HITLER IN FLORENCE: MAY 1938
FROM BERLIN TO ROME, FROM ROME TO NAPLES, FROM ROME TO FLORENCE. HITLER IN ITALY 1938
My previous enthusiastically detailed material paid thorough attention to Adolf Hitler’s state visit to Italy back in May 1938 with his days in Rome. As a result of the most pompous diplomatic welcoming of all times (Mussolini’s visit to Germany in September 1937), Duce was emotionally hungry not only to demonstrate the mighty power of the Italian fascist regime (sixteen years after the ‘March on Rome’) but also to impress Hitler with the historical and cultural heritage of a current reincarnation of the Roman Empire. Each of the three Italian cities (which had been destined to play a part in scrutinously orchestrated manifestations) was entitled to its own unique role in a spectacle on a national scale. Rome was to be appreciated as a capital city of a newly-crowd Empire (Impero Coloniale Italiano), a connecting link with the glorious past of the ancestries. The naval military maneuvers within the harbor of Naples were taken to symbolize Italian ambitions as a new sea ruler in the Mediterranean basin and to reinforce Hitler’s belief in the military power of his southern ally, fare more theatricalized (with military parades in Rome and Naples) so than the indeed. Florence, a pearl of the Tuscany region and the medieval center of European commerce and arts, was appreciated as a link between two cultures, the Italian one, and the German as well as an inseparable union between two regimes.
Mussolini and his political entourage had been initially playing on Hitler’s open passion for arts, a theme taken to have a high profile on the duet visit of two dictators to Florence. Taking account of the fact that Victor Emmanuel III was de facto the host to Adolf Hitler in Rome and Duce had to behave as no more than a second violin, the scheduled May 9 day in Florence was initially ‘rescued’ from the image of the nominal state ruler (The King). It should be mentioned that May 9 was to be appreciated not only as a day of a state visit of a German chancellor (Adolf Hitler) to Tuscany, but also Mussolini’s own journey to the region. A diplomatic journey of the indeed ruler of the state from Rome (a home for the fascist government and a location of Duce’s office) to Florence. In this respect, all while the citizens of Munich and Rome ‘were used’ to observe the paramount leader with their own eyes, Mussolini’s journey to Tuscany was no less than a double event.
Nicolaus von Below, one of Hitler’s adjutants, would later memoir that Hitler had always recollected a day in Florence with sincere enthusiasm, a chance for him to stand aside from the royal charade in Rome and to addict himself to the arts of a city. Eugen Dollmann, Hitler’s interpreter, would later recollect the conventional historical argument that his boss had been fed to the teeth with the dictated protocol next to King Victor Emmanuel III and the fuhrer was happy to ‘breath freely’ on the day of May 9, on his mutual journey with Mussolini. Taking Dollmann’s quotes for granted, the german dictator had been indeed fascinated with a city, with its architecture, street, and museums, and with the enthusiasm of those thousands of people, who crowded the motorcar route. Less than five years from that Mayday, as late as January 30, 1943, the devastating fuhrer (with the doomed destiny of the 6th army, sieged in Stalingrad) initiated a flaming discussion of Florence with the participants of the Italian delegation. Heinrich Hofmann, his personal photographer would elaborate his post-war memoirs with a flashback, that Hitler had particularly appreciated a painting known as ‘Plague in Rome’. This piece of art was no less than a gift from Mussolini and was to become the icing on the cake of a monumental art collection of works in the city of Linz, a place where Hitler dreamed to live his retirement years. Both visualizations were never to be fulfilled.
RESHAPING THE CITY FOR HITLER’S VISIT TO FLORENCE
Tailoring Florence as the cultural capital of a newly-formed Italian Empire and a connecting link between Italian and German cultures was reasonably beyond the debates from the very beginning. Along with that ‘easy choice’, every element of the upcoming event (May 9 was even proclaimed a holiday in Tuscany) was to be carefully and eventfully orchestrated to fit Hitler’s hyperbolized world-vision of arts and history. The image of Florence, a city scheduled to welcome two supreme rules on the Mayday of 1938, was now to demonstrate a highly stereotypic sense of the capital of Tuscany as no less than a ‘cradle of Renaissance’. More than that, the image of the whole state visit would finally have much in common with the propaganda patterns from the ‘Triumph des Willens’ documentary by Leni Riefenstahl, a movie that had once depicted Nuremberg as the cultural medieval patrimony of Germany.
