Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded and Ardeatine massacre (23 March)

Remembering History:

  • Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)
  • Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Benito Mussolini, publisher of Socialist newspapers and veteran of World War I, founds the Fasci di Combattimento (“Fighting Bands) based on 19th century Italian peasant revolutionaries. In forming this party, more commonly called Fascist Party, Mussolini formally broke away from his Socialist peers creating a movement that fused elements of Socialism and Nationalism into this new movement. Fascism repudiated, as both Communism and Socialism does, democracy and civil liberties with governance done by a single party with a powerful central figure. Fascism rejects the Communist argument against capitalism and instead argues it can be made to serve the nation without taking it away from its owners. Nationalism, also derided by Communists, was elevated, and made an important element to bring people to support the goals of the new order.

Italy was suffering the after effects of World War I. Inflation was high, the morale of the people was low, and the parliamentary democracy that ran Italy seemed weak and ineffectual. Worse despite Italian support for Great Britain and France, they got little from the Treaty of Versailles which made Italians unhappy as well. Mussolini’s Fascist Party stepped in during this time to offer an alternative to the chaos. And it drew many wanting to remake Italy into a more powerful nation. Dressed in black shirts as their uniforms, they began a program of intimidation and terrorism against Communists, Socialists, and those that supported the current system.

In October 1922, Mussolini led a march on Rome which led to King Victor Emmanuel III appointing him as prime minister. He formed a three- member cabinet and presided over the parliamentary government. Using his Black Shirts and others, they quickly came down hard on political opponents and anyone who disobeyed the new orders edicts on how things were to be done. By 1925, the parliamentary government was formally ended with the proclamation of Mussolini as Il Duce (The Leader).

Adolf Hitler admired Mussolini’s rise to power and copied his tactics and beliefs in forming the National Socialism movement in Germany.

The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.”  Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932

Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

 In July 1943 the allies landed in Sicily beginning the Italian campaign. Rome itself was being bombed and Allied troops would likely land in the south and march north once they completed the Sicilian operation. The war had not gone well for the Italian military with more defeats than victories (and often the Germans having to assist them). The rationing of food, higher costs, and people generally upset with how things were being run by Mussolini led to widespread dissatisfaction. Believing the war was no longer in the interests of Italy, in late July Mussolini was rejected by his own Grand Council and arrested. Pietro Badoglio, the new Prime Minister, negotiated in secret with the allies to surrender and its terms. The Germans though were not going to allow the Allies access to Italian airbases or other support facilities. The armistice declared on 8 September by Badoglio resulted in the Germans taking Rome forcing the new government and the king to flee. Rome was occupied from September 1943-June 1944 when the Germans left making it an open city.

During the occupation of Rome, the German’s came down hard on its citizens especially those who had aided in the ouster of Mussolini and anyone who opposed them. It was not a happy time to live in Rome with German troops everywhere along with their vicious elements of the SS operating as well. The Italian partisans, who had been fighting Mussolini, now turned all their efforts on the Germans. They began acts of sabotage, coordinated attacks on Germans, and causing all kinds of mayhem. It led to a 23 March 1994 attack on a SS unit. A bomb was tossed at them killing 33 soldiers. The Germans were outraged, and reprisals were ordered. 335 Italian citizens were rounded up and taken to the Ardeatine caves. They were all shot dead as revenge for the deaths of the SS soldiers. 250 were Catholic, 70 were Jews, and the remaining unknown.

