At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Michele Schirru - would-be assassin

Anarchist executed for plotting to kill Mussolini


The anarchist Michele Schirru returned from the United States planning to kill Mussolini
The anarchist Michele Schirru returned from
the United States planning to kill Mussolini
The Sardinian-born anarchist Michele Schirru was executed by firing squad in Rome on this day in 1931.

Schirru, a former socialist revolutionary who had emigrated to the United States, had been arrested on suspicion of plotting to assassinate the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Seized at a hotel in Rome in February 1931, having arrived in the capital about three weeks earlier, he was tried by the Special Fascist Court and after he had loudly declared his hatred of both Fascism and communism was found guilty.

A death sentence was handed down at a further hearing on May 28 and the execution was carried out at first light the following day at the Casal Forte Braschi barracks on the western outskirts of Rome, where 24 Sardinian soldiers had answered the call to volunteer for the firing squad.

Schirru died screaming ‘long live anarchy, long live freedom, down with Fascism’, which bizarrely won posthumous praise from Mussolini, who made reference to Schirru’s distinguished service in Italy’s army during the First World War and applauded his bravery for declaring his unwavering conviction to his cause even as the riflemen were about to squeeze the trigger.

Born in Padria, Sardinia in 1899, Schirru was brought up by his mother in Poggio Maggiore in mountainous southern Piedmont after his father had emigrated to the United States. He attended the Maritime School in La Spezia, while at the same time taking part in demonstrations in Turin that twice saw him jailed.

Mussolini addressing a rally in Milan at around the time Schirru was arriving in Italy
Mussolini addressing a rally in Milan at around
the time Schirru was arriving in Italy
On his release following his second incarceration, he was called up for three years of compulsory military service, 14 months of which he spent on the front line in the First World War, which he hoped might turn into a war of liberation for the oppressed and the prelude to social revolution in Italy.

Demobbed in 1919, he returned to protesting on the streets of Turin, having by then embraced anarchy. He became increasingly disenchanted with the left in Italy, never more so than when the Italian Communist Party (PSI) decided to abandon a two-year programme of factory occupations and, he felt, allowed the bosses to regain control.

This prompted him to follow his father in emigrating to the United States, where he disembarked from an ocean liner filled with Italians seeking a new life on November 2, 1920.

Schirru settled in northern Manhattan and continued to be politically active, often becoming involved in street brawls between socialists and Fascist sympathisers within the Italian community.  He married an American woman, with whom he had two children, and after working for a while as a mechanic started a fruit business in the Bronx.

At the same time he was dismayed, watching from afar, at the Fascist grip on Italy and decided that the only way to release his homeland from Mussolini’s malevolent rule was to kill him.

Schirru considered carrying out his attack in Piazza Venezia, through which Mussolini passed most days
Schirru considered carrying out his attack in Piazza Venezia,
through which Mussolini passed most days
He travelled to Paris, where his association with the anarchist weekly newspaper L'Adunata dei Refrattari opened doors to the kind of people who would support his assassination plan. He arrived in Rome on the evening of January 12, 1931, checking in at the Hotel Royal on Via XX Settembre, with two bombs in his luggage.

Over the next few days, Schirru familiarised himself with the route Mussolini took through Rome on government business on most days, through Villa Torlonia, Porta Pia, the Viminale, Via Nazionale and Piazza Venezia, looking for the best place to carry out an attack.

He was arrested on February 3 at another hotel, the Albergo Colonna, on Via dei Due Macelli, not far from the Spanish Steps, where he was found with Anna Lucovszky, a 24-year-old Hungarian-born dancer he had met not long after arriving in Rome.

Schirru attempted to commit suicide with a pistol but failed while being held at a police station, and it was while he was being treated for his wounds in hospital that bombs and incriminating correspondence were found in his hotel room.

In court he claimed he had abandoned his plan to assassinate Il Duce because of logistical concerns but admitted he had seen it as a way to provoke the collapse of “the dictatorial and bourgeois political order of society”.

The Colli Tortonesi is a wine-growing region in Piedmont.
The Colli Tortonesi is a wine-growing region in Piedmont.
Travel tip:

Poggio Maggiore, where Schirru was brought up by his mother, is a tiny village in the parish of Borghetto di Borbera in Piedmont, about about 110km (68 miles) southeast of Turin and about 35km (22 miles) southeast of Alessandria. There are a few ruined castles, including that at Torre Ratti, but the area is best known for wine production, being part of the Colli Tortonesi region. Look out for Timorasso, Cortese or Croatina wines, and for the area’s own historic cheese, called Montebore. The hills are also notable for fruits and vegetables as well as chestnuts, truffles, honey and salami.

Piazza di Spagna, with Via dei Due Macelli on the left
Piazza di Spagna, with Via dei Due Macelli on the left
Travel tip:

Via dei Due Macelli, where Schirru was arrested at what was then the Albergo Colonna, is the street that connects Via del Tritone - the long thoroughfare that runs from the prime minister’s residence at Palazzo Chigi to the Piazza Barberini - with Piazza di Spagna. Right at the heart of the city on the edge of the elegant Colonna district, it takes its name from the two butchers’ premises that were once located on the street, where livestock was brought before the slaughterhouse at Porta del Popolo was built in 1825.

Also on this day:

1926: The birth in Florence of English TV and radio presenter Katie Boyle

2013: The death of actress and political activist Franca Rame, wife of Dario Fo

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