Verona under the Republic of Salò

By Alberto Cavaglion*

The book by Olinto Domenichini Le ricerche hanno dato esito negativo (Cierre, 2021, Searches did not succeed), which tells the story of benevolent policemen and racial persecution in Verona in the years 1943-1945, deserves to be noted for its extensive archival sources and its framework, which is not only linked to the story of Verona, featuring a paradox. In a city where the control of the Italian Social Republic was tighter than anywhere else, the number of deported Jews was far from high.
The history of antisemitism in the Republic of Salò is made of light and shadow. Domenichini found himself in the enviable position to have access to a tremendous amount of documents that were not preserved in other cities of Northern Italy. The protagonists of the book – the officials Masiero, Gagliano, Costantino and Sena – offer an insight into the tragic reality of those months that cannot be generalised. They were not inspired by Christian love or a conscious political dissent, but they probably acted in the name of more innocent and unpolitical feelings.
The book’s only fault is to award to those people the status of “benefactors”, which is not for a historian to validate, as we have repeatedly stated in this newsletter. As for the rest of it, what comes out is a much more nuanced picture of the ISR than the one we usually draw. First and foremost, we get to see the impact of cynicism and guile which during those months translated into bureaucratic formalities such as the one that provides the name for the book.
Alongside them it is worth mentioning what border officials in Ventimiglia wrote on the documents of foreign Jews arriving at the border – “Encourage migration to the utmost” – in order to get rid of an inconvenient issue and deliver it to the French. This manner of proceeding might seem irritating, but it enables us to catch a much better glimpse of what happened back then: depending on each case, there might have been hypocrisy, calculation of chances, a widespread spirit of tolerance or the forethought not to cross a certain line – such as not arresting children in Verona.
Domenichini provides additional elements to form an overall picture of a situation that was not only typical of Verona. In fact, Baiardi already pointed out a similar line in documents found at Florence police station: subterfuge, cunningly compiled printed forms, deviousness aimed at confounding the authorities, which resulted into saving many people’s lives with the aid of bureaucratic constraints and racial legislation. It would be a shame if this book and the documents that are outlined in it escaped our critical observation and prevented us from knowing the truth behind those hard times.


Translated by Mattia Stefani, student at the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreting and intern at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.