Fosse Ardeatine, Roma, Italia
24 November 2005
Image credit: antmoose (Flikr via Creative Commons)

After the killing was done, the cave was sealed. When the Allies liberated Rome on 4 June 1944, the massacre became widely known. It shocked Rome, all of Italy and the world when the details emerged. In the postwar trials that took place, many were held to account for their part in it. Generals von Mackensen and Mälzer were sentenced to death in 1945 by a British military tribunal. Field Marshal Kesselring was sentenced to death in 1947 though pardoned later. Former SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prision in 1948 by the Italians. There is also an interesting story of Kappler’s game of wits with Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who spearheaded the Vatican’s assistance to allied soldiers who fled to the Vatican for protection against the Germans. He visited Kappler in jail which led to his conversion to Catholicism. In 1997 his wife managed to smuggle the now old and frail Kappler (who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer) to West Germany. Italy wanted him back but West Germany saw no point to it: he was dying from cancer and in fact died a year later from it.

The Ardeatine Caves outside of Rome have become a national memorial.


Mussolini founds the Fascist party (
Fascist Party (
“The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932) by Benito Mussolini (pdf)

Germans slaughter Italian civilians (
Ardeatine Caves Massacre (U.S. Holocaust Memorial)
The Italian Resistance and the Ardeatine Caves Massacre (National WWII Museum)
Mausoleo Fosse Ardeatine

Remembering History: Repeal of the Stamp Act (18 March 1766)

On 18 March 1766 the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act to end a major uproar with the colonists in America.

Benjamin Franklin, 1783 attributed to Joseph-Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The controversial act was passed on 22 March 1765 and required that every official document produced in the colonies have a British stamp on it. Official documents included legal documents but was expanded to include newspapers and even playing cards. The purpose of the act was to use the money to raise revenues for a standing army. In reaction to it, the Stamp Act Congress was created in the colonies to oppose it in October 1765. Opposition to the impending Stamp Act caused not only outrage but violence as well.  Calls to boycott British goods were made and attacks on customhouses and even homes of tax collectors occurred. Benjamin Franklin made a personal appeal to the House of Commons to repeal the act.

Faced with opposition to the Stamp Act, it was repealed but on the same day Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which stated the government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. This set in motion conflict with the colonists who began to assert they ought to have a voice in laws passed by Parliament. The famous phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” would become an important part of the revolt that was coming.


Feast of Saint Patrick (17 March)

St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland.
Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and St. Patrick, Goleen, County Cork, Ireland
Photo:Andreas F. Borchert/Wikimedia

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for bringing Christianity to Ireland. He was born in 390 A.D in Britain and raised by a Christian family. However he was not much interested in God and at the time was illiterate. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd on a hillside. All alone except for his sheep and captors. he began to cry out to God for rescue him. He had a dream in which God revealed himself and that he would be going home.

Risking his life, he boarded a ship for Britain where he returned to his family. He was welcomed back but realized that he had been transformed by God. He entered a monastery to pursue his calling as a Catholic priest. As a result of his education, he came to understand Holy Scripture and impressed his peers and superiors with his character. He would be made a bishop in due course. Nearly three decades after this slavery in Ireland, he felt a call from God that he had to return to Ireland and spread the word of Jesus to a people who had become lost. This was no easy journey for him since travel was difficult but he faced hostility from those who opposed him trying to convert people away from paganism. Patrick was ready though to face the trials that might take his life (he was attacked and beaten by thugs and Irish royalty disdained him) and persevered in proclaiming the Gospel and training converts.

His courageous leadership and his crisscrossing the countryside paid off as thousands and more would be converted. Churches were being established and he was training those to shepherd the church after he was gone. He would die on March 17, 461 A.D. He has been venerated as a saint and patron saint of Ireland since then by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. In Ireland it is a solemnity and thus a holy day of obligation. It is also a cultural day as well to celebrate Ireland. Traditionally many in Ireland will wear shamrocks, wear green, attend Mass, watch parades, have a special breakfast and dinner, and of course celebrate by having a beer in their favorite pub (or outside due to the crowds). It has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. Since the feast does fall within Lent and is a solemnity in Ireland, it is permissible to eat foods normally excluded during this time (or any food you have selected to give up). Outside of Ireland though, it is not and local bishops will offer guidance. Usually the bishop will allow those who wish to celebrate to be excused from Friday obligation of fasting but may require you to fast on a different day in the week or the following one.