Through these new demands, the image of the beautiful renaissance city and a former center of the arts was now to be updated with the symbolics of the two regimes. The special communique of ‘Comune di Firenze’, a respected local printed media, would later include the cross-national debates of the German and Italian art historians on means to deepen the cultural connection between the two allied nations. Along with the director of ‘Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz’, the guiding entourage was to include Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, a fine art expert who had been previously put in place next to Mussolini and Hitler in Rome (a guide on the photos from the Coliseum).
The myriad of details, as with Rome, was not left to chance. As late as February 7, 1938, the local government initiated a new public body, ‘for the special artistic and technical organization’, an institution aimed to mobilize human, technical, financial, and intellectual resources to reshape the image of Florence. This new federal agency was entitled with a clear unconcealed nomination: “Office for the celebrations on the occasion of the visit of the Führer”, made of fine art experts, architects, sculptors, photographers, and engineers. As the events of the upcoming months would later show, the initial budget would be surpassed and peak at no less than 19 million lire. The historical irony is that while Hitler was amazed by the city of Florence and the ‘resolute might’ of the fascist regime, the expanses on his state visit would become a heavy burden for the regional budget of Tuscany.
Therefore, Florence was destined to undergo a transformation and the cradle of the Renaissance would become one giant construction site of a grand scale. The issued plan of reconstruction included restoration of the fronts of buildings (particularly along the cortege route), pavement, and bridges. Along with the obvious works, a city center witnessed a renovation of the outdoor street lighting system, as well as a number of merchants, were granted a free-of-charge repair of their shop windows. Hundreds of fire hydrants were to be renovated as well as fountains with drinking water, a traditional attribute of the Italian cities. Close to an endless myriad of efforts were delivered both to make an impression on Hitler and to impose their own people in Italy. Relatedly, the pompous decor within the buildings’ front sides and illumination covered in places the ‘insufficiencies’ in the same manner as the white coloration at Roma Ostiense were claimed to be seen as no less than a marble on May 3, six days after before Hitler’s arrival to Florence. The renovated historical heritage was now complemented with banners and pylons and the multi-thousand adoring crowds of people as the apogee of the whole surrounding had been forehand orchestrated meticulously to welcome Hitler and Mussolini in the most festive way possible.
The route itself was appreciated as one of the most, not to say the most crucial element of the upcoming visit of two supreme leaders to Florence. The cortege directions were carefully modeled and brought to perfection in order for every single historical landmark to be clearly seen from the moving automobile. Along with the arranged emphasis on cultural aspects and in general contrast to Rome, the urban design of Florence imposed its own specifics, externalized in narrow streets and promenades. Eminently, two dictators would be in possession to drive along the narrow streets of the city center at arm’s end and touching distance to the jubilant crowds. Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli (the made guide, indeed a globally renowned fine art expert) would later recall in his memoirs that two leaders (Mussolini and Hitler) were far from reachless figures, yet in fact, they could touch people in the crowd. Early on, the members of the “Office for the celebrations on the occasion of the visit of the Führer” had considered a number of cortege routes, each including the key historical landmarks of the city center, prior to the final variant being adopted.
SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
The historical region of Tuscany has become one of the favorite children of the technical progress back in the XIX century, eminently next to the pioneers of the railway transportation service in Italy. As late as 1848, in a time when the maximum length of any particular line was beneath 40 kilometers, Florence witnessed the construction of two railway stations the same year. ‘Stazione Maria Antonia’, named after ‘The Grand Duchess of Tuscany’ was to become one of these two transport hubs. Physical proximity to SANTA MARIA NOVELLA church once demanded the erection at the expense of a number of buildings of the Christian holy place. Years later, with the 1860-s to come (subsequent to the collapse of the Duchy-kind political pattern), the station would be retitled after the sanctuary nearby. At the lapse of seventy years, a new project of the station would win the personal appreciation of Benito Mussolini with the grand opening that occurred in 1935 (three years prior to Hitler’s visit), sanctified by King Victor Emmanuel III personally. ‘Palazzina Reale di Santa Maria Novella’, a marble palace to host the royal family during their visits to Tuscany, was inaugurated the same year in proximity to the eastern wing of the station.
