Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 28 January - Former Italian PM causes outrage with Holocaust Memorial Day comments

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 28 January

Former Italian PM causes outrage with Holocaust Memorial Day comments

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has sparked outrage after praising Benito Mussolini for "doing good" despite the fascist dictator being responsible for an alliance with Nazi Germany and the death of thousands of Jews in the Second World War.

Berlusconi defended Mussolini’s deal with Adolf Hitler, saying his likely reasoning was that it would be better to be on the winning side.

Mussolini was the fascist leader of Italy from 1922 to 1942. In 1938, before the outbreak of the Second World War, his regime passed the so-called "racial laws", which barred Jews from Italy's universities and many professions as well as introducing other forms of discrimination.

When Germany's Nazis fought alongside Italy during the war, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps. More than 7,000 Jews were deported under Mussolini's regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.

The comments by Berlusconi -­ who looks likely to seek to be elected prime minister for a fourth time next month - were made to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to mark Holocaust Memorial Day yesterday (Sunday 27 January).

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi said of Mussolini's support for Hitler. "Certainly the government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler's Germany rather than oppose it."

Berlusconi added that "within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good."

Reactions of outrage, along with a demand that Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting fascism, quickly followed his words.

Berlusconi's praise of Mussolini constitutes "an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy", said Rosy Bindi, president of Italy’s Democratic Party. "Only Berlusconi's political cynicism, combined with the worst historic revisionism, could separate the shame of the racist laws from the fascist dictatorship."

Mussolini’s dictatorship came to an end after Italian military failures in Africa and in Greece fostered rebellion among fascist officials. In 1943 he was arrested on the orders of the Italian king. His end came at the vengeful hands of partisan fighters who shot him and his mistress, and left their bodies to hang in a Milan square in April 1945.

Holocaust Memorial Day has taken place in the UK since 2001. It is a day that has been designated for events to remember those who were murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.


  • Why do we mark some events from history with memorial days?
  • Why do you think that some Italians were upset by Berlusconi's remarks?
  • Do you think that there should be limits to freedom of speech? What should they be?
  • Which is more important to you: being on 'the winning side', or doing what you believe is right?

Related resources

Holocaust Memorial Day

  • Take at look at TES’ collection of teaching resources, assembly ideas and PowerPoints to mark the Holocaust.

Propaganda in Mussolini’s Italy

  • A tutorial to help pupils understand more about propaganda and its importance under Mussolini’s Fascist rule.


  • A quick, 20 minute activity on historical bias including problems with the reliability and usefulness of sources.

Holocaust Educational Trust: Anti-Jewish laws

  • This activity offers a way for pupils to consolidate their understanding of the legal persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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