Fascism reigned in Italy from 1922 to 1943. Little Grandpa Caruso was three years old and had no knowledge of prior conditions when the Emanuele family ruled the country. What he learned came from listening to the adults in Santa Maria di Licodia and from what he personally observed.
When Mussolini took command of the Fascist party he also became the voice of the government. Vittorio Emanuele III, the last King of Italy, remained silent while the shift in power occurred. In 1943 the king relinquished his position, kept his title, and went to live in Egypt. He finally abdicated on May 9, 1946. His son, Umberto Emanuele II, was the defacto King from 1944 to 1946. Umberto actually only held the title from May 9th to June 12th of 1946. He was then exiled when the newly installed post war government elected to banish the entire Emanuele family with the understanding that no member of the family was ever to enter Italy again under penalty of death. Vittorio Emanuele III died in absentia in 1947. No Italian official attended the funeral.
Little Grandpa Caruso grew up seeing the Case Colonie, Farm Houses, on the property of wealthy landowners. He learned that this was one of Mussolini’s achievements. Before Mussolini, the farmers lived in caves near the lands that they were working on. The 1920s and 1930s were eras of hard economic times and food was not plentiful. Mussolini ordered the landowners to grow more wheat and fruit. He also ordered the construction of housing for the laborers and, if needed, their families to live in while working the fields. Mussolini further ordered that the laborers would receive a percentage of the crop profits. Mussolini was fundamentally a man concerned about the common people.
During Mussolini’s reign, which spanned the majority of Little Grandpa Caruso’s school years, the students had to wear uniforms designed by the Fascist Party. The public educational system ran from age six through seventeen. For the first five years the boys wore the Balilla uniform. This was black shorts, white knee highs, black or white shoes, and either a black shirt or a white shirt with a black neckerchief. When the younger students marched in parades they wore the white shirt and black scarf. The older male students wore the Avanguardista uniform. This was full length green pants, black shirt, black Army boots and an Alpine, or Peter Pan, styled cap.
When Little Grandpa Caruso was about eight years old Mussolini sent an ambassador, Prefitto Moro, from Rome to Sicily to “clean up” the Mafia problem. There were numerous arrests made in and around Santa Maria di Licodia. Those that were arrested faced one of two fates. They were either put in prison or exiled from Italy. The punishment depended on the severity of the crime. Santa Maria di Licodia experienced an era of relative no crime. People left their homes unlocked and would sleep with the windows and doors open.
Little Grandpa Caruso’s father worked for the wealthy landowners and lived in the farm houses from Monday to Friday and came home on the weekends. With his share of the crop profits Little Grandpa Caruso’s father was able to purchase a small orange groove. The family vineyard up in the mountains was acquired through inheritance from Little Grandpa Caruso’s grandfather. Profit sharing really worked and the general populace benefitted.
The people of Santa Maria di Licodia did not approve of Mussolini’s alliance with Adolph Hitler but there wasn’t anything they could do to stay out of the line of fire…except…to quietly resist. When the occupying German soldiers required that the people turn in their radios…they resisted. The people in Santa Maria di Licodia collaborated and only turned in a handful of radios. The majority of the people hid their radios. When the German soldiers required that all firearms be turned in…they resisted. The Germans received a few dozen very old hand guns and hunting shotguns. The people hid the rest of their firearms in the caves they once lived in when working the fields.
When Hitler told Mussolini to gather up the Italian Jews and transport them to concentration camps…Mussolini resisted. Mussolini did not agree with the destruction of a people and chose to not comply. Mussolini instructed his soldiers to warn the Jewish population to leave the country. He also ordered that the Jewish people be given receipts for any property they left behind. Records indicate that only 700 Italian Jews ended up in concentration camps and those Jews that returned to Italy after the war got their property back.
How poetic that the man of the people would meet his end at the hands of those same people.