HITLER VISITS ROME: 1938
HITLER VISITS VENICE: 1934
The neoteric historiography of World War II pays surprisingly modest attention to the first face-to-face acquaintance between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini back in June 1934. The German associate companion had been a chancellor and almost the ultimate ruler in Germany for almost one and half a year prior to this historical meeting. Hitler was in a position to wait for the death of President Hindenburg for no more than two months. Mussolini, in his turn, was in wait to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the so-called ‘March on Rome’ (28-29 October 1922), yet he was still formally only the second most powerful man in Italy, next after King Victor Emmanuel III. At the very days, when two nominal rulers of Germany and Italy, 86-year-old Paul Von Hindenburg and 64-year-old Victor Emmanuel retrospectively, were spending their vale of years within the residences, Adolf Hitler appreciated the invitation of the Italian part to cross the Alps with the official visit to Italy.
The upcoming journey to Venice, Italy was destined not only to commemorate the personal knowledge with the leader of the Italian fascists (back in the times of the ‘Munich beer hall period’ Hitler had been repeatedly associated with Mussolini, as no less than his German reincarnation) but generally Hitler’s first visit abroad as the German chancellor. His first abroading after the WW1 service. In an extended sense, the upcoming meeting could be hardly appreciated as state visite as neither Hitler nor Mussolini was the head of the state. Along with that, the German leader had a vision of taking international affairs of the highest importance into his own hands, thus cultivating his own image as the ‘Fuhrer’. The ‘Venice encounter’ was not to be revealed to the public beforehand, still, the Italians provided a means to the opposite and on June 11, 1934, three days prior to the event, the international press was fueled to enlighten the news.
Hitler’s aircraft, Ju-52 with the D-2600 number on board, under the unchanged supervision of his personal pilot Hans Baur, was landed on June 14, 1934, on the SAN NICOLO airfield of the long-drawn Lido island, to the South of the main Venice archipelago. Hans Baur, who piloted the plane from the Oberwiesenfeld airfield in Munich that day, was not a stranger to the place due to his job as a pilot on the regular service between Munich and Rome back in the 1920s. It stands to mention, that Hitler had chosen the plane not so much to show his devotion to modern transport (including the well-known election campaign back in 1932). Indeed, the inflammable situation within Austria deprived the German leader of the possibility to cross the country by train, a formality that would be eliminated in 1938. Over and above, the Italians informally indicated their hope, that the semi-revolutionary Nazi movement in Austria would not lead the acts of provocation during Hitler’s visit to Italy. The security measures in Venice were additionally enforced upon the rumors on the assassination attempt, still, Hitler would be accompanied by a number of SS safeguards and police detectives, another unobvious means of the tension between the future AXIS.
It worth mentioning, that Hitler had previously failed to get an invitation to visit Rome from Mussolini in 1933, soon after his ‘rise to power’ in Germany. Venice at that time was chosen not so much to the specific historical background (except for a Vegetarian image as the ‘supervisor’ over the whole Mediterranean, a sweet spot of the Fascist’s image for Duce) as to a city in northern Italy, a ‘middle point’ between Berlin and Rome. Relatedly, it was Italy to witness the first encounter between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, a semi-taboo means to accent Duce’s supremacy as a senior partner. In this vein, the ‘parity’ between two leaders was destined to fail long before the event itself. Nevertheless, Mussolini was ready to take the greatest advantage of the place as the event was his minute of glory in visiting Venice and consolidating the power of his party. For another thing, Hitler’s visit was to become a means to boost German tourism to the South neighbor.
The numerous memoirs and quotations of the participants of that historical visit would later (predominantly after the Second World War) form the general perspective, that Hitler had a look of no more than a junior partner or even a subordinate during his first visit to Italy. His constrained movements, as a contrasting counter to Mussolini’s actor mastery, were not gone noticed either by his entourage, including Konstantin von Neurath (Foreign Minister), Heinrich Hoffmann (Hitler’s personal photographer), Hans Baur (pilot), or by the Italians. Prior to the visit, a number of German officials from the Foreign ministry were excluded from the delegation agenda due to their forewarnings. Although Hitler would not later appreciate the talks about that 1934 visit to Italy, it was obvious that he had experienced a lack of confidence wearing his open-cut coat on his wool suit. Hitler took the consequences of Mussolini’s fascist greeting and a firm grip with his constrained version of the Nazi saluting. In fact, the arising events can be characterized as pretty much in contrast with Hitler’s own words on his own committal to ‘face-to-face diplomacy’ he had shared with an American journalist back in April.
