Too Little, Too Late: Response to Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy’s Apology to Italian Jewish Population

Benito Mussolini and King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy.
Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy.

Last week, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, grandson of King Umberto II of Italy and great-grandson of King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy, issued a televised apology based on a letter he wrote to the Jewish population of Italy:

I am writing to you with an open heart a letter that is certainly not easy, a letter that may surprise you and that perhaps you did not expect. Yet know that for me it is very important and necessary, because I believe that, once and for all, the time has come to come to terms with the History and the past of the Family that I am here today to represent, in the name of that Royal House that contributed significantly to the unification of Italy, a name that I proudly bear. 

I am writing to you, Jewish brothers, on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a symbolic date chosen in 2000 by the Parliament of the Italian Republic, to commemorate the perpetual memory of a tragedy that saw six million European Jews perish at the hands of the Nazi-Fascist madness, including 7,500 of our Italian brothers and sisters. To these sacred Italian victims, I today wish to officially and solemnly ask for forgiveness on behalf of my whole family. I decided to take this step, a duty for me, so that the memory of what happened remains alive, so that the memory is always present. 
I condemn the racial laws of 1938, of which still today I feel all the weight on my shoulders and with me the whole Royal House of Savoy and I solemnly declare that we do not recognize ourselves in what Vittorio Emanuele III did: a painful signature, from which we dissociate ourselves firmly, an unacceptable document, an indelible shadow for my family, a wound still open for the whole of Italy. I condemn the racial laws in memory of my glorious ancestor King Carlo Alberto who on 29 March 1848 was among the first sovereigns of Europe to give Italian Jews full equality of rights. 
I condemn the racial laws in memory of the numerous Italian Jews who fought with great courage on the battlefields of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as true Patriots. I condemn the signing of the racial laws in memory of the visit to the new Synagogue in Rome that my great-grandfather Vittorio Emanuele III made in 1904, after which on 13 January of the same year he said he was in favour of the birth of the Jewish state and he expressed himself: “Jews, for us, are Italians, in all respects.” I want history not to be erased, history not to be forgotten, and history always has the opportunity to tell what happened to all those who desire the truth. The victims of the Holocaust must never be forgotten and for this reason, even today, they cry out to us their desire to be rightly remembered. 
Even my House suffered personally, albeit for political reasons, and was deeply wounded in the dearest affections: how could we forget the tragic end of my aunt Mafalda of Savoy, who died on 28 August 1944 in the Buchenwald concentration camp after terrible agony? How could I forget that my aunt Maria of Savoy was also deported with her husband and two of their children to a concentration camp near Berlin? Both were also daughters of the same Vittorio Emanuele III. 
I am writing to you, Jewish brothers, with vivid and profound emotion in the stabbing memory of the sweep of the Ghetto which took place on 16 October 1943. I am writing to you Jewish brothers, in the anguished memory of the too many victims that our beloved Italy lost. I am writing to you this letter of mine, sincerely felt and desired, which I address to the whole Italian community, to retie those unfortunately broken threads, so that it may be a first step towards that dialogue that today I wish to resume and follow personally. 

With all my sincere brotherhood,
Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia
Front page of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on 11 November 1938: 
“The laws for the defence of the race approved by the Council of ministers.”

The first and most impactful of the Leggi Razziali (Racial Laws) was the Regio Decreto of 17 November 1938. This decree restricted the civil rights of Italian Jews, banned their books, and excluded them from public office and higher education. Additional laws stripped Italian Jews of their assets, restricted travel, and allowed for their confinement as political prisoners.

The Jewish Community of Rome issued the following statement after learning of Emanuele Filiberto’s letter:

What happened with the racial laws, at the height of a long collaboration with a dictatorship, is an offence to Italians, Jews and non-Jews, which cannot be erased and forgotten.

The silence on these facts of the descendants of that house, which lasted more than eighty years, is a further aggravating circumstance.

The descendants of the victims have no authority to forgive and it is not up to Jewish institutions to rehabilitate people and facts whose historical judgment is engraved in the history of our country.

Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy with his parents, Vittorio Emanuele and Marina.

In 2007, Emanuele Filiberto and his father Vittorio Emanuele initiated a request that the Italian government pay them financial damages of 260 million euros well as grant them restitution of all properties and assets that had been confiscated from the Royal House of Savoy after the abolition of the monarchy. Their claim of financial damages was centred on their having suffered “moral injustice” during exile. The Italian government rejected their request.

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