Although Italy was ruled by a Fascist government since 1922, antisemitsim was not part of the platform of Mussolini's party. Jews were granted an equal status in the Fascist state and until the mid 1930's Mussolini publicly criticized Germany's racial policies and supported Italy's Jews. This however was for pragmatic reasons, and behind the scenes the Fascist leadership, including Mussolini, held antisemitic views and were preparing the ground for the ousting of the Jews from society. Italy's moving closer to Germany and the creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis intensified this process. As of 1935 the press was permeated with antisemitic propaganda.
In 1938 anti-Jewish laws relating to all areas of life were enacted by Italy ousting Jewish students and teachers from schools; restricting the Jews' social, professional and economic existence; and revoking the citizenship of those who had been naturalized after 1919. In February 1940 Mussolini announced that within five years Italy would rid itself of the Jews.
Italy joined the war in June 1940. Foreign Jews who had not left Italy until that time were arrested and detained in camps.
At the same time, Italy refused to deliver the Jews residing in Italian controlled areas in France, Greece and Croatia for deportation. This stand was probably due to the Italians’ wish to demonstrate their independence and to rivalries between Italian authorities and their counterparts in those regions. In consequence, however, these areas became places of temporary refuge for Jews.
The Allies landed in Sicily in June 1943. The heavy bombings of Italy and other repercussions of the war caused support for Mussolini to wane, and he was overthrown in July 1943. When his successor signed a cease-fire agreement with the Allies in September 1943, the Germans occupied Italy and the Italian occupied zones. Mussolini was returned to power, and a radical Fascist regime was established. The deportation of Jews from these areas began soon after. The first wave of deportation from Italy in October 1943 was conducted by German forces, but from November Italian militia began to arrest Jews, deliver them to the Germans and confiscate their assets.
Many Jews were able to find shelter with Italians. The fact that the Allies were already on Italian soil and that their victory became a certainty probably played an important role in the willingness to help the persecuted. On the other hand there were also many cases of denunciations resulting in arrests.
7,680 out of 44,500 Italian Jews perished during the Holocaust