Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has sparked a firestorm of outrage for praising Benito Mussolini as Holocaust survivors, politicians and religious leaders gather Sunday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Speaking to reporters at a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust, Berlusconi defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, the Huffington Post reported.
“It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then,” Berlusconi said of Mussolini’s support for Hitler. “Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler’s Germany rather than oppose it.”
Berlusconi added that “within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good.”
Under Mussolini’s regime, thousands of Jews were deported by Nazi occupation forces, and nearly 6,000 were killed. The Huffington Post said:
As expected, Burlusconi’s comments immediately drew outrage and a demand that Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting fascism.
Mussolini `’modeled his anti-Jewish laws after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws barring Jews from civil service,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement.
`’It is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a `reincarnated good guy,’” said the rabbi, whose organization monitors anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum states on its website that the United Nations General Assembly designated Jan. 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This year’s theme is “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.”
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking from his window at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, warned that humanity must always be on guard against a repeat of murderous racism, Fox News reported.
“The memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated, so that every form of hatred and racism is overcome, and that respect for, and dignity of, every human person is encouraged,” the German-born pontiff said.
The White House released a statement that said in part:
On January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor the memories of the 6 million Jews and millions of other innocent victims whose lives were tragically taken during the Holocaust over sixty years ago. Those who experienced the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence.
…The United States, along with the international community, resolves to stand in the way of any tyrant or dictator who commits crimes against humanity, and stay true to the principle of “Never Again.”