December 7, 1941 was a monumental date in American history…
…..the day the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor.
So, today, a historical post relating to World War II.
Very few diaries reflect events as monumental as the diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s Foreign Minister during most of WW II.
” Victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan “
Count Galeazzo Ciano
Count Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944) was the Italian Foreign Minister from 1936 to 1943 under Benito Mussolini, and was responsible for negotiating Italy’s part in the so-called “Pact of Steel” — the 1935 Italian-German Alliance agreement.
He was also the architect of the Italian invasions of Greece and Albania, and the concept of limiting Italian involvement in German aggression through a “parallel war”.
As Mussolini’s son-in-law, he had a uniquely up-close and personal relationship with the Italian dictator.
Ciano was privy to most of what Mussolini was planning, and much of what he was thinking.
From this privileged position, he witnessed much of the diplomatic, as well as the back-alley, dealings that would culminate in the deaths of millions in World War II.
His post as foreign minister put him in frequent dealings with the leadership of both sides, but more particularly with Von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister — a man Ciano detested.
What is most unique about Count Ciano, however, is the fact that he openly kept a diary of his diplomatic and personal dealings.
This diary, he believed, might one day save his life.
His antipathy for the Germans was evident, and after the Germans attacked Poland in 1939, Ciano worked against them at every opportunity.
(He tipped the Belgians off to the German attack against them before it happened.)
As you can imagine, the Germans were anxious to see what was in it, especially after Mussolini purged Ciano from his government in 1943.
For, in it, he described many secrets –
In its pages, the diplomatic maneuverings between the Germans, Italians, Russians and the Allies are clearly delineated.
Hitler’s schemes to conquer Europe, dismember Czechoslavakia, enslave the Poles, and ship the Jews to Madagascar (1940) were also enumerated.
He describes his retiscence for the Italians to join the Germans in a 1939 aggressive war, and his attempt to persuade Mussolini:
“Today I have spoken clearly– I have case aside every scruple. When I entered the room, Mussolini confirmed his decision to go along with the Germans. “You, Duce, cannot and must not do it. The loyalty with which I have served you in carrying out the policy of the Axis warrants me speaking now. I went to Salzburg to adopt a common line of action, but I found myself face to face with a diktat. Ther Germans have betrayed the alliance in which we were to have been partners, not servants. Tear up the pact. Throw it in Hitler’s face and the people of Europe will recognize in you the natural leader of the anti-German crusade.”
Also in 1939, he wrote about a secret American weapon:
“Dentice di Frasso has given us information about an astonishing American invention of a very powerful smokeless, colorless, and flashless gunpowder. Dentice vouches for this claim but I am skeptical about such inventions. However I am inclined to have one of our specialists take a trip to the U.S. in order to meet the inventor and look into the matter.”
On December 3, 1941, Ciano describes a visit from the Japanese Ambassador:
“Sensational move by Japan. The Ambassador asks for an audience with the Duce and reads him a long statement on the progress of the negotiations with America, concluding with the assertion that they have reached a dead end. Then invoking the appropriate clause in the Tripartite Pact, he asks that Italy declare war on America immediately after the outbreak of hostilities and proposes the signing of an agreement not to conclude a separate peace. The interpreter translating this request was trembling like a leaf. The Duce gave fullest assurances, reserving the right to confer with Berlin before giving a reply.”
“Mussolini is quite humiliated because our troops have not moved a step forward. Even today they have not succeeded in advancing and have halted in front of the first French fortification which put up some resistance.”
How Mussolini really felt about Hitler and the Germans is also explained :
“Either he is under hallucinations, or he really is a genius.”
According to Ciano, Mussolini deeply mistrusted his German allies– with good reason– and he thought they would eventually try to seize Italy.
In an entry from July 1941, Ciano remarked on Mussolini’s irritation over German activity in the South Tyrol:
“Note it down in your diary,” Mussolini said, “that I foresee an unavoidable conflict arising between Italy and Germany.”
From November 1942:
“Mussolini asked me if I was keeping my diary up to date. When I answered affirmatively, he said that it will serve to prove how the Germans, both in military and political fields, have always acted without his knowledge.”
As interesting as Ciano’s observations and insights are, the story of how Ciano’s diaries reached the West is just as fascinating:
Early in 1943, Mussolini, under pressure by the Germans, relieved Ciano of his Foreign Ministry duties, and appointed him Ambassador to the Vatican in Rome.
The political pressure against Mussolini had been heating up in 1942, and by the summer of 1943, they boiled over.
Ciano appeared before the Fascist Grand Council in late July 1943, and recommended a break with Germany, and Mussolini’s removal from power.
This infuriated both Mussolini and Hitler….
Mussolini eventually was arrested and held at a ski lodge on the Gran Sasso by the new government under Marshal Pietro Badoglio.
