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A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis…

A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini

by Caroline Moorehead

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This biography of Amelia Rosselli and her sons Carlo and Nello was possible because of the many letters that they wrote to friends and family. As well, the family provided the author with their diaries and photographs. Caroline Moorehead has written a meticulous account of the lives of Amelia, Carlo and Nello. Amelia was born into a prominent Italian Jewish family that valued the works of noted liberals and proponents of democracy. She married, separated, and eventually moved to Florence after living in Rome.Her eldest son, Aldo died in World War 1. Her sons, Carlo and Nello were bright and embraced democratic ideals. Their political work resulted in both being exiled on remote islands when Mussolini came to power. Carlo eventually escaped and went into exile in Paris along with his wife and children. Nello was freed and was able to continue his historical research. Amelia still lived in Florence and traveled to see her children and grandchildren. The book really is more than a history of this family, Moorehead writes about the rise of Fascism in Italy and the hold that Mussolini had over Italy. In fact some facts of this story about a charismatic leader have troubling similarities to present day politics.( Spoiler) Both Carlo and Nello were assassinated in the late 1930's by a group of French Fascists who were supported by the Italian government. Carlo would have been one of the best choices to lead Italy after the war. The book is so well documented and written that I have to make sure to read the other books by this author that are on my TBR list. ( )
  torontoc | Mar 11, 2018 |
The Rossellis were an Italian Jewish family who opposed Mussolini and his fascists from the beginning of his rise to power in the early 1920’s. Amelia, and her two sons Carlo and Nello, were active in the socially liberal circles that were trying to advance both the political and social development of Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, at which time Italy had been a unified country for barely 30 years. However, like most of the groups who eventually opposed fascism, their vacillation between Marxism, socialism and liberalism made them very ineffective as a unified political force. In the years following the first world war, the fascists’ mix of populist nationalism and physical intimidation of their political opponents gave them the upper hand and eventually secured for Mussolini all the reins of power; from his position as dictator, he set about ruthlessly identifying and neutralizing all opposition. As much as it is a biography of the Rosselli family, the book is also a history of the development of the fascist movement and how it took over Italy. Some of the best chapters in the book are those that describe the history of those times.

After the fascist takeover in 1921, the two Rosselli brothers were soon identified as opponents of the regime; they were both imprisoned for short periods and both suffered long sentences of internment on one of the small islands off the southern Italian coast. During a period of freedom, Carlo arranged to have the leader of the Italian socialist party, who was under house arrest, smuggled out of the country; for this he was again imprisoned and then interned on the island of Lipari. With the help of friends and associates abroad, Carlo and two of his fellow internees escaped from Lipari by motor boat to Tunisia, and eventually made their way to France. Apart from 6 months in Spain fighting on the republican side in that country’s civil war, Carlo lived the rest of his life in France, where he became the effective leader of the many anti-fascist Italian exiles there, and organized a number of actions against the fascist regime. Although his escape from internment and the activities he later initiated - like scattering anti-fascist leaflets from a plane over the city of Milan - had propaganda value only, they were sufficient to make Mussolini regard him as the principal opponent of the regime. Carlo became a prime target of the fascist regime’s intelligence operations and ultimately for assassination by agents of the regime.

The younger Rosselli brother Nello, an academic and historian, secured his release from internment thanks to the intervention of academics, who undertook to act as guarantors of his future good behavior. Although both his subsequent published work and his private letters show that he never abandoned his opposition to fascism, he did in fact refrain from any further overt activities against the regime, and lived peacefully for several years in Florence with his wife, children and mother. The two brothers and their mother were in constant contact with each other, and occasionally met up in France.

All of the efforts of the Rossellis and their fellow anti-fascists were ultimately futile, and failed to disrupt Mussolini’s hold on Italy. The opposition to fascism was amateurish and very fragmented, with constant in-fighting between the communists, socialists, anarchists and liberal republicans; which left them wide open to penetration by spies and agents provocateurs of the fascist regime. Carlo’s escape from internment and all of his activities in France were financed by family money. The exiles received no material or political support from England or France, whose leaders were dealing with their own countries’ political and social problems, and were anxious not to offend Mussolini.

Strangely, the fact that the Rosellis were Jewish appears to be almost irrelevant to their lives and activities. They were clearly not in any way observant Jews and they were certainly not Zionists; their homeland was Italy, not Israel or Palestine. If there was any connection between their being Jewish and their opposition to fascism and the fascist regime, then the author completely fails to show this. Nor were they persecuted by the fascist regime because they were Jews. Until 1938, when Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler forced him to apply the Nuremburg laws in Italy, anti-Semitism had not been a part of the fascist program; Mussolini had even publicly ridiculed Hitler’s racial theories as “anti-scientific drivel”. Many Italian Jews were early supporters of the fascists, and Mussolini in fact had a Jewish mistress who was a cousin of the Rossellis.

Unfortunately, the book is too long-winded and loaded with information, no doubt intended to enrich the story, but which is in fact superfluous and tedious. Not just the principal characters, but even the many minor ones are all given a full-profile treatment: “thin and very dark, with black eyes and a thick black moustache which curled at the tips.” Or “..a small, fair-haired woman with sapphire eyes who looked frail and diaphanous but was in fact both capricious and obstinate.” By contrast, I have just finished reading the third volume of Robert Caro’s four-volume biography of Linden Johnson. Each of the volumes is about 1,000 pages, and not a page too long. Caro – like author of the Rosselli book –obtained most of his information from letters and papers about his subject; but you do not realize it. Instead of regurgitating lists of adjectives which other people have used to describe the subject, Caro integrates it all into an insightful analysis of the character of his subject and how that explains or contrasts with the details of the life story he is narrating. In this book, although some of the accounts of their exploits are quite vivid, the Rossellis never quite came to life for me as real people. I am sure that they were heroic and self-sacrificing, but their biographer somehow failed to make me feel that. ( )
1 vote maimonedes | Nov 18, 2017 |
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Mussolini was not only ruthless- he was subtle and manipulative. Black-shirted thugs did his dirty work for him- arson, murder, destruction of homes and offices, bribes, intimidation and the forcible administration of castor oil. His opponents - including editors, publishers, union representatives, lawyers and judges - were beaten into submission. But the tide turned in 1924 when his assassins went too far, horror spread across Italy and twenty years of struggle began. Antifascist resistance was born and it would end only with Mussolini's death in 1945. Among those whose disgust hardened into bold and uncompromising resistance was a family from Florence- Amelia, Carlo and Nello Rosselli.Caroline Moorehead's research into the Rossellis struck gold. She has drawn on letters and diaries never previously translated into English to reveal - in all its intimacy - a family driven by loyalty, duty and courage, yet susceptible to all the self-doubt and fear that humans are prey to. Readers are drawn into the lives of this remarkable family - and their loves, their loyalties, their laughter and their ultimate sacrifice.… (more)

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