March 31, 2018

The Dead Bodies of Benito Mussolini, His Mistress Claretta Petacci and Other Executed Fascists on Display in Milan, 1945

On 25 April 1945, allied troops were advancing into northern Italy, and the collapse of the Salò Republic was imminent. Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci set out for Switzerland, intending to board a plane and escape to Spain. Two days later on 27 April, they were stopped near the village of Dongo (Lake Como) by communist partisans Valerio and Bellini and identified by the Political Commissar of the partisans' 52nd Garibaldi Brigade, Urbano Lazzaro. During this time, Clara's brother posed as a Spanish consul. After several unsuccessful attempts to take them to Como they were brought to Mezzegra. They spent their last night in the house of the De Maria family.

Benito "Mussolini's gang hanging by their feet at a filling station in Milan" after being executed. Milan, Italy. 29 April 1945.

The next day, Mussolini and Petacci were both summarily shot, along with most of the members of their 15-man train, primarily ministers and officials of the Italian Social Republic. The shootings took place in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra and were conducted by a partisan leader who used the nom de guerre of Colonnello Valerio. His real identity is unknown, but conventionally he is thought to have been Walter Audisio, who always claimed to have carried out the execution, though another partisan controversially alleged that Colonnello Valerio was Luigi Longo, subsequently a leading communist politician in post-war Italy. Mussolini was killed two days before Hitler and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide.

On 29 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and the other executed Fascists were loaded into a van and moved south to Milan. At 3:00 am, the corpses were dumped on the ground in the old Piazzale Loreto. The piazza had been renamed "Piazza Quindici Martiri" in honor of fifteen anti-Fascists recently executed there.

The dead body of Benito Mussolini next to his mistress Claretta Petacci and those of other executed fascists, on display in Milan on 29 April 1945, in Piazzale Loreto, the same place that the fascists had displayed the bodies of fifteen Milanese civilians a year earlier after executing them in retaliation for resistance activity. The photograph is by Vincenzo Carrese. The bodies, from left to right, are: Nicola Bombacci, Benito Mussolini, Claretta Petacci, Alessandro Pavolini, Achille Starace.

Benito "Mussolini's gang hanging by their feet at a filling station in Milan" after being executed. Milan, Italy. 29 April 1945.

After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station. The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians. This was done both to discourage any Fascists from continuing the fight, and as an act of revenge for the hanging of many partisans in the same place by Axis authorities. The corpse of the deposed leader was subject to ridicule and abuse. Fascist loyalist Achille Starace was captured and sentenced to death and then taken to the Piazzale Loreto and shown the body of Mussolini. Starace, who once said of Mussolini "He is a god," saluted what was left of his leader just before he was shot. The body of Starace was subsequently hung up next to that of Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci hanging after execution. Milan, Italy. 29 April 1945.

Benito Mussolini's body being dispalyed after execution. "Benito Finito." Milan, Italy. 29 April 1945.

Clara Petacci hanged after execution. "Mussolini's girlfriend Clara."'Milan, Italy. 29 April 1945.

After his death and the display of his corpse in Milan, Mussolini was buried in an unmarked grave in the Musocco cemetery, to the north of the city. On Easter Sunday 1946, his body was located and dug up by Domenico Leccisi and two other neo-Fascists.

On the loose for months—and a cause of great anxiety to the new Italian democracy—Mussolini's body was finally "recaptured" in August, hidden in a small trunk at the Certosa di Pavia, just outside Milan. Two Fransciscan brothers were subsequently charged with concealing the corpse, though it was discovered on further investigation that it had been constantly on the move. Unsure what to do, the authorities held the remains in a kind of political limbo for ten years, before agreeing to allow them to be re-interred at Predappio in Romagna, his birthplace. Adone Zoli, the then-current prime minister, contacted Donna Rachele, the dictator's widow, to tell her he was returning the remains, as he needed the support of the far-right in parliament, including Leccisi himself. In Predappio the dictator was buried in a crypt (the only posthumous honor granted to Mussolini). His tomb is flanked by marble fasces, and a large idealized marble bust of him is above the tomb.

In the post-war years, the "official" version of Mussolini's death has been questioned in Italy (but, generally, not internationally) in a way that has drawn comparison with the John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. Journalists, politicians and historians, doubting the veracity of Audisio's account, have put forward a wide variety of theories and speculation as to how Mussolini died and who was responsible. At least twelve different individuals have, at various times, been claimed to be the killer. These have included Luigi Longo and Sandro Pertini who subsequently became general secretary of the Italian Communist Party and President of Italy respectively. Several writers believe that Mussolini's death was part of a British special forces operation. The aim was supposedly to retrieve compromising "secret agreements" and correspondence with Winston Churchill that Mussolini had allegedly been carrying when he was captured. However, the "official" explanation, with Audisio as Mussolini's executioner, remains the most credible narrative.






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