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On Holocaust Memorial Day, former Italian Premier Berlusconi praises Mussolini

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

ROME — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was accused of being a disgrace on Sunday because he chose Holocaust Memorial Day to praise Italy's Benito Mussolini.

At a ceremony in Milan commemorating Nazi victims, the media mogul lauded the fascist dictator for having done “well” despite the fact that Mussolini's regime passed anti-Semitic laws, explaining that the alliance with Nazi Germany forced him to do so. Berlusconi defended Mussolini for allying himself with Germany's Adolf Hitler, saying he reasoned it would be better to be on the winning side.

“It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time,” Berlusconi said to reporters on the sidelines of the ceremony. “Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it.

“As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well.”

In 1938, before the outbreak of the war, Mussolini's regime banned Jews from universities and participating in many professions. Italian Jews were interred in concentration camps and when his regime later capitulated to the Allies, thousands were rounded up by Nazi troops and deported to Auschwitz.

Berlusconi's comments “are without moral awareness or historical foundation,” said Renzo Gattegna, an Italian Jewish leader.

Mussolini ‘‘modeled his anti-Jewish laws after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws barring Jews from civil service,” noted Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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