The special Rome-Florence train (which left Termini station at 9:33 a.m) with Hitler and all his numerous diplomatic entourage approached the 16th out of nineteen railway platforms of SANTA MARIA NOVELLA station Apr. at 2 p.m. on May 9, 1938. For this once, the german fuhrer had been pre-scheduled disburdened from the necessity to be welcomed by the King, a man ‘of high rank, but a low statue’ the way he had to experience in Rome six days earlier. Mussolini himself, accompanied by Count Galeazzo Ciano at his side was now to welcome Hitler within a platform, that had been priorly decorated with banners with the both swastika and the fascist symbolics, in a presence of hundreds of viewers, as well set on beforehand. In less than five years from that day, the same 16th railway platform would witness the departure of a train with 300 haunted Italian Jews, destined to perform their final doomed journey to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, with only every twentieth of them would return home to Italy after the war. The major part of that 300 people were exposed to ‘Sonder Behandlung’ (‘special treatment’, the Nazi euphemism for mass killing) upon arrival at the camp facility.
The crowd of people, who welcomed and cheered two dictators at Santa Maria Novella station was in fact no more than an event appetizer for 350 000 people, citizens of Florence and comers from almost every corner of Italy, who had gone to the streets to observe the automobile cortege with own eyes. Hitler and Mussolini were to make their way in an open automobile, accompanied by another 19 cars passing from the square at the station along the carefully orchestrated route, with VIA PANZANI as the starting point. One of the preserved photos of the moment depicted the cortege as well as the eastern side of the station with thousands of people, had been ranked on both sides of the street in a military-kind manner.
MUSSOLINI AND HITLER AT PIAZZA DEL DUOMO
Hitler had been reading about the Italian arts and history for decades prior to that May 1938 day and the closely coordinated driving course was created to take the German supreme leader close enough to the key landmarks of Florence. While the preliminary alternatives of the route included variations, each of the iterations had initially included PIAZZA DEL DUOMO and the grandiose cathedral, generally attributed as the spiritual landmark of the city. The preserved Italian archive footage of May 1938, taken to give publicity to the visit for tens of millions of Italians and Germans, depictured the driving course of the automobile cortege, making its way from Santa Maria Novella, through the streets of the city to ‘La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore’, completed in general back in 1436. At least a few million lire (of the total 19 mln. expenses) had been priorly spent on textile and carpet runners and banners with the symbolics of two regimes. The added attributes now covered the front sides of hundreds of buildings on the route to DUOMO. In disregard for the sacral meaning of the cathedral, the automobile column with Hitler and Mussolini made no stop on the site, moving at low speed next to the entrance, and thousands of people, massed on the square on that warm day in May.
VISITING BASILICA DI SANTA CROCE
Benito Mussolini was indeed the final authority to approve the cortege course with a number of historical landmarks. Indeed and not in name, one of the scheduled stops had been a source of a particular enthusiasm for Duce himself: a visit to the crypt of Basilica Di Santa Croce. Subsequent to a ride along the Arno river promenade, the automobile procession with two allied dictators made a stopover within PIAZZA DI SANTA CROCE, a spacious open space, and one of the three largest squares in Florence. To that moment, dozens of thousand of people crowded the open site, ornamented with banners and flags. The police forces separated the crown into two non-equal parts, with one to experience the event just in from of the front side of Basilica Di Santa Croce. The cavalcade took a bend to a narrow street known as LARGO PIERO BARGELLINI to make the stopover next to the statue of Dante Alighieri, the famous Italian poet with immortal national repute. The monument to a grand visionary, depicted in his coat, was erected back in 1865 to honor the 600th anniversary of his birth, here in Florence.
The statue of Dante Alighieri was once erected not only to beautify one of the main squares of Florence but also to emphasize the physical proximity to the crypt of the author, located within the undercroft of Di Santa Croce. The agreed plan of the visit prescribed Hitler to visit the “Sacrario di Martiri Fascisti” (Shrine of the Fascist Martyrs), of those, who died “Caduti per l’idea fascista” (Fallen for the Fascist idea). This characterful new-made pantheon of the fascist regime was appended to the medieval basilica as late as 1934 to include the graves of both the florentine citizens who once fell on the battlefields of the Great War (WW1) and the shrines of some of the representatives of the new regime. That very year in 1938 the crypt was ‘added’ with the gravestones of the Tuscany people, fallen “Per l’Impero e per la Spagna” (For Empire and Spain), meaning those who had lost their lives in support of the Franco fascist regime in Spain and in Mussolini’s war in Abyssinia. For all that, the minutes inside the crypt of Di Santa Croce were to be appreciated as another symbol of the unity of two regimes, born with the sacrifice.
