In the last decades there have been continuous critics (mostly from Austrian & Tyrolean people) of what did Ettore Tolomei in Alto Adige, an alpine region in northern Italy that was united to the Kingdom of Italy after WW1. I am going to try to be the most honestly impartial about this Italian politician and writer, researching information from those who support him and his "Italian irredentism" and from the many who critic his involvements in the process of the Italianization (or re-Italianization as he wrote) of the Alto Adige.
Alto Adige areas with Tolomei's names
Since then the Austrian propaganda has attacked Tolomei saying that Fascism ordered his "Prontuario", but the truth is that it was started to be created in 1906 -according to Eduardo Mori- when Fascism did not exist and officially authorized since 1921 by the liberal governments of Giovanni Giolitti and Ivanoe Bonomi.
This is the translation of historian Mori comments about these complaints against Tolomei and his 'Prontuario':
"....The 'Prontuario' has been the victim of a continuous and lively cultural defamation on the part of a certain South Tyrolean world, but it has always resisted these criticisms, which were interested and uncultivated because, as anyone can see, it is superficially the product of in-depth etymological studies, of vast archival research, of vast linguistic culture and has always tried to give the various localities absolutely reasonable names, always drawing, whenever possible, on prebarbaric substrates, or by adhering to the etymological meaning of surely Germanic names, or by devising assonances that correspond well to spirit with which the people assign names to places. The Prontuario was always presented as a product of the fascist era which is completely false. The handbook is the fruit of the Italian irredentist spirit and had been started in 1906 well before the Great War; it was then continued during the war because it was considered logical that our soldiers conquered lands with Italian and not Austrian names; it was accomplished long before Fascism came to power. Fascism did nothing but the last formal act of its formalization. The Prontuario has always been presented as an instrument of Italianisation of Alto Adige/South Tyrol; nothing more false because, well before the South Tyrolean claims, it already officially established the principle of "bilinguality with the precedence of the Italian name”. And it really takes a huge dose of intellectual dishonesty to argue that a Nation, on its territory, does not have the full right to baptize places in its official language, to have maps with names that its citizens can understand, to attribute to each place the name that best believes, even if completely disconnected from what the linguistic minority continues to freely use....."
Another mistake is the Austrian & SouthTyrolean usual declaration that the Italianization of Alto Adige was only promoted & made by Tolomei and the Italians: Hitler, for example, made harsh critics to the SouthTyroleans and always despised the possibility of German fighting for the South Tyrol. Here there are some of his declarations about this problem:
THE CONTEMPT OF THE FUHRER
1922. - "We must not for a sentiment of brotherhood to 200,000 Germans treated well, forget that elsewhere there are millions of truly oppressed Germans (...) We must openly and sincerely declare to Italy that for us the question Alto Adige does not exist and will never exist again. And these declarations honestly maintain and prove true with facts " (From a speech of November 17, 1922 pronounced in Bad Ems and reported in a report by the Italian delegate of the Inter-allied Commission for Rhineland Tedaldi, for which see also Ingram Beikircher. - Such statements alienated Hitler's sympathetic conservative right-wing sympathies to Hitler also from the fact that, at least then, the NSDAP - National Socialist Workers' Party sought proselytes of preference in the sectors of the traditional left).
1923. - "Our eyes must be on the Rhine: Strasbourg is a sacred city for German sentiment far more than Bolzano and Merano" (Objection to a letter by Kurt G. W. Ludecke, published by the "Corriere Italiano" on October 16, 1923. These sentiments were confirmed ten days later by Leo Negrelli, journalist of the said sheet, which was published in Rome in 1923-24).