As the new government started negotiations with the Allies for surrender, a brazen plan to ‘rescue’ Mussolini was hatched by the Germans, and brilliantly executed by Otto Skorzeny and a small group of airborne troops.
Mussolini was taken to Munich, and then set up a puppet government called the “Italian Social Republic”, based in a little town on Lake Garda.
In the meantime, Ciano fled to Bavaria, believing that he was to be arrested by the Badoglio government.
This was the worst thing he could have done… for once the Germans had him, they would not let him leave.
They held him until the new puppet regime was ready to try the 19 men– including Ciano– who had voted against Mussolini at the Grand Fascist Council– for treason.
Mussolini’s daughter attempted to make a deal with the Germans- in exchange for the diaries, Ciano would be extricated from his captivity and taken to Spain with his family –
An idea developed by Kaltenbrunner at Innsbruck called for a four stage plan:
Ciano was to reveal the hiding place of his Foreign Office records in Rome so that the SD could take them over.
Ciano was to be sprung from his cell, and quickly taken to Switzerland with Edda, the children, and Frau Beetz ( a German spy who had befriended the Cianos)
Ciano, safe in Switzerland, was to turn his diaries over to Frau Beetz.
She in turn would return to Italy to deliver them to German General Harster.
This was to happen on January 7, 1944…
But the deal and plan was nixxed by Hitler on the day before it was to be executed.
Count Ciano was sentenced to death on January 8.
Pleas by Edda to her father Mussolini went unheeded– her last letter to him illustrates her desperation:
Duce: I have waited until today for you to show me the slightest feelings of humanity and justice. Now it is enough. If Galeazzo is not in Switzerland within three days in accordance with the conditions which I have made known to the Germans, then everything which I have at hand in the way of proofs will be used without pity. If, on the other hand, we are left in peace and security against everything from pulmonary consumption to auto-accident, then you will hear nothing further from us.
(signed) Edda Ciano
On the 9th of January, Edda, with the aid of an Italian Air Force officer named Lt. Pucci, was able to smuggle herself, her children, and the entire set of diaries ( The Germans had found only fragments of it during their occupation ) into neutral Swtizerland … the books are said to have been hidden under her skirts.
Ciano’s last diary entry, dated December 23, 1943, was smuggled out of the prison, and was added to his papers by Edda.
” If these notes of mine one day see the light, it will be because I took precautions to put them in safety before the Germans, through base trickery, made me a prisoner….
“The Italian tragedy, in my opinion, had it’s beginnings in August, 1939, when having gone to Salzburg on my own initiative, I suddenly found myself face to face with the cynical German determination to provoke the conflict. “
“… the alliance ( the Pact of Steel ) had a clause, namely that for a period of three or four years neither Italy or Germany would create controversy capable of disturbing the peace of Europe. Instead, in the summer of 1939, Germany advanced its anti-Polish claims, naturally without our knowledge…..
” … well, Ribbentrop, I asked him, what do you want– the Corridor or Danzig?”
” He replied, ” We want war !”
“Their calculation was fundamentally wrong. They were sure that both France and England would remain passive during the slaughter of Poland. “
Cinao then mentions that he and Ribbentrop had a bet on this point — Ribbentrop lost, but never paid the debt.
“Unless, he believes he is discharging his debt by having me shot… ”
“From Salzburg on, during the period of Italian neutrality and during the war, the policy of Berlin was nothing but a network of lies, intrigue and deceit….. only the base cowardice of Mussolini could, without reaction, tolerate this and pretend not to see it.”
“The attack on Russia was brought to our knowledge half an hour after German troops had crossed the border… I aksed Ribbentrop about <the impending invasion> it (on June 16), and he replied: “One thing is certain– if we attack them, the Russia of Stalin will be erased from the map within 8 weeks.”
“Within a few days a sham tribunal will make public a sentence which has already been decided by Mussolini… I accept calmly what is to be my infamous destiny.”
“Signed, Galeazzo Ciano, December 23, 1943, Cell 27 of the Verona Jail. “
Count Ciano was shot by a firing squad on January 10th, 1944.
According to a recent CIA report:
“Ciano also kept certain materials, reports and memoranda in addition to the diary—materials which constitute a kind of appendix for the diary as published. The materials were seized by the Germans during their occupation of Rome and were translated from Italian into German by a woman employed by the German Foreign Office. While making this translation this woman made an extra copy of the translation for herself which she buried in a rose garden.”
These also made it to the West, and together, they tell a unique story about the war.
Ciano’s diaries are of interest to anyone trying to make sense of that fractious and bloody time in world history.
” Il Duce’s political genius is beyond dispute. Anyone who doubts it has only to look at the depths of the abyss into which he has thrown Italy ”
( Count Ciano, to his jailers before his execution. )