In Italy Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son in law and former Foreign Minister now knew, after almost a year of imprisonment, that he faced death by firing squad in the following days. He had fallen foul of the rapidly changing circumstances in Italian politics. Italy was a divided country, with the south now fighting alongside the Allies, whilst in the north a re-instated Mussolini (after his rescue from imprisonment at Gran Sasso) was ostensibly head of a new regime, although the only decisions that counted were made by the Germans.
Ciano had long kept a diary which had much to say about the real relationship between Mussolini and Hitler, how the war was conducted between the two of them, and many insights into the characters of the senior Nazis like Goring.
Undoubtedly Ciano would have produced a much more illuminating memoir had he had the opportunity. Now that he faced his end, on the 23rd december he managed to get a substantial postscript to his diary smuggled out of prison, in which he dwelt upon why Italy had got caught up in Hitler’s war:
I should have liked to fix the responsibility both of men and governments with a greater wealth of detail, but unfortunately this was impossible, even though there might come to my mind, in these last hours, so many details that I should like to make known to those who tomorrow will analyze and interpret events.
The Italian tragedy in my opinion, had its beginnings in August 1939, when, having gone to Salzburg on my own initiative, I suddenly found myself face to face with the cynical German determination to provoke the conflict. The alliance had been signed in May. I had always been opposed to it, and for a long time I made sure that the persistent German offers were allowed to drift.
There was no reason whatever, in my opinion, for us to be bound in life and death to the destiny of Nazi Germany. Instead, I favored a policy of collaboration, because given our geographic position we can and must detest the 80 million Germans, brutally set in the heart of Europe, but we cannot ignore them.
The decision to enter the alliance was taken by Mussolini, suddenly, while I was in Milan with von Ribbentrop. Some American newspapers had reported that the Lombard metropolis had received the German Minister with hostility and that this was proof of Mussolini’s diminished personal prestige.
Hence his wrath. I received by telephone the most peremptory orders to accede to German demands for an alliance, which for more than a year I had left unanswered and had thought of keeping that way for a much longer time. That was how “The Pact of Steel” was born. A decision that wrought such a sinister influence upon the entire life and future of the Italian people was due entirely to the spiteful reaction of a dictator to the irresponsible and worthless utterances of foreign journalists.
However, the alliance had a clause; namely that for a period of three or four years neither Italy nor Germany would create controversies capable of upsetting the peace in Europe.
Not only had Italy got sucked into the war against its true interests, it had been kept deliberately in the dark about the true intentions of Hitler to start a war in the East:
“Dear Ciano,” said von Ribbentrop with studied deliberation. “Dear Ciano, I cannot tell you anything as yet because every decision is locked in the impenetrable bosom of the Fuhrer. However, one thing is certain: if we attack them, the Russia of Stalin will be erased from the map within eight weeks.” Thus, in addition to a notable case of bad faith against Italy, there is also a blatant misconception of reality, sufficient at least to help lose a war ….