At that days Hitler was concerned with the conflict with Ernst Rohm (it was only two weeks prior to the ‘Knight of the long knives’) and his political agenda was restricted to the issue of the future drawing together Germany and Austria. It was well-in-advance known that the Italian ruler had his own emotional attitude to this delicate issue. Once rejecting the professional mastery of the interpreters, Mussolini was now dependant on his creaky German, which would only limit the chances to elaborate a mutual compromise position within the hours-long one-on-one conversations. Mussolini would later express his dismissive and lordly attitude to the German chancellor, calling him a ‘rude under-philosopher’. Hitler spent another two days in Italy prior to his back flight to Germany on June 16, 1934.
He was taken to a number of historical landmarks of the ‘Mediterranean Pearl’ (Venice), including a boat ride across the legendary Grand-Canal, next to Mussolini, visiting ‘Biennale’ (famous art exhibition), the golf club within the Lido island, Basilica of San Marco. The culmination of that visit is with good reasons attributed to the military parade, a show that Mussolini used to make an impression on his German guest within the San Marco main square. Ignoring the fact that up to 70 000 civilians and army men marched in front of the grandstone, Hitler would show interest to his adjutant’s opinion (Fritz Wiedemann) on the indeed military power of Italy. The German fuhrer would receive a biting point of criticism, that parading and making wars are not the same thing. In his memoirs, Hans Baur would later recall that Hitler had utter not a word on their flight back to Germany. ‘Völkischer Beobachter’ newspaper would later issue an article, covering in detail the semi-mythical flight over the ‘cloud’ South Tyrol, Mussolini’s journey to Venice, and the sugared details of the encounter itself.
MUSSOLINI VISITS GERMANY: 1937
At the forefront of the 10 a.m. on the day of September 25, 1937, the personal train of Benito Mussolini was to finally approach the HAUPTBAHNHOF main train station in Munich, a travel epilogue of the two days long journey from Rome. The German press would later underline that after two days of heavy rain the sky over Third Reich welcomed the guest. Adolf Hitler, this time in a position of a landlord and a host of a quite different Germany (that it had been back in June 1934), was here on the railway platform (according to a tradition, he came the last) with his close entourage on a crouch start to welcome Benito Mussolini. Within the next few hours, two supreme rulers motorcared their way along the streets of Munich, ornamented with both Nazi and Fascist symbolics of the two regimes, greeted with a shout of triumph by hundreds of thousands of people from almost every corner of the state. Shortly after the Italian retinue was accommodated within a local palace, Hitler brought Mussolini to his Munich’s apartment at Prinzregentenplatz in the Bogenhausen, a former bohemian district. For this once, the Italian dictator was pleased to use the services of the professional interpreter on the German side and his politically intimate dialogue with Hitler was now to be far more constructive in contrast with the previous hard talkings in Venice in 1934. They spent Apr. one hour with tea and cakes.
Hitler hungered to have his revenge for the far from a brilliant visit to Venice in 1934 and his own poor performance as a German leader and now he was ready to impress Mussolini with the resurrected military power of his army. No later than this very day of September 25, the Duce was invited to attend a grandiose military parade in the heart streets of Munich. The key event of the agenda was attributed to the laying floral tributes to the ‘EHRENTEMPEL’ memorial, the Nazi pompous monument, a semi-sacral sarcophagus with columns 7-meter-high devoted to the 16 NSDAP followers, who had died during the so-called ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ in 1923. During the period of the next two days, the rulers of Germany and Italy performed a scheduled journey across the Third Reich, for example, overseeing Wehrmacht military parades in Mecklenburg and Pomerania and visited the Krupp factory near Essen, as well as traveled across the Essen streets in an open car, greeted by thousands of the citizens and comers. It is worth mentioning, that some of the Italian high officers among Duce’s entourage, indeed fought against the Germans in Great War two decades before.