Mussolini, Hitler, and their retinue escort circumvented via Basilica, a cathedral that in fact was inaugurated as ‘basilica’ only in 1933 at the time of the fascist government, and entered the crypt from the side. The 1934 pantheon was in no way the invention of Mussolini’s regime since the stone graveyard had been initially a part of the cathedral starting from 1294. At least 15 000 of the Tuscany citizens found their resting place here within the next seven centuries. The families of those dead had to file a special appeal addressed to the current Grand Duke, as well as a ‘generous donation’. This historical irony lies in the fact that one hundred years after the death of Saint Franciscus, the inspirator of the order of his name, the then Pope abolished the dogma of the Franciscus monks, that Jesus was poor and so the Christian people had to abandon themselves from the wealth. In this respect, the Pope justified the fact, that the ‘holy word’ could be interpreted to the benefit of those who have the power, an approach later upgraded by the totalitarian regime of Mussolini. The visit to the Di Santa Croce crypt was, in fact, the first occasion (since Hitler’s arrival at 2 p.m.) for two allies to speak face-to-face next to the graves of Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei.
HITLER AT PALAZZO PITTI AND BOBOLI GARDENS
Quite apart from the fact, that Hitler was initially ‘scheduled’ to spend less than one full day in Florence and leave for Germany on the same eve of May 9, luxurious apartments were arranged for him within Palazzo Pitti, the former historical residence of the all-mighty Medici dynasty. The motorcade of 20 cars coursed a picturesque route across Florence, visiting a viewing point at Piazzale Michelangelo and then moving towards Palazzo Pitti, through the PORTA ROMANA medieval city gate of the XIII century and the territory of the legendary BOBOLI GARDENS. Hitler and Mussolini were now to become viewers of the historical-kind games, in fact, a fancy-dress show with the participants from Florence, Pisa, and Arezzo. Once reaching the palace, the German fuhrer took his brief time to have a rest within the arranged apartments and later be taken on the excursion through the magnificent halls of Palazzo Pitti, full of pieces of art from Tuscany. Regardless of the fact, that the final agreed route did not include a number of streets, VIA MAGGIO and PIAZZA SAN FELICE, to the northeast of the front side of the palace, they had been anyway decorated with banners in a never-fulfilled waiting of the cortege.
ADOLD HITLER AT PONTE VECCHIO AND UFFIZI GALLERY
Subsequent to a brief breathing pause on seeing the marvelous art collection within the Pitti Palace, the mutual VIP delegation went in the path of Hitler and Mussolini in their pursuit across the Florence landmarks. The preliminary masterminded route for two dictators included the famous VASARI CORRIDOR, a former privileged passage of the patriarchs of the Medici family, one used to cover an urban distance between the residence (Pitti Palace) and the ‘workplace’ (Palazzo Vecchio). The passage almost one kilometer long was erected in a lapse of only five months in 1565 to be later named after its creator Giorgio Vasari. The Great Duchies of Tuscany (the Medici family had ruled the region for almost a century in a row, except for a short period of ‘exile’) had historically experienced a poor desire to cover the city streets openly surrounded by a mob. The convenience of that route was constantly improving with every new ruler to that degree, the dynasty-kind meat street shops within Ponte Vecchio were once swept to eliminate once and for all the ‘smell inconveniences’ for Medici within the passage above. Four centuries forward the Medici times, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler would reinvent the initial purpose of the ‘hidden pass’ into a means to remain in the public eye.
In contrast to the Medici family, who used to take advantage of the hidden nature of the Vasari Corridor across the Arno river and above the heads of the citizens of Florence, Hitler and Mussolini performed no less than a show of public awareness with their own appearance in a window on Ponte Vecchio. The Duce himself approved, among other repair works in Florence, a low-scale renovation of the Ponte Vecchio. Three former small windows to the West (Vasari Corridor was added to the bridge close to its eastern side) were transformed into one large one, in fact, a walking gallery with a panorama over Arno river and ‘Ponte Santa Trinita’ (St. Trinity bridge). Both national leaders made an appearance and greeted the audience below, crowded on the bridge. Ponte Vecchio would famously become the only river over Arno to survive the planned demolition, performed by the retreating German army on August 4, 1944. Regardless of the legend that Hitler’s 1938 walk here later resulted in his personal order to preserve the bridge, Ponte Vecchio indeed survived the war thanks to Gerhard Wolf, a German consul in Florence. His merits would be marked with a memorable plate at Ponte Vecchio sixty years later.