1925. - «Yes, South Tyrol. If I am dealing with this problem here, it is also to call that shameless rogue on the bill, which relies on the stupidity and forgetfulness of our large strata, dares to simulate a national indignation that is more foreign to our parliamentary cheaters than it is to foreigners a magpie the concept of ownership. I note that I am one of those who took their places from August 1914 to November 1918 where this territory was also defended: that is, in the army. In those years I fought too, not because the South Tyrol was lost, but because it was, like every other German country, preserved at home. Those who did not then fight were the marauders of parliament, all the rogue politician of the parties (...) Who today believes he can solve the problem of Alto Adige with protests, declarations, marches etc. or is a rascal, or is a petty bourgeois German. It is easier to chat today for the recovery of South Tyrol than it was one day to fight for its conservation. Everyone does what he can then we shed our blood: today they let their beaks go (...). If one day we have to shed German blood, it would be a crime to pay it for two hundred thousand Germans when seven million Germans languish under foreign rule ".
1938. - "It is my unwavering will and it is also my political testament to the German people, to consider the frontier of the Alps erected between us by nature forever intangible". The declaration was made public in Rome at 'Palazzo Venezia' on May 7, 1938.
1939. - "Querulanten. This is the word used by Göring to define the South Tyroleans, who paw more than the others".
- Mein Kampf, Chapter XIII, Ed. Bompiani, 311 - In Chapter VI, (Bompiani 120), with his habitual aggressive attitude, Hitler had called the Alto Adige question a Jewish set-up "to support the struggle against a system that precisely we Germans must appear, in the present situation, as the only ray of light in a world that is setting ".
And finally; at the end of a meeting on the subject of the unredeemed German territories, as reported by Ingram Beikircher and Valther, the future Führer would have exclaimed, vulgarly but effectively, "Alto Adige goes on to do fuc...."
Additionally we must remember the official German proposal to settle the South Tyroleans (who "opted" for the Third Reich and did not want to remain in Italy) in Burgundy (actual "Bourgogne-Franche-Comté"), occupied by the Germans in 1940 (read in French: http://www.editions-harmattan.fr/auteurs/article_pop.asp?no=28817&no_artiste=1317): the cities of Besançon, Chalon, Dôle, Pontarlier and Auxonne would take the names of Bozen, Meran, Brixen, Bruneck and Sterzing; the French population would be expelled, while the transfer costs would have been borne by the defeated France. it was an astonishing Hitler's proposal!
Furthermore in all the Tyrolean & Austrian propaganda against the Italian Alto Adige there it is always a reference to the fact that this territory is considered to have been ALWAYS a German speaking area, that the Italian fascism (of Tolomei et al) wanted to Italianize after WW1. The Austrian Tyroleans always forget in their writings that only in the last four/five centuries before 1918 the romance language has become a minority language in what is now called Alto Adige.
The area around Bolzano has always been the most populated in Alto Adige with a huge romance speaking community; and in Napoleon times it was united to his Kingdom of Italy because ethnically romance speaking. Furthermore the valley "Venosta" west of Merano until the second half of the Settecento (XVIII century) was populated mostly by Ladins.
These facts -together with the existence of Ladins in Val Gardena and surroundings even now- clearly explains why Tolomei considered that the German-speaking Tyroleans were not an autoctonous population in the Alto Adige region: he promoted a "re-Italianization" of the region, starting from the names of geographical places as he wrote in his 'Prontuario'.
Tolomei looked as a reference for his "re-italianization" of Alto adige to the process of assimilation done in France after WW1 with the former mostly German speaking Alsace-Lorraine regions. He was well esteemed by the French authorities: in 1935 Tolomei -promoted to "Senator of the Kingdom of Italy"- received the "Légion d'honneur" from the "République française". The award motivation was: "In giving you this high distinction, the Government of the French Republic has taken care to recognize the outstanding services that you have rendered to the Latinity before, during and after the war (...) with your action in the Alto Adige defense outpost of the Latin block against Germanism".
Tolomei correctly pinpointed that the germanization was huge north of Merano and Bolzano, but in the val Venosta area it has only happened since the century before the French Revolution and in the Bolzano area only since the XIX century. So he indicated that there was an approximate line related to the presence of less or more than 20% of blonde hair in the population, that clearly divided in two the Alto Adige: north of the line there were people mostly German speaking since the Middle Ages, while south of the line the presence of romance population was evident in the darker hair of most people.
