The head of Italy's Jewish community criticized former premier Silvio Berlusconi, Sunday, for Berlusconi's remarks praising Holocaust-era dictator Benito Mussolini despite Il Duce's persecution of Jews and allowing thousands to be deported to Auschwitz, according to Agence France Presse. Speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan, Berlusconi said that Italy's racial laws, which barred Jews from the civil service, the armed forces and the National Fascist Party, " were the worst mistake of a leader, Mussolini, who however did good things in so many other areas."
Renzo Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said Berlusconi's remarks were "not only superficial and inopportune, but also... devoid of any moral meaning or historical foundation." Gattegna added, "The persecution and the racist anti-Semitic laws of Italy originated well before the war and were applied with full autonomy under the... fascist regime, later an ally and willing and conscious accomplice of Nazi Germany." He said the remarks showed "the extent to which Italy still has trouble seriously accepting its own history and its own responsibilities." Other Italian leaders criticized Berlusconi's comments.