Beware The Ides of March! The Assassination of Julius Caesar (44 Mar BC)

The Death of Julius Caesar,Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844). Public Domain
The Death of Julius Caesar,Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844).
Public Domain

Today is 15 March and on the old Roman calendar was a day of religious observance to the Roman god Jupiter and other lesser deities. But it is most famous as the date in 44 BC when Julius Caesar was assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate. 60 conspirators were involved but the leaders were Brutus and Cassius. Caesar was forewarned of his death by a seer according to Plutarch. And in his famous work Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has the soothsayer say “beware the ides of March” which Caesar ignores and of course he ends up stabbed to death uttering the famous line before death:

Et tu Brute!

The assassination was a turning point for Rome. It brought about a civil war and ended the Roman Republic. Octavian (later Augustus) would become emperor and the Roman Empire would come to dominate the entire Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Britain. In Julius Caesar Mark Antony gives perhaps the most remembered funeral oration ever done. Most people recall the famous opening line:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.

The oration is masterful in that it cleverly turns the people against Brutus and Cassius by showing they were ambitious and not Caesar. By the end the plebeians call them traitors and murderers.

In real life, it was much the same. Antony played them by seemingly supporting amnesty but turning people against them both. Brutus was forced to leave and ended up on Crete, Cassius went east to gather support among the governors and to amass an army. Antony and Octavian would clash militarily causing divisions in Rome. This allowed the forces of Brutus and Cassius to march on Rome. However Octavian made peace with Antony upon this news so both forces joined to stop Brutus and Cassius. They met at Philippi on 3 Oct 42 BC. The first battle resulted in Brutus defeating Octavian but Antony defeating Cassius. Not knowing that Brutus had defeated Octavian, Cassius took his own life. At the second battle of Philippi on 23 October, Brutus was defeated and forced to flee into the hills where he committed suicide. Antony treated his body with great respect by having it wrapped his most expensive purple mantle. His body was cremated and remains sent to his mother.


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Remembering History: The Sinking of Pierre Marquette 18 (9 Sept 1910)

Pere Marquette 18 passing under the State Street Bridge in Chicago while being towed.
Photo: 1910
U.S. Library of Congress digital id# det.4a18153
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)


On 9 September 1910, the SS Pere Marquette 18, bound from Ludington to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, would sink with 27 dead and leaving a mystery as to why she sank.

The SS Pere Marquette was built in 1902 by the American Ship Building Company (Cleveland, Ohio) as a railroad car ferry. The Pere Marquette Railroad Company intended to use her to cross Lake Michigan between the western ports of Kewaunee, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee with the eastern side where Ludington, Michigan was located. With four railroad car tracks, it could accommodate up to thirty railroad cars. It has had fifty staterooms (and other rooms as well) to carry up to 260 passengers as well. However, if you combined both the rooms and the decks it could hold up to 5.000 people. It had a maximum speed of between 13-14 knots (15 or 16 mph).

Between 1907-1909, the ship was converted into an excursion steamer that carried people to events or around Lake Michigan. The railroad tracks were covered over by planking. Despite the ship’s popularity as an excursion steamer, it did not generate the profits hoped by the company, so they did not renew any contracts for the upcoming 1911 pleasure cruise season. It was converted back into a railroad car ferry and on 8 September 1910, she was back in service in that capacity when she departed Ludington, Michigan. She had 62 passengers and crew, 29 rail cards and miscellaneous freight. Around 3 or 4 am the next morning, the helmsman noted the ship was steering properly. An oiler checking on the propeller around the same time noticed water in the stern and reported it to the bridge. He reported 7 feet of water in the stern. Captain Kitty ordered the pumps be turned on, but that did not work, and the stern continued to sink so low that water was coming in through the portholes. Kitty changed the heading to Sheboygan, Wisconsin and had some railroad cars dropped in the water to give the ship more buoyancy. That seemed to work for a while but eventually the stern started sinking again.