He initially -as a moderate fascist- wanted a slow but steady process of "assimilation" of the German speaking population, but not the expulsion (as happened -for example- in Greece and Turkey with the exchange of populations in the early 1920s).
But Hitler and Mussolini made in 1938 the "Option Agreement" (when the native German speaking people were given the option of either emigrating to neighboring Nazi Germany -of which Austria was a part after the 1938 Anschluss- or remaining in Fascist Italy and being integrated into the mainstream Italian culture, losing their language and cultural heritage and as a consequence over 80% of them opted to move to Germany). Tolomei then enjoyed this agreement (even if he was one the few fascists who opposed the alliance between Mussolini and Hitler, while promoted the creation of the "Vallo Alpino" as a defense against a possible German attack from the Brenner) and strongly supported the "disappearance" of the south Tyroleans.
Of course, this tentative of full Italianization with the "Options" enraged forever the Austrians and Tyroleans against Tolomei, who was seized by German forces and deported, first to the Dachau concentration camp and then to a sanatorium in Thuringia, after the September 1943 surrender of Italy. Tolomei miraculously survived......only to see how all his project fell after WW2.
Tolomei died in 1952 and he is still remembered with appreciation by most of the Italians (mainly of the center-right political parties), while on the other side -of course- most of the German speaking people (mainly in the "South Tyrolean People's Party") despise him.
The following are excerpts translated from the "Treccani" (the Italian encyclopedia equivalent to the British encyclopedia) about the biography of this controversial Italian "irredentist" and about his "Alto Adige":
Ettore Tolomei was born in Rovereto on 16 August 1865. After completing his higher studies, the "irredentist" Tolomei collaborated with several magazines and later founded and directed, together with his brother Arnaldo, the magazine "La Nazione Italiana"; he always dealt with economic, geographical and historical issues. He then organized the Italian gymnasium in Tunis, and spent some time in Thessaloniki, in Smyrna, in Cairo. From 1905 onwards he devoted himself exclusively to the docunmentation/illustration of the Alto Adige side, to the claim of Alto Adige to Italian culture.
He succeeded in imposing his thought on the nation, in its current geographical concept, still in the period preceding the first world war, through its Archive for the Alto Adige. He always fought for the political border at the Brenner, also as a war volunteer and then, above all, in peace negotiations.
After the Italian victory in 1918 he was commissioned to govern Alto Adige as a commissioner for language and culture: and he renewed Italian toponimy in lively contrast to the post-war renunciation of many Italian politicians of leftist organizations.
His "Invettive" (Invective note) led the Black Shirts of Fascism to the occupation of the schools of Bolzano (2 October 1922), a prelude to the March on Rome. He was appointed senator on 2 March 1923. He was director of the Alto Adige Institute of Studies: he took care of the development and assimilation of culture, after having formulated the "Provvisioni" (Provisions), the basis of all the action pro-Italy that was taking place in the area of border with Austria in the late 1930s.
After Hitler rise to power in 1933, there was in Alto Adige a period of small virulence: it was when, in the spring-summer of 1934, German Nazism tried in vain, through the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss, a coup d'état against Austria, which, if successful, would probably have paved the way even for German claims on the Alto Adige, or at least fed, with the presence of the Brenner of Nazi Germany, the irredentist ambitions of the German-speaking population, of which the intense Nazi activity of South Tyrolean exiles was a symptom.
With the development of an industrial area near Bolzano, with the new city plan, the Italian government tried to favor Alto Adige, capitalizing on companies and granting important subsidies to various local industries: with which it also aimed to increase the Italian element in the cities and to reconcile the interested sympathies of the German alloglots; but there was little success in this second purpose. With regard to his friends in Austria, Stahrenberg and Schusschnigg, Italian school policy suffered some attenuation and German private schools were reopened, under the control of the Italian school authorities; but the nationalistic tendency of some elements of the region, especially intellectuals like Ettore Tolomei, did not disarm.
