Purported Mussolini diaries published

June 27, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Excerpts from diaries said to be Benito Mussolini's were published in a London newspaper yesterday, and an American scholar said the documents probably were genuine, but written after the fact in an effort by Mussolini to absolve himself of responsibility for World War II.

The small, boldly inscribed notebooks, dated 1935 to 1939, are a treasure for historians, but they contain anomalies best explained by thetheory that they were written during Mussolini's virtual exile at Lake Garda from 1943 to 1945, said Brian R. Sullivan, a senior research professor at the National Defense University in Washington, who has been studying the diaries for several years.

"Mussolini was aware that he might be tried as a war criminal," Mr. Sullivan said, "and may have used his time at Lake Garda to fabricate a diary detailing his thoughts and actions before the war."

Mr. Sullivan said that after the war, Mussolini's widow recalled that he had written a diary "to defend himself if he succeeded in saving his life.' "

"The diaries contain references to matters such as a secret mission toEthiopia by William J. Donovan that only Mussolini could have known about," Mr. Sullivan said, "but, on the other hand, the diary for the year 1939 mentions the German Tiger Tank, whereas the Tiger did not make its appearance until late 1942."

Most but not all of the half-dozen scholars who have examined the diaries agree that -- unlike the Hitler diary hoax of 1983 -- these diaries are authentic.

The diaries reveal:

* Feelings toward Adolf Hitler that fluctuate from loathing and contempt to admiration and envy.

* Surprising admiration of Winston Churchill.

* Seething hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin, animated by Mussolini's conviction that they had led the United States and the Soviet Union into Europe, where they had no right to be.

* Deep melancholy, arising from Mussolini's belief that the price of having painted himself as a modern Caesar was terrible loneliness, isolation, and friendlessness.

Mussolini was a journalist, novelist and playwright, and proudly showed his diaries to a number of people, including his son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who recorded in his own diary that he had seen them.

Mussolini's diaries disappeared -- along with state documents and $66 million in gold bullion -- when the fascist dictator was captured and murdered by Italian guerrilla fighters as he fled to Switzerland in the final days of World War II in Europe.

In 1957 and again in 1967, diaries attributed to Mussolini appeared and were proven false. Since then, most specialists have accepted the opinion of Renzo De Felice, a professor of history at the University of Rome and the author of a seven-volume biography of Mussolini, that the dictator sent his diary in a diplomatic pouch to the Japanese Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, for safekeeping, and that it was mistakenly burned when the embassy received orders from Tokyo to destroy all sensitive documents.

When asked about the excerpts printed by the Sunday Telegraph, Mr. De Felice said he could not pronounce the diaries either genuine or false without a lengthy investigation.

Denis Mack Smith, a specialist in Italian history at Oxford Universityand the author of a major biography called "Mussolini," said that after spending about 12 hours studying several volumes of the diaries in 1983, he had come away convinced that there was "a high probability that they are as near genuine as you can get."

Nicolas Barker, a forgery detection expert and retired deputy keeper of the British Museum who examined the diaries for the Sunday Telegraph, said: "None of the forensic evidence -- the paper, ink, and structure of the volumes -- points to a fabrication."

The diaries were found in 1962 among the personal effects of a partisan fighter in the unit commanded by Count Bellini delle Stelle, alias Pedro, which captured and executed Mussolini. They were found after the count's death by his son, a laborer in the marble quarries of Carrara, and now a businessman, who will allow himself to be identified only as Aldo.

He brought the diaries to light in the early 1980s, and the Times of London sent Mr. Smith and others to Switzerland to examine them.

When they returned to England with a report that the diaries were genuine, an editor explained that by coincidence, while they were in Switzerland the newspaper had been forced to announce that the excerpts from the Hitler diary it had published had been revealed as fakes.

"If now we published Mussolini's diaries, no one would believe us," Mr. Smith said he was told.

There the matter rested until last year, when a reporter for the Sunday Telegraph learned from Pelikan, the German ink manufacturer that probably would have supplied Mussolini, that the chemistry of German inks of the period was not inconsistent with the findings of previous tests on the diaries.

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