Much has been written about how Freemasonry suffered in Europe under the Nazi regime during World War Two, but in Italy Mussolini and his blackshirts were just as ruthless.

Masonry enjoyed a long and honourable history in Italy before Mussolini`s seizure of power. It was established in Florence by the Duke of Middlesex in 1773 under a Warrant of the Grand Lodge of England. By 1862 a Grand Orient of Italy was organized, and Freemasons were in the forefront of their nation`s intense wars of independence. Both Garibaldi and Mazzini were Grand Masters. Freemasonry was a refuge, a sanctuary, for decent men Christian and Jew who believed in individual and political liberty, opposed dictatorship, and favoured constitutional government.

Masonry was popular among military patriots as well as intellectuals, appealing to men of honour desiring to clasp the hand of fellowship with men of honour desiring to clasp the hand of fellowship with men of similar inclinations without distinction of race and religion. In short Italian Masonry was what our craft has always been – men of integrity sworn to brotherhood based on the ethical and moral principals of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry was not the special preserve of any political party and did not oppose Mussolini`s March on Rome – an act that was considered legal, and indeed patriotic, since Mussolini enjoyed the patronage of the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III.

It wasn`t until Mussolini openly became a dictator and began his attacks on liberty that Freemasonry began to oppose him. Mussolini soon attacked the press. Many of the liberal newspapers were owned, edited, and supported by Freemasons, men who understood a free press is necessary to preserve a free society. These men refused to bend the knee to the Duce. The Italian Black Shirts sent hired thugs to beat and humiliate them. As one, the Masonic Brotherhood rose in righteous indignation against this treatment.

In 1925, Mussolini reacted to the Masonic protests by abolishing all “secret” societies and informing the world`s press: “Masonry must be destroyed and Masons should have no right to citizenship in Italy. To reach this end all means are good, from the club to the gun, from the breaking of windows to the purifying fire ……. The Masons must be ostracized …….. Their very life must be made impossible.”

In 1925, Mussolini reacted to the Masonic protests by abolishing all “secret” societies and informing the world`s press: “Masonry must be destroyed and Masons should have no right to citizenship in Italy. To reach this end all means are good, from the club to the gun, from the breaking of windows to the purifying fire ……. The Masons must be ostracized …….. Their very life must be made impossible.”
The faint hearted among them Fasicisti militia commander Italo Balbo deserted Freemasonry and repudiated their Masonic oaths. Others more courageous did not. The liberal press continued to criticize the dictator. From September 26 to October 4, 1925, Mussolini made an all out effort to crush the Brotherhood. Over three hundred Freemasons, with an estimated 137 dead, lay bleeding in the ruins of the Lodge in Florence. “I have the name of every man inscribed on the rolls of Masonry”. sneered Mussolini.

The offices of 131 lawyers and notaries, all owned by Masons, were destroyed, and black shirted hoodlums were sent into private homes to terrorise and intimidate. One old man, Becciolini, was accosted by a Fascist thug in his own home. The old man shot and killed the Black shirt. A gang returned dragged the old man from his home and lynched him. His body was dumped in the city square as a warning to others who opposed the dictatorship.

In Rome the Scottish Rite had its offices in the great palace opposite the Church of the Jesuits. While a meeting was in progress, Black Shirts armed with clubs broke down the doors and began beating the members. They left a torched Lodge and many casualties. Masonic and Scottish Rite emblems were auctioned on the street corner to the amusement of the Fasciti while Italian policemen stood by and did nothing. Commander Raol Palermi, Grand Master of the Scottish Rite and a noted scholar, was forced to leave Rome. A personal friend of King Victor Emmanuel, Palermi was later found stabbed near Palermo. Domizio Torrigiani, Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy was badly beaten and deported from Italy. Who were these men that inspired such hatred? General Luigi Cappello was once commander of the Italian Second Army. He openly defied Mussolini and spoke out in defence of Masonry. For this the distinguished military commander was given a thirty year prison sentence. These were the men who refused to bow to the Fasciti, Generals, lawyers, intellectuals, scholars all men of honour and integrity. They were from different religions. What they all had in common was Freemasonry and the love of freedom.