Niall MacGalloway, “Italian Immigrants in France, 1940-1943”

<<< back to Migrations 2015

At the time of the workshop, Niall MacGalloway was a PhD candidate in Modern History at the University of St Andrews.

Between 1940 and 1943, Fascist Italy occupied a portion of south-eastern France, bringing not only large numbers of French citizens under Italian control, but a large section of the Italian migrant community. By the outbreak of war, Italians had become the largest minority in France, aided by the steady Italian diaspora and the exodus of anti-Fascist exiles. My paper focused on the political dimension given to the Italian community and to second- and third-generation Italian migrants by the Italian government. Italian demographers and Fascist population planners had long expounded a rejection of Malthusian principles, arguing that a policy of large-scale repatriations in territories occupied by the Italian armed forces would simultaneously boost both the scale and breeding abilities of the Italian population, and weaken those of Italy’s neighbours.
In France, Article XXI of the Italo-French armistice granted the freedom of Italian citizens in France. At the same time, the Italian government established the Delegazioni Civili Rimpatrio e Assistenza (Delegations for Civilian Repatriation and Assistance – DRAs) which encouraged Italians and those of Italian descent to re-migrate to the peninsula. With the re-appointment of an Italian ambassador to Paris in February 1941, the DRAs took on a more co-ordinated and overtly political message, distributing food and propaganda throughout the network of Case d’Italia in France. In Annecy and Modane, food was distributed by the Case d’Italia to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the March on Rome, whilst Italian officials noted how well-attended the kitchen was in Modane. Nonetheless, it is clear from Italian files that the DRAs and associated organisations failed to convince large numbers of the Italian community to leave France. In Toulon, for example, the most active period of repatriation was between 1 and 14 April 1942 when fifty-seven Italian migrants were repatriated. By comparison, the least active period in the same city saw only thirteen Italians choosing to return in the first two weeks of November 1942. Exact figures are difficult to gauge, given that figures in the archives of the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri are broken down by consulate, not all of which survive intact. However, such figures were clearly far fewer than those hoped for, and it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Italian migrants chose to remain in France.
It is worth asking, therefore, why so many Italians chose to remain, rather than return to their country of origin, despite measures such as favourable exchange rates and political capital to be gained from voluntary repatriation? Many Italians had spent much of their lives in France, and felt an affinity for the country. Unfortunately, the lack of a large-scale post-war oral history project means that scholars cannot say with certainty how Italians felt at the time, but numerous declarations of loyalty written by Italians to French authorities in 1940 supports the idea that most Italian migrants did not support Fascism’s political and territorial goals in the south-east. Coupled to this was the fact that many Italians had left for France for political reasons. Vocal groups in both Paris and the south-east articulated the sentiments of Italians in the region that Fascist creeds were not shared by the community as a whole. Many who attended the Case d’Italia did so in order to procure food and tobacco, which were in short supply in France, rather than for political purposes. My future research will explore both why Italian migrants in France were able to create bonds with their adopted homeland, and how Italian population policy in France vis-à-vis the Italian community plays a wider role in Fascist demographic practices.