Regardless of the fact, that Mussolini and Hitler were to cover the former Medici’s passage in the reversed direction (the ‘right’ direction is: Palazzo Vecchio – Vasari Corridor – Pitti Palace), they visited all key sections. UFFIZI GALLERY, the world-famous art collection across the Arno river, was initially masterminded as the next stopover within the dictators’ pedestrian route, spanned for a few hours, and was obviously beyond the schedule. Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, the chosen guide (indeed a famous fine art expert) would later recall in his post-war memoirs, that the abyss of behavior was more than obvious that day, speaking about Hitler and Duce. Paying attention to Bandinelli’s retrospective comments, Duce appeared to look disinterested and bored with the paintings, scratching his head and fondling his belly. Hitler, a well-known admirer of history and art, silently focused on every piece of the collection. The artsmen of Tuscany had collected a special exhibition of German art purely for Hitler. Eugen Dollmann would later make a quotation of his boss, who placed on record the fact that he was too poor at the time when he had enough time to be enamored with paintings in Vienna and Munich (1906-1914) and now (in 1938) being a chancellor of Germany and a new master of Austria since the march Anschluss, Hitler has a little time to devote himself to art. Mussolini’s displeasure with the timeout was only growing with Hitler and Count Ciano took time at every piece of art within the UFFIZI GALLERY.
A MEETING AT PALAZZO VECCHIO
Throughout the major part of the time spent within the Uffizi Gallery, the cultural treasury of Italy, Mussolini did a little to hide his harried discontentedness with the delay, yet he made a polite reminder, that the descendants of the noble families of Italy, as well as thousands of people at Piazza Della Signoria square (the shoutings were already to be sensed outside), had already been tired of waiting for the guest. With the excursion coming to its final end, the numerous retinue followed the two leaders towards the legendary PALAZZO VECCHIO, thus finalizing the passage of the Vasari corridor almost 1 km long. The supreme council of the Florentine Republic had taken advantage of the luxurious palace since 1302 with patriarchs of the Medici Family taking it in the XVI century and later renaming as Palazzo Vecchio, soon after the completion of the Vasari Corridor.
Hitler and Mussolini were taken to have a brief tour along the halls of the palace, including the iconic ‘Salone Dei Cinquecento’ (The Hall of the Five Hundred). They were now greeted and accompanied by the VIPs among the modern Florentine privileged circles, including the mayor of Florence, the post generally attributed as ‘Podestà’ at the time of the fascist regime. According to different estimates, up to 100 000 people crowded the Piazza Della Signoria square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio by the time on sunset Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini finally made an appearance. The two leaders performed a theatrical-kind forthcoming on the balcony in a very similar way to the appearance they had previously made in the balcony of Palazzo Venezia in Rome, a few days earlier. The very balcony facing Piazza Della Signoria and the statue of David by Michelangelo had been pointedly ornamented to befit the pompous occasion. Hitler would once again visit Palazzo Vecchio in October 1940 as part of his second and less-known journey to Florence. Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli would not become a public celebrity in Italy despite the role of Hitler’s visit to Italy. On the other hand, we would be later greatly appreciated by the Germans, being invited to the Third Reich on multiple occasions.
PALAZZO MEDICI RICCARDI
The encounter with the town mayor and the noble families of Tuscany within Palazzo Vecchio was not the only scene of Hitler socializing with the high society of Italy. Subsequent to the appearance on the balcony facing 100 000 people, the automobile cavalcade took two allies and their entourage to PALAZZO MEDICI RICCARDI. The historical residence of the Medici family was built at the direction of the one and only Cosimo Medici, the godfather of the Vasari Corridor above the heads of the citizens and the ruler, who was renamed Palazzo Vecchio. In the late hours (7:45 p.m.) of May 9, 1938, Hitler was a VIP guest at the diplomatic entertainment, organized within one of the halls of the long-century home of Medici, later renamed Riccardi after its new owners. A carefully served table for 126 privileged guests was served by 38 servants and the calibrated menu, made mostly of vegetables and fruits, was to please the well-known vegetarian preferences of the German chancellor. Any of the attendees had a chance to pretaste a vegetable cream soup, strawberry and orange juice, the myriad of bakery and ice cream as well as beef medallions with beans, chicken breast with salad, and rare wine sorts of 1923 origin, a year when the fascist gained power in Italy. As much as anything else, Hitler was indeed captivated by the aristocratic women of Tuscany, who succeed in being both beautiful and mothers of many children.
