Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of Italy, meets with Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, who attempts to persuade Mussolini to enter the war. Himmler was to smooth over the problems caused by Robert Ley’s earlier visit to Rome. As Himmler’s Italian was virtually non-existent and Mussolini fancied himself as a linguist the conversation was probably in German.
Hitler sent Himmler to explain to Mussolini that the German alliance with Russia was neither ideological nor permanent. Himmler was to ascertain Mussolini’s reaction to potential ‘purification’ in the east. Mussolini indicated that he would not object to a one front war in Russia at some unspecified future date. He was happy for Germany to expand to the east.
Himmler informed Mussolini that expansion in the east would result in solving the Polish, the Slavic and Jewish questions. A letter Mussolini wrote to Hitler on 31st December refers to Hitler’s plans to create a ghetto in Lublin, information presumably garnered from Himmler.
The meeting lasted two hours and Ciano noted that Himmler emerged looking satisfied. Himmler had been informed by Mussolini that he would never permit a German defeat. Ciano, in one of his anti-German phases, wrote‘That is already a great deal, but I’m afraid it already may have gone much further.’[i]
Mussolini informed Ciano that Himmler had appeared depressed. Ciano believed that Mussolini had promised to enter the war[ii]‘The fewer Germans Mussolini sees the better.’[iii]
Galeazzo Ciano also met with Himmler and developed an exaggerated respect for Himmler’s astuteness & understanding.In his diary Ciano notes that Britain has stopped Italian shipping; a move that steers Mussolini away from détente with the British and towards the alliance with Germany that could bring him the military glory that he craves.
BibliographyThe Architect of Genocide – Richard Breitman, Pimlico 2004
Diary 1937-1943 – Galeazzo Ciano, Enigma Books 2002The SS – Alibi of a Nation – Gerald Reitlinger, Da Capo Paperback, reprint from Viking 1957
[i] The Architect of Genocide - Breitman