They should mind their own business," Mussolini told Petacci while sunbathing with her one day in Rome. "They are carogne [carrion], cowards." While Sarfatti managed to escape Nazi-occupied Italy, her sister Nella and her husband died on a transport bound for Auschwitz.

To Petacci, Hitler was unappealingly furtive and rat-like beside her grandly uniformed Dux, whose smouldering, lantern-jawed features were said to radiate a sense of physical daring – ardimento – and the very masculine fascist soul. Other women were no less impressed. Ida Dalser went so far as to sell her beauty salon in order to raise funds for Mussolini. In time, she became the mother of Mussolini's first-born son and, it seems, married the dictator. Years later, after Mussolini had cynically discarded her, Dalser accused him of cowardice and dereliction of duty. Enraged, Mussolini confined Dalser to a mental home, where, shortly before Christmas 1937, she died.

Olla's biography ends that momentous year of 1937, when Mussolini paid his disastrous official visit to Nazi Germany. Having invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) two years earlier, the dictator decided to hitch his carnival chariot to Hitler's funeral hearse, and a last chance for peace in Europe was lost. Olla has read widely into the cult of ducismo, and writes illuminatingly of his subject. Ultimately, his psycho-sexual study asserts the dangers of blind adherence to ideology. In April 1945, with Italy's defeat now certain, Mussolini was executed by anti-fascists and his body strung up alongside that of the starry-eyed Claretta Petacci in Milan, not far from the site where, 26 years earlier, the fascist movement had been launched.

• Ian Thomson's Primo Levi: A Biography is published by Vintage.

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