With the end of time-limited (in contrast to the ones in Rome) entertainment within the former residence of the Medici family, the mass diplomatic retinue followed Hitler and Mussolini to visit ‘Teatro Comunale Vittorio Emanuele II’, the well-known theater of Florence. To the moment Duce and the German chancellor moved into their seats, the building had been already restructured and renamed a number of times, anyway as an important part of the Florentine high society routine. In fact, the vast majority of 126 guests from Palazzo Riccardi were invited to visit Teatro Communale that evening. Hitler and Mussolini were granted the VIP loge, generally preserved for the royal family. Hitler was accompanied by Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, Hans Frank, and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Mussolini was escorted by Count Ciano, Giuseppe Bottai (Minister of National Education), and Edoardo Alfieri (Minister of People’s Culture). These three would later play their role in the overthrow of Duce in 1943. The other parts of the auditorium were granted to the privileged noble families as well as the members of the local fascist party. The following day, May 10, 1938, the Italian newspaper ‘La Nazionale’ published the full list of the attendees of that concert. Florentine Stable Orchestra performed ‘Simon Boccanegra’, the opera of three parts, created by iconic Giuseppe Verdi.
MUSSOLINI AND HITLER AT PIAZZA VITTORIO VENETO
The final minutes of the third act of Verdi’s opera signified the ‘beginning of the end’ of Hitler’s state visit to Italy in 1938. Two dictators and their diplomatic entourage once again took the seats within a motorcade of 20 automobiles. In regard to the topographic logic and the shortest way from the theatre to Santa Maria Novella station to the North-East, the agenda included the last stopover within PIAZZA VITTORIO VENETO square, only 250 meters distanced from Teatro Comunale to the West. The spacious open space was once put on the map of Florence to honor king Victor Emmanuel II, the grandfather of Victor Emmanuel III (a king at the time of Hitler’s visit) respectively. The square in front of CASCINE park, the former hunting grounds of the Medici family, had been renamed Piazza Vittorio Veneto during the Great War (World War One) and later in 1932 accompanied by the state of Victor Emmanuel II. The cavalcade with Hitler and Mussolini made a stopover within the square to oversee the pyrotechnical show of a grandiose scale, the arranged apogee of the whole day. Choicely tuned fireworks illuminated the Florentine sky over Piazza Vittorio Veneto square with the fire inscription of ‘FUHRER’ and ‘DUCE’.
BACK TO SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
Only ten hours after his arrival in Florence, a motorcade was now scheduled to take Adolf Hitler back again to the SANTA MARIA NOVELLA train station. Soon after a brief stopover for the firework show, the cavalcade of cars proceeded to Viale Fratelli Rosselli, a four-lane highway, erected to honor Victor Emmanuel II back in the old days, and then turned to Piazza Santa Maria Novella (Piazza Stazione today). Even this last section of the route had been brainstormed beforehand: Apr. 2000 candles were lit to illuminate the square and the carriage drive to the station. Arrayed in long coats, Hitler and Mussolini took some time of shaking hands with each other on the railway platform. Count Ciano would later include a comment on the moment in his famous war diary. In his judgment, both leaders looked deeply moved by the day with gleams of tears in Hitler’s eyes, now leaving Florence for the next two years. The incredible contrast with the arrival to Italy a week before and the forced acquaintance with the King. Ciano would also quote the phrase, destined to become history thanks to him when Mussolini told Hitler that ‘From this moment, no force in the world will divide us.
It was a few minutes past midnight on May 10, when Hitler’s special train (with the ‘Potsdam’ inscription on the wagon) departed from the railway platform of Santa Maria Novella towards Berlin. The historical photos depicted the German chancellor, who waved his hand from the window of the carriage. Soon after the train had faded into the night, Mussolini took a seat in a car, that would take him back to Rome the same night. Hitler’s transport was assigned to cover pretty much the same route, he had made a week before from Germany, now in the opposite direction and with a section from Florence. The train was welcomed at the Brenner station on the Austrian-Italian border in the early hours of the same May 10 day. The still-moved German Chancellor sent a telegram to Duce, expressing his delight with the days spent together as well as his affirmation of the mutual alliance and personal friendship. His train would finally reach the Berlin Lehrte station at 10:45 p.m. on May 11. Hitler would return to Florence on October 28, 1940. He will attend a concert at Palazzo Pitti, arrange a meeting with Mussolini at Palazzo Vecchio, and will have dinner at Palazzo Riccardi. Along with that, he would always recall his very first journey in 1938.
I am very grateful to war archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and writers for the historical photos in this article. To the extent that some author or a copyright owner may not want some of the above black-and-white photos to be used for educational purposes here, please contact me for adding credits or deleting the pictures from the article.