On September 27 two special trains, one for Hitler and one for Mussolini respectively entered Berlin (on the way from Essen) according to the advanced made scenario. The German capital was massively decorated and converted for the nonce of Duce’s visit. All key city landmarks were forwardly ornamented with the symbols of two regimes and a number of pylons and flagstaffs had been erected to demonstrate banners. In summation, more than 1 million Berliners and guests of the capital came out to the streets to welcome the two VIPs. The following day was also scheduled to commemorate the Italian political boss, Years from that day of September 28, 1937, the historiography would attribute Mussolini’s speech with his still weak German, in the pouring rain at the Olympic stadium (the very same arena, which had accepted the 1936 Olympic Games) as a culmination of the whole visit with the audience of 65 000 people.
Finally making his last steps on the railway platform of the Berlin station on September 29, soon after another military parade, Mussolini was delighted with all the arrangements of his visit, as well Hitler was gratified with the events of the past days. In contrast with the pomposity of all the occurrences, Mussolini and Hitler did not take advantage of these five days together in an issue of Austria. Nevertheless, six months later Germany would annex its neighbor with the approval of Italy and Duce’s sympathy. Hitler would take his own gratitude to Mussolini and a kind of personal loyalty through the years up to the ‘Fall of the Gods’ (a well-known euphemism, attributed to the fall of the two regimes) in 1945.
THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT IN SPRING 1938
The four years, which draw a line between Hitler’s 1934 and 1938 visits to Italy, had witnessed a number of political and military occasions, which were destined to plunge millions of people into a new World War. With the non-precedential ignorance of the clauses of the Versailles Treaty, Hitler initiated a large-scale rearmament program of reshaping the strength of the German army which was now free of the humiliating (due to the Nazi logic) restrictions of the past war. On June 18, 1935, Germany and England signed an ‘Anglo-German Naval Agreement’, establishing new quotas applicable to the size of the German fleet in correspondence with the English one. Early the same year (January 1935) the plebiscite within the Saar region (Saarbeckengebiet) encapsulated its affiliation to the Third Reich. No later than on March 7, 1936, the German armed forces invaded the demilitarized Rhineland, that way effectively defying the basics of the Versailles Peace Treaty, once aimed not to allow any new European wars. Two months from that day, Mussolini made his pompous speech on the triumph of the Italian forces in Abyssinia as well as on the restitution of the Roman Empire. On October 25 the same year, Germany and Italy would sign a treaty, which would make its way to world history as the ‘Rome-Berlin Axis’.
In under a year after October 1936, Italy would put the political signature under the ‘Anti-Comintern Pact’, thus expanding the alliance up to the Germany-Italy-Japan triumvirate. No later than on December 11, 1937, Italy made a demonstrative withdraw from the ‘League of Nations’. To that moment, Germany had been already beyond the organization for more than four years since October 1933 and its demarch against the ‘League’. In the years to come other totalitarian regimes, including Japan, USSR and Spain would leave or would be withdrawn (USSR) either. In March 1938, only two months prior to his second visit to Italy, the German Fuhrer had completed another ‘dream oh his life’ with the Anschluss of Austria. Hitler was now indebted to Mussolini due to Duce’s non-intervention to the issue, which would be on Hitler’s agenda until the end of 1945. In anticipation of the 1938 visit to Italy, Hitler had already been in-minded about the idea of taking the ‘Sudetenland’ and as late as April 21, 1938, he had a discussion with his military command on the issue of possible conflict with Czechoslovakia. He had decided to postpone the sophisticated involvement in the issue until his visit to Mussolini in early May.
HITLER GOES ROME
Had already enjoyed the privilege of a mighty host back in 1934, Mussolini was now fascinated and amazed by the image of new Germany, which open to his eyes in the September days of 1937. Even in the teeth of the driving rain, which had turned his speech notes into a soaked piece of paper at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin facing the multi-thousand auditorium, Duce was the key man and the front-line player of the most pompous reception of a foreign guest in world history. The sophisticatedly planned agenda of his visit to Germany left him a poor choice than being under the impression of the resurrected military might of his neighbor, new grandiose architecture, and mobilization of the masses of people. In contrast to the semi-sneering attitude on Hitler and a new course of Germany evident back in 1934, Mussolini was now in envy to German ruler, who seemed to overshadow all the victories of the Italian regime for the last fifteen years in a matter of only four. The talkings on the resurrected mighty of the Roman Empire were now to be proved by the indeed scale of the regime in order to outshine the neighbor (Hitler), who had already become the key military and political leader of his time.
