Mussolini, Hitler, and Horthy: leading figures in the Interwar period

Adolf Hitler (Braunau am Inn, 20 April 1889 - Berlin, 30 April 1945)

Adolf was born in Braunau am Inn, a small Austrian town on the border of Bavaria, to Alois Hitler, a customs official, and Klara Pölzl. The fourth of six children, he always had a hostile relationship to his father, though was very affectionate with his mother. A fairly intelligent boy, he did not have a particularly brilliant scholastic career. Little given to studies, he failed to obtain a diploma and did not want to find a stable job. Despite having an artistic inclination, his lack of commitment led him to fail also in these endeavours. He lived in Vienna for four years without any occupation, but his mother, who died of illness in 1907, left him a fair sum of money. In 1909, having spent his inheritance and being reduced to poverty, he stayed in a hostel and managed to make some money by painting pictures and postcards. In addition to the influence Wagner's music exerted on him, he was given to the reading of anti-Semitic newspapers and came into contact with the great mass of Eastern European Jews who had moved to Vienna. Thus his anti-Semitism, already present since his studies in Linz, grew. In the Austrian capital, Hitler also came into contact with pan-Germanism ideas, which advocated the idea of ​​a Greater Germany dominating the European continent. In May 1913, Adolf left Vienna and went to Munich. While in the Bavarian capital he continued to live by expediency.

With the outbreak of the Great War, Hitler saw new opportunities present themselves. In August 1914, he volunteered for an infantry regiment and experienced fulfilment during those years. Though callous and litigious by nature, he still earned the respect of his officers and comrades. Sent as a messenger to the Flanders front, he was able to distinguish himself enough to receive two decorations and a personal citation in the regimental bulletin. Promoted to Corporal, he was first wounded in the leg in October 1916 and, in October 1918, he experienced strong gas poisoning near Ypres. The news of the end of the war reached him at the Pasewalk hospital: Germany had been defeated. Adolf, rather than returning to civilian life, decided to remain in the army. In Munich, his superiors commissioned him as a political informant for the army, now in disarray. In this decisive period his smouldering disappointment for the defeat in the war merged with his political undertakings and the clear identification of an enemy to be fought at any cost: Jews and Communists. Thus, from the Interwar period on, the path was laid for this person who was to become absolute dictator of Germany for thirteen years and whose despotism would lead the whole world into the maelstrom of a terrible war, at the end of which, defeated and encircled, he committed suicide in a bunker with his partner Eva Braun.  

Benito Mussolini (Varano di Costa, 29 July 1883 - Giulino di Mezzegra, 28 April 1945)

Benito was born near Predappio to Alessandro Mussolini, a blacksmith engaged in local politics, and to Rosa Maltoni, a teacher. Coming from a rather poor family, he attended the Forlimpopoli boarding school, where he earned the diploma as a primary school teacher with flying colours. He joined the Socialist Party in 1900, committing himself to anti-clerical positions. He then decided to leave for Switzerland, a refuge for socialists, anarchists and revolutionaries. He worked as a stonemason, gave Italian lessons, and wrote articles. In 1904, in Geneva, he met a Russian revolutionary, Angelica Balabanoff, who encouraged him to attend the University of Lausanne and with whom he had a long relationship. Expelled from the canton of Geneva, he was reported to the Italian consul as an anarchist. He stayed in France for some time, before returning to Italy. After having served in the military, he returned to work as a teacher, leading an unruly life. He taught in various places and, after returning to Predappio, he left for Trentino, where he collaborated with "Il Popolo" and with "L'avvenire del Lavoratore". The Austrian police put him in jail after a workers' demonstration and, upon his release, Benito was escorted to the border and expelled. In Forlì he began living with Rachele, the woman he had fallen in love with, and in 1910, Edda, the future wife of Galeazzo Ciano, was born. He became director, editor, and format designer for the Forlì socialist newspaper "La Lotta di Classe", a correspondent for "Avanti!", and gave many lectures. In 1912, he left Forlì for Milan, where he was offered the position of director of "Avanti!". An anti-militarist, in 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, he supported Italian neutrality but, in the following months he took up interventionist positions, arousing the indignation of the Socialists. He resigned from the staff of the newspaper and founded his "Popolo d'Italia", for which he was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. In 1915, after Italy entered the war, Mussolini left for the Isonzo front as a Bersagliere (rifleman). Promoted to corporal for his courage, in December 1915 he fell ill with typhoid fever and, during his convalescent leave, he married Rachele in a civil ceremony. In 1917, he was seriously injured by the explosion of a weapon. Having been mustered out, he resumed the editor-in-chief position at his newspaper. In 1919, following discontent for the mutilated victory, he established the Fasci italiani di combattimento, which became the National Fascist Party in 1921. In the years following the end of the conflict, Mussolini dominated the Italian political scene. With the March on Rome in 1922, he achieved the ability to form a Government; following electoral success in 1924, he established a dictatorship in 1925, strengthened the regime and, in 1935, occupied Ethiopia. Establishing close ties with National Socialist Germany, he signed the Pact of Steel with Hitler in 1939. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Italy entered the war in 1940. After many changes of fortunes during the war, and after the defeat of Italian-German forces, Mussolini left Milan in April 1945, was captured in Dongo by the partisans and shot with his lover Claretta Petacci.

Miklós Horthy (Kenderes, 18 June 1868 - Estoril, 9 February 1957)

Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was born in a Hungarian town to a Calvinist family belonging to the lesser nobility. Born destined for a military career, from 1909 to 1914 his career took an important turn when he became an adjutant to Emperor Franz Joseph. During the Great War, Admiral Horthy was given command of the cruiser Novara in the Adriatic, attaining the rank of rear-admiral and of the last supreme commander of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy. At the end of the war, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formation of the Communist government under Bela Kun, he became Minister of War of the anti-communist counter-revolutionary government established in 1919 in an attempt to oppose the Kun regime. Horthy managed to get the upper hand and, in November, entered Budapest victorious. In 1920, he was appointed temporary head of state, with the title of Regent. He attempted to prevent the isolation of Hungary, a weak country militarily and politically, establishing ties with Fascist Italy and the Austrian Fascism of Dollfuss. After the rise of Nazi Germany, Hungarian politicians hoped that peace treaties would be reviewed. This occurred in 1938, when large parts of southern Slovakia and Romanian Transylvania were transferred to Hungary.

During his regency, being conservative, Horthy defended the privileges of the aristocracy and its dominant position in the state. Under his regime discriminatory laws against the Jews were enacted and, over time, he increasingly extended his powers to the detriment of Parliament. He remained at the peak of power until 1944, when he was arrested by the Germans for trying to conclude a separate armistice with the Soviet Union. He took refuge in exile in Portugal after being released in 1945 and died there in 1957. He was buried in Hungary only in 1993.

 

Bibliography:

Corni Gustavo, Hitler, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007

Fornaro Pasquale, Crisi postbellica e rivoluzione. L’Ungheria dei Consigli e l’Europa danubiana nel primo dopoguerra, Milan, Franco Angeli Libri, 1987

Gallo Max, Vita di Mussolini, Bari, Laterza, 1983