Claretta Petacci & Rachele Mussolini battle over a broken man
Following his rescue on 12th September 1943 by the Germans, Mussolini met with Hitler, who ‘persuaded’ him to head up a puppet government, based in Salo - the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. After a few day’s rest, recovering from his imprisonment, Mussolini returned to Italy to set up his new government. From now on he was never more than a figurehead – all decisions of any importance were made by the Germans, who even chose the members of the new cabinet. . It was now that the round-up & deportation of Jews in Italy began. Until now Italy, one of Germany’s allies, had been a refuge of sorts.
Vittorio, his son, took over the role of Mussolini’s personal secretary & envoy. In mid-October Mussolini set up his new residence at Villa Feltrinelli, at Gargagno on Lake Garda. He was joined in November by his wife Rachele, & his two younger children, Romano & Anna-Maria. Sometime in October Claretta Petacci, now freed by the Germans, set up home in the Villa Mirabella in nearby Gardone.
Mussolini’s ex-mistress Angela Curti Cucciati & their 21 year old daughter Elena Curti, moved to Gargnano as well. Mussolini liked to have Elena visit weekly to read the paper to him. When Claretta discovered the Curti’s presence in the area she insisted that Mussolini banish the couple to Milan.
It did not take Rachele long to find out that Claretta was living nearby. Until the day after Mussolini’s arrest Rachele was unaware of the affair between her husband & the 34 year old Claretta. It wasn’t until she read the papers on 26th July 1943 that she discovered the existence of the affair for the first time; although it had been an open secret for years.
The stage was now set for a grand farce.
Having decided to put la Petacci firmly in her place, Rachele phoned Mussolini to inform him of her intentions. Collecting Buffarini-Guidi, the new Republic’s Interior Minister, Rachele Mussolini drove over to Gardano for her show-down with the upstart Claretta. In the pouring rain they stood outside the locked gate of the villa – Mussolini had phoned Claretta to warn her of the imminent arrival of his wife. Rachele kept her finger on the bell until Claretta’s minder, Obersturmfuhrer Spögler, came out to ask Rachele to leave. At this affront Rachele attempted to climb over the gate. Spögler then allowed Rachele & Buffarini-Guidi in, after they confirmed they were unarmed. Rachele & Claretta met at last.
Rachele demanded that Claretta leave the area, as her presence was detrimental to Mussolini. Rachele was incensed by Claretta’s bursting into tears as Rachele called her ’la mantenuta’[i]. Further onslaughts left Claretta in a faint. The one-sided battle was interrupted by a telephone call from Mussolini. Claretta complained to Mussolini of the name-calling & Mussolini told Spögler to keep the exchange between the two women ‘reasonable’. Spögler told him that would be difficult. Petacci then took the phone back, asking permission to show Rachele his letters. Reluctantly Mussolini agreed.
Claretta fetched the letters & began to read them aloud. Rachele snatched them from her. Spögler attempted to intervene & was scratched for his pains by the feisty Signora Mussolini. Demanding back up from Buffarini-Guidi, who was attempting to stay out of the battle, Rachele lunged at Claretta & had to be restrained by both Spögler & Buffarini-Guidi. Sensibly Mussolini spent the night at his office, before becoming reconciled with his wife the next day. On Spögler’s advice Claretta moved home, but did not leave the area.
Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell, 2004, Phoenix
The Real Mussolini by Rachele Mussolini 1974, Saxon House
Mussolini by Vittorio Mussolini 1973 New English Library