Wireless operator Stephen F. Szczepanek was ordered to send the distress call, CQD, to all ships in the area. He sent the message “Car ferry No.18 sinking – help!” for the next hour. Aboard the Pere Marquette 17, it heard the distress call and notified the captain. The ship immediately headed towards the sinking car ferry. It would pull alongside and rendered assistance to those trying to leave the sinking ship. Two other ships would also arrive on the scene: the Pere Marquette 20 and the tug A.A.C. Tessley arrived on scene to assist as well. Sadly, the wireless operator never made it off ship and was the first wireless operator to perish on the Great Lakes. None of the senior officers survived as well making it more difficult to ascertain exactly what happened.

The ship sank at 7:30 am stern first and the bow rising high into the air. An explosion occurred as she sank, likely caused the pressure of air trapped inside her and likely taking lives with it. 27 lives were lost along with 2 from the Pere Marquette 17. The actual cause of the sinking has never been determined though several theories by investigators and others have been brought forward.

Hard dockings

During the time she served as a excursion steamer, the charter captains treated her roughly and hit pilings when she docked.

Steel Plates issue

Another possible cause is that the steel plates had become loose and since they were underwater allowed water to enter the ship.

No Stern Gate

Older ferries like the Pere Marquette 18 had no rear stern gate to prevent water from entering during storms or heavy wave action.


There were two stowaways aboard, but no one has any idea if they played a role in the sinking.

Leaking Propellor

This would be due to the propellor or its components allowing water into the ship.


The ship was valued at $400,000 and her cargo somewhere between $100,000-$150,000. Captain Kitty was criticized for trying to save his ship and not the people aboard her. In New York City, a memorial was erected in Battery Park in 1915 with the names of wireless operators who had died at sea. Stephen F. Szczepanek is on it right below Jack Phillips, who died on Titanic. Szczepanek was remembered by journalist J. Andrew White as remaining calm, reassuring passengers that help was coming, and returning to the wireless room to continue sending messages. The company would replace the lost ship and name it Pere Marquette 18 that entered service in 1911 and worked until 1952. It was sold for scrap in 1957.

The wreck of the Pere Marquette 18 lies 25 miles off Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 500 feet of water. Until she was found in 2020, she was the largest undiscovered shipwreck in the Great Lakes.


The Carferries of the Great Lakes
Wisconsin Shipwrecks-Pere Marquette 18 (1902)
SS Pere Marquette 18 (Wikipedia)
S.S. Pere Marquette 18 Historical Marker (HMdb,org)
Minnesota shipwreck hunters locate long-sought Lake Michigan wreck (MPRNews, 8 Sep 2020)

How Does Titanic Compare to Cruise Ships?; Titanic Halifax Connections, and Conspiracy Theories


March 6, 1912: Titanic (right) had to be moved out of the drydock so her sister Olympic (left), which had lost a propeller, could have it replaced.
Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public domain

Cruises: How Titanic compares to a modern day cruise ship – ‘washed feet in the sinks’ (Express, 4 Mar 2022)

“While Titanic was the largest man-made object afloat in 1912, it could easily fit inside today’s mega cruise ships.” Titanic measured 269m in length while the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, measures a whopping 362m. London’s Shard is 310m so is easily dwarfed by Wonder of the Seas although Titanic was smaller. Titanic had three classes onboard, first, second and third. Sheryl told what passengers in each class could expect.



Titanic Grave markers at Fairview Cemetery Halifax N.S
William B. Grice (Wikimedia)

Links Between Halifax And The Titanic Remain Strong (, 4 Mar 2022)

In the dark days after the tragedy, the Nova Scotia capital became chief mourner, coroner and undertaker. “It gathered, identified and buried the bodies, and it did so with great diligence and respect,” British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said in 2012 during the 100-year memorial events. “The poignant tales of love and loss uncovered in the process ensure that the sinking is remembered, not just as a historic event, but as a human tragedy on a colossal scale.”


