Italian Fascist Youth Group: International Units


Figure 1.--This Balilla unit was organized in the Netherlands among Itlalian families living there during World War II. This photograph was taken in the 1940s during the German occupation.

There are two aspects of internationalist activities. First Italians living in other countries. Second actual contacts with foreign youth groups as promoted by Scouting. Unlike the Scouts, the Italian Fascist youth movement had no international orientation. One element of Fascist ideology was ravid nationalism and intolerance toward other national and racial groups. There were, however, some Italian groups like the Balilla organized outside of Italy. They were organized among Italians living in other countries and the nembership was strictly limited to children of Italian ancestry. At this time, the only such units HBU knows of are units based in the Netherlands (figure 1). There may well have been other such groups in other countries. We know of no organized effort to develop contacts with youth groups in other countries, even Fasist youth groups. This included the period before and after the War. Granted our information is very limited and we do not yet have any definitive information on this. The major issue here is the relationship with the Hitler Youth. We do note photographs of Hitler Youth and Ballial boys together. We are uncertain, however, just what these images represent.

Limitations

There were serious limitations on any international program persued by Fascist groups like the Balilla. Xenephobic nationalism with a rasist component was a key element in the Facist movements. The children were told that their country and people were superior to oyther countries. In Europe there were territorial disputes which fueled national rivalries. These issues made developing cooperative programs with other countries difficult.

Italians in Other Countries

Unlike the Scouts, the Italian Fascist youth movement had no international orientation. One element of Fascist ideology was ravid nationalism and intolerance toward other national and racial groups. There were, however, some Italian groups like the Balilla organized outside of Italy. They were organized among Italians living in other countries and the nembership was strictly limited to children of Italian ancestry. At this time, the only such units HBU knows of are units based in the Netherlands (figure 1). There may well have been other such groups in other countries.

America

The greatest number of Itaians outside Italy lived in America. I do not know of any Americam Balilla units, but you would think that some such units may have been organized. There was no legal prohibition on such organization. Musolini was popular among some Italian-Americans. Most were, however, more concerned with getting ahead in America. It was the Scouts that most American boys wanted to join--including Italian-American boys.

Austria

Austria bordered on Italy and some Italians lived in Austria. I am not sure what Austrian policy was toward groups like the Hitler Youth and Balillal. After the Anchlus when Hitler annexed Austria in 1937 the situaltion would have changed. I assume that Balilla unis were organized, but have no information at this time.

France

France borders on Italy and there is a substantial Italian population in the border area and southern France. HBU does not know if Balilla units were allowed to organize in the 1920s-30s. The situation presumably changed after France's defeat in World War II. Italy after the French Army was clearly defeated, invaded France but suffered defeats. After the French capitulation, most of the Italian population was located in the unoccupied areas of Vichy France. HBU at this time has no information on Balilla organizing in Vichy France.

Germany

I have no information on German policies either before or after Hitler seized power in 1933. Presumably some Balilla units were organized in Germany. Of course after the 1937 Anschlus, Germany had a border with Italy and the number of Italians within the Reich increased.

The Netherlands

HBU knows that Balillal units were organized in the Netherlands for Itlaian children kiving there. HBU knows of units in the 1940s during the German occupation. Rather small numbers of children were involved. HBC is unsure if Dutch authorities allowed the Balilla to organize before the 1940 German invasion.

Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia also bordered Italy. There were substantial numbers of Italians living in Yugosalvia--especially Slovenia around Trieste. HBU does not know if Yugoslav authorities allowed Balillal units to organize. Again the situation changed radically in 1941 when Germany invaded Yugoslavia, in part to rescue the Italians who were being driven back after invading Greece. The Germans than carved Yugoslavia up into a number of puppet states.

Foreign Youth Groups

We know of no organized effort to develop contacts with youth groups in other countries, even Fasist youth groups. This included the period before and after the War. Granted our information is very limited and we do not yet have any definitive information on this. There were other government-supported Fascist youth groups in neighboring countries, such as Spain and Greece After the Germans occupied Western European countries, several Fascist oriented youth programs were promoted. We know nothing about any contacts between the Balilla and these groups. The major issue here is the relationship with the Hitler Youth. We do note photographs of Hitler Youth and Ballial boys together. We are uncertain, however, just what these images represent. We are unsure if they were propaganda photographs are reflected real cooperation between the two groups. The available images look like boys meeting each other, but we do not see the boys participating in joint activities. We also have no idea how many boys were involved in exchanges. We note that "Nordic boys" were brought to German for summer camp and other activities from countries like Denmarth, the Netherlands, and Norway. We do not know if Italian boys in any number were brought ton Germany for Hitler Youth activities or German boys to Italy for Bilalla activities.

Colonial Youth Groups

Italy was one of the last European countries to unify. As a result, Itly got a late start on building a colonial empire. The Italian Kingdom did found colonies in East Africa, but was defeated in its attemp to conquer Ethiopia. (This was one of the rare African victoris against European colonists. Italy also attempted to colonize Italy (1912), but did not fully succeed until after Mussolini seized power (1923). Mussolini then seized ywo more countries: Ethiopia (1925) and Albania (1939). Mussolini's attemp to seize Greece failed (1940). The Italians needed German help to seize areas of Yugoslavia and Greece (1941). Balilla units were almost certainly established in Italy's Italian colonies, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Libya. HBU has no details, but presumes only Italian children could join and not the children of the colonial people.Interestingly, Missolini's Fascist regime set up youth organizations also in invaded countries. There were the "Gioventý Albanese del Littorio" (Albanian Youth of Littorio) in Albania, the "Gioventý Araba del Littorio" (Arabic Youth of Littorio) in Libya and the "Gioventý Etiopica del Littorio" (Ethiopic Youth of Littorio) in Ethiopia. The fez was used as the uniform cap in all these organizations. The interesting aspect here is the difference between the Italian and German approach. Unfortunately we have little information at this time on the progrm and activities of the Italian colonial youth groups.

Influences

Italian Fascism and the Balilla had some influence around the world. Democracy can be messy and chaotic at times. Some in the 1920s and 30s were impressed with the appareent progress and order in Italy. Others admired the neatly uniformed and well drilled children of the Balilla. The Balilla influenced the Hitler Youth at an early stage of its development. The same is presumably the case of Fascist youth groups in Spain and the Balkans, although we have few specific details at this time. We know that The Balilla influenced the Indian Hindu nationalists.

Sources









HBU






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Created: March 13, 2001
Last updated: 12:23 AM 1/16/2009