Caroline Moorehead’s gripping account of two Jewish brothers’ fight against Mussolini shines a light on an overlooked chapter of Italian history

It’s often said that Italy has managed to get away with its fascist past. There’s no great communal guilt or shame; the country paid a pittance in terms of war reparations. Of course the crimes of Mussolini’s thugs, horrifying as they often were, seem minor when set against the industrialised genocide of the Third Reich. Mussolini was many things, but his racism always felt half-hearted, his antisemitism merely favour-gaining with Hitler.

There’s something else, though. Italy’s resistance to fascism and totalitarian rule was more widespread and well organised than in any other European country (even, arguably, France). The nobility and heroism of the loose nexus of socialists, Freemasons and academics who stood up to Mussolini provided a narrative upon which the country could found its postwar identity. Foremost among the opposition to fascism, there were two portly, bookish, Jewish brothers who shone brightly, briefly, before their early deaths at the hands of the regime. Their names were Carlo and Nello Rosselli.

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