In a way that Austria was a primary Hitler’s agenda during the 1934 and 1937 face-to-face meetings, now a part of the Third Reich, the thoughts of the German fuhrer were now overtaken by the possible confrontation with Czechoslovakia. On the day of his 49th birthday on April 20, 1938, Hitler came to Berlin. He spent the early hours of the day within a meeting with a number of manufacturers, including Ferdinand Porsche, then he oversaw a military parade in one’s honor and invested the later hours in visiting the ‘OLYMPIA’ premiere, a documentary movie by Leni Riefenstahl, premiered specifically on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday. Later on, Hitler made his way to the Berghof residence near Berchtesgaden until his next visit to Berlin on May 1, 1938, to take part in the celebrations of the ‘Tag der Arbeit’ (Labor Day). In these last days of April Hitler suffered gastric colic, cured by doctor Morrell.
Heedless of the fact that Hans Baur, Hitler’s personal pilot would later recall his own opinion, that the decision to travel to Italy by train had been resulted from the skeptical weather forecast to use the aircraft in the early days of May 1938, the agenda of the visit had been initially pompous and fore-planned. Hitler’s special train, as well as the trains with his entourage, were determined to complete no less than a tour of one and a half-day long through the lands of Southern Germany and Northern Italy. The historical delicacy was attributed to the South Tirol, a region with a century-go majority of the German-speaking population, which had been given to Italy following the end of the Great War (World War One). Hitler had already given his assurance that the region was beyond his ambition to become a part of the Reich at the expanse of the Italian ally. Along with that, Paul Schmidt, Hitler’s interpreter would later memoir, that the people from South Tyrol greeted the German delegation with restrained feelings with only a few banners.
On May 2, 1938, Adolf Hitler was once again the center of the universe for tens of thousands of Berliners, who had previously taken the pavement of the streets to greet the German Fuhrer within his cortege procession. The motorcade finally reached the ‘ANHALTER STATION’, the railway station of Berlin, which would be later severely damaged as a result of the Allied air raids and later abandoned in GDR (East Germany). Hitler’s railway cortege was made of three special trains, assigned to accommodate an extensive entourage of 500 people. This diplomatic procession enlisted the VIP share of the Reich government, as well as the high-ranking officers from Wehrmacht, diplomats, security guards, journalists, doctors, caretaking personnel, interpreters, and wives of some of them, frau Ribbentrop (a lady of the Foreign Minister) in particular.
Each member of the narrow circle of the German VIPs was granted their own compartment as well as the necessity to stay close to the pre-planned etiquette procedures and to change the civilian clothing for the military uniform and Vice Versa. Hermann Goering was the senior man among the top-echelon of the German political elite to be left as a temporary replacement to Fuhrer and as well as the highest-ranking man in the Nazi hierarchy (after Hitler) to be present at the Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin. That very day had additional historical significance, as Hitler had written one of the well-known versions of his political last will, pointing Goering as his possible successor if it comes to the worst scenario with Hitler’s death. This ‘Goering-related’ regulation would later become a stumbling stone between two men with Goering’s own interpretation in Spring 1945 (He would try to use the clause to take the power, while Hitler was in a siege in Berlin).
In the context of the same testament, Hitler instructed (in the case of one’s death) to bury him under the ‘Felfhernhalle’ in Munich (the nazi shrine with the graves of 16 dead participants of the ‘beer hall Putsch’). The German Fuhrer also left instructions on paying the monthly aid to Eva Braun and his two sisters, Paula and Angela, 1000 marks each, with one huge 60 000 single payment to his brother Alois and fewer amounts of money to the servants and security officers. The payments were to be executed from Hitler’s income as the author of ‘Main Kampf’. Within the same hours of May 2, Eva Braun had accompanied the Morrell’s and Brandt’s families to make her way from Munich to Rome too, making her only abroad journey. History does not give us arguments, that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun had any arrangements in Italy.
