On the same day that Mussolini was arrested Edda, the children & Caroline Ciano returned to Rome, from Livorno; the children were upset to see anti-Mussolini slogans already daubed on the side of railway trucks. On the 27th July the king informed Ciano that he should remain the country’s ambassador to the Holy See, but on the 30th he was told to resign[i].
On 23rd August Ciano was placed under house arrest – General Badoglio, now Prime Minister, had ordered the arrest of all high ranking Fascist officials. Clara Petacci & her family had already been arrested. Edda & Galeazzo now frantically attempted to leave the country. They hoped to reach Spain, where the country’s Foreign Minister was Serrano Suner (brother-in-law of Franco), a friend of Galeazzo. Ciano contacted SS-Standartenfuhrer Dollmann at the German embassy, for help in contacting Suner; ignoring warnings from his former Chef de Cabinet Anfuso that the Germans would betray him. Ciano believed that his ‘friend’ Ribbentrop would help. Sometime during August Ciano applied to the Vatican for sanctuary, which was refused[ii].
Having made arrangements, through Dollmann, the Ciano’s accepted he assistance offered by the Germans. Believing they were to be flown to Madrid, via Germany, the family escaped from their guards on 27th August. Edda & the children (wearing 2 layers of clothes) left the house as if going for a walk & were picked up by a waiting car. Galeazzo left the building soon after, ‘disguised’ in sun glasses, got into a waiting car & was driven off before the police at the door could stop him.
The plane waiting at Ciampino airport took the family, loaded down with valuables, to Munich where they were met by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Wolff, head of Personalstab RFSS, and SS-Gruppenfuhrer Hellstein of the Bavarian SS. The family were given clothing & a villa on Lake Starnberg was put at their disposal. The family were taken to a Munich department store to replenish their wardrobes & on the 29th Edda received a bunch of flowers from German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop & note from SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Kaltenbrunner, whose responsibilities included the Gestapo. The following day the family were given false passports[iii].
In the meantime Ciano had been discussing his diaries with SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Wilhelm Hottl, head of SS intelligence in south-east Europe & a confidant of Himmler’s. Ciano proposed to turn over his diaries to the SS in return for a passage to Spain for himself & his family. Ciano claimed that publication of his diaries would fatally compromise von Ribbentrop, to the extent that he would no longer be able to continue as Foreign Minister. To facilitate the discussions Hottl brought in his secretary, Hildegard Beetz, who was fluent in Italian. Hottl laid the proposal in front of Kaltenbrunner, who had ambitions to become Foreign Minister himself. Kaltenbrunner’s boss, Himmler, was as keen on the idea of getting rid of Ribbentrop. Himmler, currently in the process of making peace proposals to the Allies himself & aware that Ribbentrop was an obstacle to peace, was all in favour of using Ciano’s diaries to bring down one of his rivals[v].
|Obersturmbannfuhrer Skorzeny with Mussolini|
The Italian armistice with the Allies was signed on the 3rd September & announced on the 8th September by Badoglio, in a radio broadcast. The 10th of September saw the Germans take control of Italy; the king, Badoglio & the remainder of the government fleeing to Brindisi. On the 12th Mussolini was rescued in a daring raid by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Skorzeny – Mussolini & Skorzeny leaving the mountain plateau outside Mussolini's prison, in an overloaded Storch plane that got into the air with difficulty. Mussolini was reunited with Rachele & Edda the following day at the hotel that had been placed at his disposal – Kaltenbrunner & Skorzeny vetting his visitors. The day after Mussolini visited Hitler at his HQ, where he was ‘persuaded’ to head up a new government in Italy, to be located in Salo[vi].
The Cianos were unhappy with the German enforced detention – one of their SS guards had killed a cat Marzio had adopted & the Germans were disgusted by the Ciano's behaviour. Goebbels was informed by Hitler that Edda was smashing china & furniture. They wondered what Edda used to blackmail her father, as he always seemed to give her what she demanded – Edda had threatened Mussolini if she was not allowed to return to Italy . Goebbels also noted that Rachele hated her son-in-law; she viewed him as Mussolini’s principal betrayer. Rachele, never full of the milk of human kindness at the best of times, said ‘I will spit in his face if he comes near me!’ On the 19th September the Cianos dined with the Mussolinis, a cheerless meal with little conversation;. Ciano offering to return to Italy to help fight for his country. The following day Ciano decided that his notebooks needed to be retrieved, to be used in the negotiations to free the family. Edda was to return to Italy[vii].
On 27th September Edda travelled to Italy by train, leaving Ciano with the children. Not long after Kaltenbrunner removed Fabrizio, Raimonda & Marzio, taking them to stay with Rachele. Once in Rome Edda contacted two friends. One, Lola Giovanelli, who had helped secrete a fur coat of Edda’s before the family left Rome, was unwilling to help. The other friend Delia di Bagno, immediately rushed over to pick Edda up, giving Edda a base to conduct her search from. Ciano had left his notebooks with a relative who had buried them in Ponte a Moriano. The documents had then been dug up by an unknown person. They were returned anonymously after Caroline Ciano offered a reward. Further documents were rescued from the Ciano apartment[viii]
On 15th October an exhausted Edda signed into a clinic near Parma, under the name Emilia Santos. Two days later Ciano was informed by Hottl that he was to be returned to Italy at the request of the new Fascist government – all the traitors who had voted against Mussolini on 24th July were to be tried (and sentenced – the outcome of the trial having already been decided). Ciano saw his children for the last time on 18th October, when he went to say good-bye[ix]
[i] My Truth by Edda Mussolini Ciano 1977, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Mussolini - Farrell
[ii] Mussolini’s Shadow by Ray Moseley 1999, Yale University Press, My Truth - Ciano
[v] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[vi] Mussolini – Farrell, Mussolini by RJB Bosworth, 2002 Arnold, Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[vii] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, Mussolini – Bosworth, Mussolini by Vittorio Mussolini, 1973 New English Library
[viii] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth - Ciano