The Italian war against Abyssinia came to bring some relaxation towards the border area, now that the Italian interest seemed to shift mainly towards other lands. The way was open to an agreement: and it was confirmed in the autumn of 1936, when the Italian-German alliance was established.
By bringing Italian interests to Africa and Spain, Germany was behind Italy on the continent and was able to get the latter to resign herself to giving up her influence on Austria and Central European politics, influence that was supported by Dollfuss, Stahrenberg and Suvich. The repercussions of local nature on the southern Brenner side did not fail to make themselves immediately felt in a revival of Nazi anti-Austrian propaganda and in the reawakening of irredentist dreams, which found echo and support in German press, albeit unofficial, as in the magazine "Jungvolkjahrbuch", which highlighted the right of Germany to the 220,000 inhabitants of South Tyrol.
So it is no wonder that the occupation of Austria (March 12, 1938), by bringing the German border to the Brenner Pass, gave a strong injection of enthusiasm to the more fanatical South Tyrolean elements for the third Reich and more blindly confident that the events would have led to the imminent peaceful annexation of their territory to Germany. However, subsequent events slowed down certain excesses, and the annexation of Czechoslovakia imposed some reserve. Hitler signed Italian-Germanic cultural agreements in November 1938, demonstrating his desire for agreement with Italy. However, he completed them shortly afterwards with the "Option agreements" of June 23, 1939, concerning the transfer of German allogens within the borders of the Reich, based on requests freely and individually expressed by the interested parties. For the examination of these questions and related facts, therefore, two high commissions were set up in Bolzano, one Italian (with Ettore Tolomei) and one German: this last one assisted especially by local Optants, who carried out an intense propaganda for the Options in favor of Germany, which gave an impressive result.
In fact, out of a population of 253,953 inhabitants in all Alto Adige, excluding the 42,936 belonging to the Italian ethnic group, 179,503 opted for Germany; 31.514 for Italy. However, within the maximum term set for the evacuation (December 31, 1942), only 72,749 had moved to Germany.
The events of war after June 1940 exacerbated the situation. In clear contrast with the Italian authorities, the action of the 'Streifkommandos' took place in the Alto Adige valleys in search of renouncers or deserters, some of whom were killed in skirmishes: an action that illustrates the silence of the minute population, controlled through the committees of the "Optants", through the propaganda and organization, even in times of alliance with Italy, of the infamous SOD (Sicherheits-Ordnungs-Dienst), in which all men from 15 to 60 years were militarily regimented. The treatment, sometimes inhuman, used in respect of several Optants by the various Nazi commissions, did not fail to provoke strong repercussions, which led to many requests for cancellation of the option. Requests which, in February 1943, had reached the huge figure of about 15,000!
Despite the Hitler declaration of wanting to recognize the Alps as a border between Italy and Germany, at the fall of fascism (25 July 1943) Alto Adige saw the amount of Germanic armored troops grow day by day. At the news of the armistice (8 September 1943), the members of SOD occupied all the important points and hunted down the Italian soldiers (killing 30 of them), also opposed by the treacherous and sometimes cruel demeanor of most of the German speaking population.
Ettore Tolomei, who has received the French award "Légion d'honneur" (see image to the right) and two Italian medal awards ("Ordine della Corona d'Italia" and "Stella di Grande Uffiziale dei Savoia"), during the invasion remained working at his office in Bolzano waiting to be captured without fear to face the Nazi Tyroleans who hated him.
He -nearly eighty years old- was quickly sent to the Dachau concentration camp.
He was lucky and survived.
Tolomei (who had received the noble title of "Conte della Vetta" by the king of Italy in 1938) spent his last days in Rome, where he died in 1952 at 87.
He is buried in his Trentino-Alto Adige, where every year some Italian nationalists honor his tomb (see following photo)