While leaving Goering as his temporal deputy in Germany, Hitler was surrounded by a member of his intimate circle as well as with the members of the government. Weeks prior to Hitler’s 1938 visit to Italy, The Foreign Ministry of Italy had compiled a sophisticatedly detailed schedule of all the upcoming arrangements with the list of all participants and agenda for every day, including the dress code for any of the guests at any moment of time. Hitler was the final decision-maker to accept the eye-catching garments, which he had appraised as a mean to outstand the look of his entourage and to place emphasis on own casualty. The German dress code was to be attributed as luxuriant costumes, rather than penguin suits, generally accepted within the diplomatic environment. The delegation included doctor Joseph Goebbels, the author of biting comments about the Italian king and the throne. Hitler was also accompanied by his unchanged ‘Sancho Panza’ Rudolf Hess, the party deputy, Hans Frank (former lawyer of Hitler and later the General-governor in Poland), Heinrich Himmler, general Wilhelm Keitel, Heinrich Hofmann (Hitler’s personal photographer), doctor Lammers (Chief of the Reich Chancellery) and Joseph Goebbels. The Germans were constantly making their cynical comments on the Italians, which all were later brought to King’s notice, and this arrogance left behind the anecdotes on the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II back in 1888.
ROMA OSTIENSE TRAIN STATION
As an epilogue to a day-long journey through Germany and Northern Italy and a number of pompous manifestations, in particular in Brenner Pass (the Alpine border between Austria, at that time two months affiliated to Germany, and Italy) and the city of Verona, Hitler’s railway cortege finalized in Rome. As a sweat unobvious addition to the issue of national prestige and lightening the political mood after the Anschluss of Austria, Hitler had always dreamed to visit Rome and Florence and to experience the historical landmarks with his own eyes. Year after that 1938 visit the German Fuhrer would share his expatiative thoughts (with his intimate entourage) on the fact, that he had always had an idea to visit Italy being an uncelebrated young artist, beyond the public consideration. Hitler’s train was now scheduled to arrive at the cozy ROMA OSTIENSE train station, in large part reconstructed prior to his visit. The more evident TERMINI station, the main transport hub of the Italian capital, was a semi-accessible that Spring of 1938 due to an ambitious modernization, which had turned the railway arteria into a huge construction site with breaks and dust. Along with that, the German-Italian delegation would anyway use the Termini to go to Naples and later to Florence.
It was the time after the sunset when the cortege of the German Fuhrer made his destination stop at the railway platform of the Roman station. Hitler had evidently scrutinized the agenda and the protocols from the Italians, being openly indiscreet about Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy was nominally the host of all the arrangements, leaving behind Benito Mussolini, de facto the rule of the state and Hitler’s desired partner. Well short of the arrival, Hitler disingenuously called the King not other than a short man and encouraged his entourage not to laugh openly, neither the temptation would be. Three top-echelon persons in Italy greeted the German guest. It was King Victor Emmanuel III of indeed low stature that Hitler had smilingly leaned forward to shake his hand after hos had greeted the guest with a military salute, and not the fascist one. The King was accompanied by Benito Mussolini, stand in place next to the monarch and later to the left of Hitler. Finally, Count Ciano, the Foreign Minister of Italy and Mussolini’s trusted son-in-law.
For years prior to the decision to turn a small station for technical stops into railway gates for Adolf Hitler, OSTIENSE had been a mediocre transport junction within the Roman district of the same name, located outside the borders of the ancient city center. The whole surrounding site, assigned to be reshaped and expanded had been previously in ownership of ‘Collegio del Verbo Divino’ and was brought into a requisition to fulfill the construction plans, including a new square. Limited time left no space for the large station to be built and the authorities choose a draft of a building 110-meters-long with two rows of columns. Only 45 days, from March to Early May 1938, were scheduled to be taken in total to erect a new station building, a square, and a roadway. It would take another two years until the full-fledged opening of the station no sooner than in 1940. Back in the evening hours of May 3, 1938, the marble columns Hitler witnessed were no more than covered with white limestone. The renewed OSTIENSE was attributed to welcome hundreds of thousands of people to the upcoming 1942 ‘International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life’ (best known for Paris 1937 Fair), which would never happen to World War Two.
