Obituary: Vittorio Mussolini

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The Independent Online
Vittorio Mussolini was the eldest son of the dictator Benito Mussolini. Of the four children of "Il Duce" to survive the war (another son, Bruno, died in a plane crash in 1941), it was Vittorio who took upon himself the task of acting as the "family memory", turning out revisionist books and articles and even showing selected visitors around the Mussolini family home, Villa Carpena, in Predappio.

As a child, Vittorio hardly ever saw his father; for all his insistence on family values, Benito Mussolini was largely absent from the home, and even dined in private on his rare visits to his wife Rachele. When he did see his children, Dennis Mack Smith tells us in his biography, Mussolini (1981), "he tended to address them as if they were a public meeting."

At the age of 20, soon after qualifying for his pilot's licence, Vittorio was made an air force lieutenant and sent off to bomb Adowa in the opening salvo of his father's invasion of Ethiopia. Vittorio's younger brother Bruno and his brother-in-law Galeazzo Ciano also piloted planes on the same mission. Though he was reputed to be the most artistic and intellectual of the five children, Vittorio was as well-versed in the callous choreography of violence as his father, as this passage from his memoirs, "Life with my Father", published in 1957, demonstrates:

I still remember the effect I produced on a small group of Galla tribesmen massed around a man in black clothes. I dropped an aerial torpedo right in the middle, and the group opened up like a rose. It was most entertaining.

Vittorio also flew planes as a volunteer for the Nationalists in Spain in 1936 and later, in the Second World War. In between missions he indulged his other passion: the cinema. He wrote the treatment for the most successful Italian film of the Thirties, Luciano Serra, pilota (1938), which, bizarrely, was co-scripted by Roberto Rossellini, later to found the neo-realist school with his seminal anti-Fascist film Roma Citta Aperta (1945).

In later years, Vittorio made much of his contact and friendship with left-wing and Jewish directors, writers and film critics during the brief period in the late 1930s and early 1940s when he edited the journal Cinema. Openly left-of-centre critics such as Michelangelo Antonioni were published in the magazine, and Vittorio even found lodgings for the distinguished German Jewish critic Rudolf Arnheim in the Mussolini Roman residence, Villa Torlonia; with another Jewish friend, Orlando Piperno, Vittorio took part in the Mille Miglia car race, finishing tenth.

His opposition to the race laws promulgated by his father in 1938 appears to have been genuine, and was one of the aspects of the regime that later weighed most heavily on his conscience: he never tired of repeating that "my father died without knowing what was happening in Belsen or Auschwitz" - a desperate claim, as Benito Mussolini certainly did know, even though he preferred to avoid the issue.

It wasn't easy being the son of a Fascist dictator immediately after the war. Either you became a jazz pianist, like Benito Mussolini's youngest son Romano, or you left the country - which Vittorio did. He ended up in Argentina, where he opened a succession of Italian restaurants. He kept in touch with the family, though - especially with Romano, who was beginning his career on the Italian cabaret circuit - and also corresponded with Giorgio Almirante, the head of Italy's neo-Fascist party (the MSI) and with Almirante's protege Gianfranco Fini, now the leader of the centre- right Alleanza Nazionale party.

In the mid-Sixties Vittorio returned to Italy, and spent the rest of his life presiding over the family home and mausoleum at Predappio, near Forli. Here he published books with titles like Mussolini - Thought and Action, in handsomely bound limited editions, which sold well in neo-Fascist circles. But he refused to get directly involved in politics: his niece, Alessandra Mussolini - now an Alleanza Nazionale MP - recalls that he was "terrified" when she announced that she was going to stand for parliament.

Vittorio Mussolini: born 1916; married (four children); died Rome 12 June 1997.