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Voices from the Grave: “Just Look at Them Now”
When Mussolini and His Fascist Friends Dangled

Fascism in repose, Milan, 1945: Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, Pavolini, Satarce.

[In spring 1945 Philip Hamburger was in Italy, reporting the Italian campaign for The New Yorker. He witnessed the execution of Benito Mussolini on April 28, 1945 in Milan. Here’s his account, curiously instructive in light of Saddam Hussein's hanging.pt]

Although many Romans—and quite a few American correspondents—deplore what went on in the Piazza Loreto on the morning of Sunday, the twenty-ninth, to the Milanese these events will probably always be symbols of the north’s liberation. To an outsider like myself, who happened to be on hand to see Mussolini, Clara Petacci, Pavolini, Starace, and some of the other Fascists dangling by their heels from a rusty beam in front of a gas station, the breathless, bloody scene had an air of inevitability. You had the feeling, as you have at the final curtain of a good play, that events could not have been otherwise. In many people’s minds, I think, the embellishments of this upheaval—thousands of Partisans firing their machine guns into the air, Fascist bodies lying in a heap alongside the gas station, the enormous, pressing crowd—have been overemphasized and its essential dignity and purpose have been overlooked. This is best illustrated by the execution of Starace—the fanatical killer who was once secretary of the Fascist Party-who was brought into the square in an open truck at about ten-thirty in the morning. The bodies of Mussolini and the others had just been hanging for several hours. I had reached the square just before the truck arrived. As it moved slowly ahead, the crowd fell back and became silent. Surrounded by armed guards, Starace stood in the middle of the truck, hands in the air, a lithe, square-jawed, surly figure in a black shirt. The truck stopped for an instant close to the grotesque corpse of his old boss. Starace took one look and started to fall forward, perhaps in a faint, but was pushed back to standing position by his guards. The truck drove ahead a few feet and stopped. Starace was taken out and placed near a white wall at the rear of the gas station. Beside him were baskets of spring flowers-pink, yellow purple and blue- placed there in honor of fifteen anti- Fascists who had been murdered in the same square six months before. A firing squad of Partisans shot Starace in the back, and another Partisan, perched on a beam some twenty feet above the ground, turned toward the crowd in the square and made a broad gesture of finality, much like a dramatic empire calling a man out at the home plate. There were no roars or bloodcurdling yells; there was only silence, and then, suddenly, a sigh-a deep, moaning sound, seemingly expressive of release from something dark and fetid. The people in the square seemed to understand that this was a moment of both ending and beginning. Two minutes later, Starace had been strung up alongside Mussolini and the others. “Look at them now,” an old man beside me kept saying. “Just look at them now.”

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