In Mussolini’s vision, the first hours of Adolf Hitler in Rome were to overshadow his own visit to Germany last September. The four-horse carriages were brought to the station entrance and Hitler was now to take his place next to Victor Emmanuel III and not to Duce. Along with that, the King insisted to have conversations with Hitler in French, the language the guest detested and was weak in. Hitler had to go through his disdain to the King as well to the monarchy as a historical anachronism. The German ruler would later tell Hans Baur that he was soreheaded with the fact, that he had to take a prehistoric horse carriage instead of an automobile. The 5-km route from the train station to the royal palace was planned as a part of the presentation. The planned traffic direction had been beforehandly decorated with the swastika banners, erected pylons with fire, and the projectors, as well as thousands of Romans, had made their way to the streets to greet both their own sovereign and a German guest.
The first meters of the route were made along a street, then-recent named no less than ‘VIA ADOLF HITLER’ (The street of Adolf Hitler). Soon after the passing of Porta San Paolo the cortege was now accompanied by the major of Rome and the procession proceeded next to Circus Maximus, an illuminated Coliseum up to the Piazza Venezia and further to Palazzo Quirinale, the royal residence. While Hitler, the King, and Duce were in focus, the entourage of the leaders was also driven to the palace in carriages, with the VIP pairs such as Ciano-Ribbentrop (two ministers of Foreign affairs) and Alfieri-Goebbels (Minister of People’s culture and Minister of Propaganda retrospectively). While Hitler’s safeguards were frustrated with the open blades of the traditional daggers, raised in the Fascist salute across the platform, up to 10 000 people had been previously put into custody as ‘suspicious elements’.
In the act of this settled theatrical performance of a journey along the streets of Rome, there was nothing left for Hitler other than playing the role of an appreciative guest. While the major share of the 500-people German delegation was accommodated in Grand Hotel Plaza in the Northern part of the city, Hitler and his close accompanies were to be taken to PALAZZO QUIRINALE, the royal residence of 110,500 square meters. The guests were to experience not only spacious chambers but also to take part in a kind of a gala dinner scheduled for the very evening of May 3, 1938. The pretentiousness of the royal residence firmed up Hitler’s frustration on his status as a guest of a royal family, rather than a partner of Benito Mussolini, the indeed ruler of the state. The German Fuhrer would later share his thoughts on the QUIRINALE PALACE as no more than a museum. Heinrich Himmler would also snatch an opportunity to draw a comparison between the royal palace and an antique museum (on the same hours of May 3, 1938, a new concentration camp in Flossenburg was to be opened, a contrasting event to the festivities in Rome and the shopping time of the wives of Himmler and Ribbentrop during the Italian trip).
The historiography has preserved a number of photos originated from the dinner party in Quirinale Palace, one of which depicted Hitler accompanying Queen Elena, a woman, he would not later say a word to, even sitting next to her at the table. Hitler was indeed frustrated with the fact, that Benito Mussolini was assigned far from being at the head of the dinner table, in fact, he was to seat in the faraway corner, removed further than even the youngest princess of the royal family. In somewhat reflecting the feeling of his boss, Joseph Goebbels would later make a notice in his diary, that the majority of people at the table (he meant, of course, the Italians) were good only for being taken outside and shot. The growing Hitler’s antagonism to the monarchical superstitions was encharged with a scene when people went on knees to kiss the border of the Queen’s dress. The German Fuhrer was also certain in his confidence, that the Queen arrayed oneself with a huge crucifixion to annoy Hitler personally. Photographer Heinrich Hofmann would later recall, that Hitler Had asked him to retouch all the photos in order to put away the members of the royal family. Hofmann had not fulfilled the appeal. On the days when Hitler was accommodated within Palazzo Quirinale, Eva Braun spent her Italy span of time in Hotel Excelsior, apart from Hitler’s entourage.
TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (PIAZZA VENEZIA)
Subsequent to a humiliating (for Hitler) night at the royal residence, May 4, 1938, was, in a lesser or greater degree, in compliance with Hitler’s expectations on his visit to Italy. The agenda for that May Wednesday was to include a number of festivities with both Mussolini and Hitler as the main protagonists. No later than at 10 a.m. now (to Greatest great delight) an automobile cortege formed a ceremonial procession along the streets of Rome, which was greeted with tens of thousands of Romans and guests from both Italy and Germany. This VIP column covered a part of the previous evening route and reached the first landmarks of the day’s agenda: Piazza Venezia.
This transport arteria ever since the height of the Roman Empire (parallels so delighted to Mussolini) has been historically located beneath the Capitol hill, next to the Roman Forum, and at arm’s length from the Coliseum. Prior to the arrival of the central figures, the square had already been crowded with the Italian soldiers facing their helmeted heads to the main architectural components of the square: the Vittoriano monument, or Victor Emmanuel II National Monument (Monumento Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II). The imposing complex had shaped the sight as late as 1935, only three years before Hitler’s visit. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini took their VIP roles in a traditional (for the diplomatic visits of the era) ceremony of laying flowers to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, a symbol of the casualties of the Great War, a conflict with Germany and Italy on opposite sides of the barricades. The preserved photos depicted Hitler and Mussolini, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Heß, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels.
Subsequent to the ‘flower’ ceremony at Piazza Venezia, the column proceeded to the hieratic landmark of the time of Roman empire glory, the Pantheon. Hitler had been reading on the architecture of the European cities for decades, including his distanced admiration of Paris and Rome, visualizing, among others, the visit to Pantheon, an ancient mortuary sanctuary. Upon their arrival, Hitler and Mussolini lay floral tributes to the graves of two Italian Kings. First of all, Victor Emmanuel II, a monument to this king they had visited half an hour before, and Umberto I, the grandfather and father of the living King (Victor Emmanuel III) respectively. Hitler claimed a few minutes to be left alone with his thoughts, he would spend admiring meditation under the famous dome. Back in 1936, Hitler and Albert Speer visualized the upcoming (never to be finished) erections of grandiose ambitions in the center of Berlin, including a giant assembly hall, assigned to welcome up to 180 000 guests under a dome, overshadowing exponentially the one in Rome.
Another vitally important public appearance of Hitler in Rome on that day May 4, next to Mussolini, was attributed to his speech to ‘Italiendeutschen’ (Italian citizens with German origins), scheduled at 6 pm at the Basilica di Massenzio (Basilica of Maxentius) within the Roman forum. The largest erection within the whole complex was built back in 312 A.D. and no more than a northern part of the building, yet with excellent acoustics, had survived the centuries and a number of devastating earthquakes. The century-go devastations freed space of 80 in length and 35 meters in width, now a site to accept 6500 attendees on the evening of May 4, 1938. The permissions for attendance had been beforehandly issued by the ‘Auslands-Organisation Landesgruppe Italien’, nominally an Italian philia of NSDAP, assigned to deal with the ‘Italiendeutschen’.
A great portion of the permitted ‘Italiendeutschen’ attendees came from different regions of Italy, particularly from Südtirol (South Tyrol), a German area before WW1. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the new Italian authorities issued a ban for teaching German, while the South Tyrol had been a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for centuries and its ethnography had no much in common with Italy before 1918. Years went by and the situation had its remission. Looking further forward to Hitler’s visit in May 1938, the citizens of Südtirol would be given a delicate choice: to leave the heartlands in order to move to Germany or to preserved the paper identity to Italy. as it had been for the last twenty years. Hitler would make his brief rhetoric with easeful words, that the ‘Italiendeutschen’ were the lucky ones to live in such a great state as Italy. Summing up, at the times when the Third Reich had been fulfilling its ambition to perform the annexations in Europe, a friendship with Mussolini imposed some obvious taboo obligations.
