April 28th marks the anniversary of the execution of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. He, his mistress and other Facist party leaders were shot in the village of Mezzegra on this day in 1945 and their bodies publicly displayed in Como and Milan. In Milan, the bodies were hung upside-down on meat hooks from a gas station roof. The pictures aren’t pretty, so I’m not going to post them, but if you’re so inclined you can find pictures here and here. The idea was to prove that the dictator was, in fact, dead, but the body also became the target for much of the anger felt by the crowds, who reportedly spit on and shot at the body as it hung. Mussolini was later buried in an unmarked grave in a Milan cemetery, but in the 1950s his body was moved to a crypt in Predappio, where it’s “flanked by marble fasces and a large idealized marble bust of himself sits above the tomb.”
The life and death of Mussolini represents the two ways Italians view their leaders. In his life, he was a ruthless dictator who ruled by fear. In death, he was spat upon for his crimes. However, many older Italians still pine for the days when Mussolini ruled the country – they famously say that at least he made the trains run on time. (Even though he apparently didn’t.) As Luigi Barzini wrote in his 1964 book, The Italians:
Italians always loved a good entertainer who could stir their emotions and divert them from themselves. … They were always delighted by a talented painter, musician, sculptor, architect, actor, dancer, as long as he did not engage their higher faculties. They respected and admired great scientists, especially if their discoveries were abstract and incomprehensible. They endured and feared a forceful leader, but they always thoroughly enjoyed his fall. … It is true that in other countries, great men have also occasionally been persecuted and put to death. Nowhere else, however, has this happened with the same discrimination, regularity, and determination.
Photo by: Marzia Bisognin ocasaggia