Fascism’s Hidden Victims: Homosexuality, Italian Fascism and the problem of research

Fascist Italy

Third year Benjamin Stephens discusses his undergraduate dissertation research here…

It is generally accepted that homosexual men and other members of the LGBT community were persecuted under the fascist rule of Italian Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini, and equally within the Nazi controlled areas of Europe. Nevertheless it seems that only recently historians have tried to shed light on the realities of persecutions suffered by homosexuals under the Fascist regime. Arguably, one of the main reasons for this is the changing of attitudes towards homosexuality in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Directly after the Second World War some homosexual survivors of Nazi concentration camps faced further imprisonment under the new Allied authorities. They were transferred from concentration camps directly to prisons. Homosexuals, unlike most other concentration camp inmates were considered criminals by the Allies as well as the Nazis. This legal status of homosexuality would possibly serve to explain the relative silence on the treatment of homosexuals under European Fascist regimes in the immediate decades following the Allied Victory and the study of Fascist persecution.

Since the introduction in Italy of the first penal code of 1890, homosexuality was legal in all parts of Italy; a situation that would remain legally unchanged under Fascism. One particular example of this was the case of Wilhelm Von Gloden, a rich Prussian Baron who took up residence in the Taormina area of Sicily and was famed for his photography of naked young men. R.J.B Bosworth writes of Von Gloden, that despite his open homosexuality, he was largely appreciated by the locals for bringing wealthy tourists to the area.

While homosexuality was legal during the latter years of Fascist Italy, homosexual activity could attract the attention of OVRA, the Fascist secret police, as a form of ‘degeneracy’; especially post 1938 with the establishment of closer relations with Nazi Germany. It was during this period that Molina, prefect of Catania, denounced what he perceived as a ‘homosexual plague’ and ordered the sentencing of 56 homosexual men to Confino (internal exile) on the Adriatic Archipelago of Tremiti.

On the islands, these men, derogatorily referred to as ‘The Girls,’ faced life in poor conditions without running water or electricity and a police enforced curfew of 8:00pm. Although the local chief of Police, Bocchini, issued pardons to many prisoners of the island, a lot of these men still faced police harassment.

Homosexuals also faced increased persecution with the establishment of the Nazi puppet, Italian Social Republic in 1943. Even though research is lacking on this topic, it is thought that deportation to concentration camps was likely.

In this respect, Fascist Italy never reached the levels of persecution of homosexuals instituted by their Nazi partners but it is clear to see that homosexuals were not regarded as part of the Fascist social order.

The treatment of homosexuals during Fascism has until recently largely been forgotten in Italian public discourse. LGBT victims of the holocaust were not recognised in Italy until as late as 2005.


Written by Benjamin Stephens