Subsequent to the coming back from Naples and soon after the grandiose military parade on May 6, 1938, Hitler was delighted to attend a number of historical landmarks of the Roman Empire, next to Mussolini and without the annoying presence of the King. In the early hours of May 7, the ceremonial procession took time at Borghese Gallery, one of the largest collections of arts in Italy. Soon after, the cortege proceeded to Coliseum, a historical pearl of Rome. The initial nominal Hitler’s acquaintance with the landmark had been accomplished four days before while the horse carriage was moving along the Arch of Constantine and Coliseum, illuminated with pylons and projectors. This second May 7 visit was scheduled for daytime and included the insight into the erection and a walk within the ancient arena. The photos depicted Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the steadily marching the site, as well as Joachim von Ribbentrop, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, an Italian archeologist, historian, and fine arts experts, who led an improvised excursion.
In the later hours of the same day, May 7 the hosts and the guest took part in another ceremonial dinner, this time within the luxurious Palazzo Venezia. The famous square was once named after this building. Hitler had already experienced a brief image of the palace on his carriage and later automobile corteges within the previous days. Three days before Hitler and Mussolini had already given a floral tribute to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier just in front of the Palazzo Venezia. A palace, which had been initially built with the construction parts from the Coliseum, had been a Pope residence as well as the embassy of the Venetian Republic and later Austria. Mussolini appreciated the place with an unobvious personal devotion, now acting as a host in the context of the absence of the King. Starting from September 1929 Duce had been using Sala del Mappamondo, one of the spacious rooms of the palace as no less than his office. The room was constantly illuminated 24 hours a day to underline the euphemism, that the fascist government never stops working for the benefit of Italy.
On that very evening of May 7, Mussolini and Hitler made an appearance within the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, a part of the building which had its own sacral meaning for Duce. It was here he proclaimed the Italian Colonial Empire on May 9, 1936, two years prior to Hitler’s visit to Rome. He would later use the same balcony on June 10, 1940, to take militant rhetoric against England and France, thus proclaiming war to the ‘Western plutocracies’. Along with the effective show on the balcony, the evening witnessed a few more important political occasions. For the first time since Hitler’s arrival on May 3, two supreme rulers now had time to discuss the burning issues and the mutual alliance, including the partner position against Czechoslovakia (indeed Mussolini’s agree on Hitler’s military ambitions). Hitler also made a speech, which finally melted the ice of the straining of the first days of the visit. Count Ciano would write that Hitler’s rhetoric made a good impression on the Italians. The German Fuhrer voiced the future of the ‘Italiendeutschen’ in South Tyrol, an issue that had been in the air for months.
THE KEY TAKEAWAYS OF THE VISIT
Along with the sites in Rome, I have highlighted above, the geography of Hitler’s 1938 to Italy between May 3 and 10 was far more extensive. Speaking only about Rome, Hitler was a guest of a number of military parades, including the visit to Aeroporto di Centocelle (May 4), the first airport in Italy, later a base for Luftwaffe. On May 6 the delegation with King Emmanuel in head viewed the military parade at Via Dei Trionfi street, attended, by various estimates, 35 000 up to 50 000 army men and the members of the fascist party. Except for the mentioned Borghese Gallery, the delegation visited Capitol hill, anyway used the Termini station on their back from Naples and to Florence, attended the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) on the bank of Tiber, the Baths of Diocletian. As soon as on May 5, the mutual procession went to Naples to oversee the naval maneuvers and on May 9 Hitler and Mussolini visited a number of landmarks in Florence.
In regardless of the growing political tension, spectacle expectations of the Italian press, an upstage attitude of the royal family, and disdain of the Germans, the visit had become a diplomatic triumph for Hitler and the Third Reich. He not merely prepossessed the Italians, but also underlined a number of delicate issues and gained the support of Mussolini in the upcoming conflict against Czechoslovakia. The printed memorandum of the German Foreign Ministry acclaimed the visit to Italy precisely a great success. Along with that Hitler liberally shared his disrespectful commentaries on the monarchy and proved his belief that only the madmen could speak on the restoration of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany even nominally on paper. Hitler was also impressed with the historical and architectural grandiosity of both Rome and Florence and he would invest a great enthusiasm into the mutual plans with Albert Speer on making Berlin a new capital of Europe, as well as Linz, a city of his youth, into a cultural center of the continent, aimed to overshadow the Italian cities.