Documentary following six Chinese Titanic survivors coming to Beloit International Film Festival (, 3 Mar 2022)

A documentary telling the story of six Chinese Titanic survivors will play at the Beloit International Film Festival, featuring the story of a local restaurant owner’s family. “The Six,” which follows six Chinese natives rescued from the freezing North Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic, will have one of its first US showings in Beloit. According to BIFF executive director Greg Gerard, finding the film has been a fun process among the local community. “It turns out that there’s a person who was on the Titanic that’s buried in a cemetery in Beloit. I mean, these things we we never knew about before are coming to light. So it’s kind of it’s been very fun,” Gerard said


Ghosts And Conspiracy Theories Of Titanic 110 Years On (Islington Gazette, (2 Mar 2022)

In the immediate aftermath, a swirl of rumour, fake news, and conspiracy theories sprang up; was the ship’s state of the art design riddled with mistakes, were engineers rushed to complete it by its wealthy owner, did the needs of insurers come before saving souls, and was it an iceberg that caused the disaster? Northern Irish playwright Ron Hutchinson, whose grandfather helped build the doomed ship, spotlights these conspiracies in Ghosts of The Titanic, which blends fact with fiction as a bereaved woman tries to discover the truth about her fiancee’s death.


A historic adventure at the Titanic Museum (, 1 Mar 2022)

At the Titanic Museum of Pigeon Forge the decorations and crew celebrate March with the Irish Fairy Cottages. On the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic there were 187 Irish on-board the ship and the Titanic Museum of Pigeon Forge pays homage to these individuals with their March decor. When you visit the museum, keep an eye out because there are some new additions that are truly remarkable. There are five Irish Fairy Cottages throughout the tour and each has it’s own personality and theme, not to mention that each has been hand-crafted and therefore one-of-a-kind.


7 Famous Shipwrecks (Mental Floss, 28 Feb 2022)

When a new cemetery is established on dry land, the grounds are thoughtfully curated. But when a ship is lost without warning, there’s no time for such plans. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website observes, accidental shipwrecks “show the past as it really was” by “preserving a single moment in time.” Sunken vessels captivate us. They inspire grief, wonder, romance—and horror. Here are stories of famous ships that went under, leaving a changed world in their wakes.


New Residency To Send Indigenous Artists To Site Of Titanic Wreckage (CBC, 28 Feb 2022)

An initiative to send two Indigenous artists to the Titanic site is aiming to help commemorate the site and raise interest among Indigenous people in maritime careers.  It’s very important that the expedition captures the last days of the Titanic as it slowly dissipates,” said Shayne McDonald, director of Miawpukek Horizon Maritime Services, a joint business venture between Miawpukek First Nation and Horizon Maritime Services that offers marine services like tugboats and subsea cable repair and maintenance. It’s a unique story in history, and as we keep it alive, we keep alive the stories of the individuals that died on the voyage.”

Balvano Train Disaster (2-3 Mar 1944)

One of the deadliest train disasters in railroad history occurred during World War II in Italy when over 500 people would suffocate to death.

It began simply enough. On the evening 2 March 1944 freight train 8017 left Salerno, Italy to a rural area south of the city. This required it to pass through the Galleria delle Amri Tunnel Pass just outside Balvano. Although a freight train, it was common for a lot of civilian and military people to hop on the next convenient train. By the time the train had reached Balvano, the last train stop between the two long tunnels in the Apennines Mountains. it had 650 people aboard. It reached the stop near midnight and had to stop for maintenance.

At ten minutes to 1 am, the train began its ascent into the Galleria delle Amri. The tunnel was poorly ventilated with 1.3% grade. Not long after entering the tunnel the train came to complete stop for 30 minutes. The exact reasons are still unclear. Either the train could not pull the overloaded freight cars, or it was waiting for another train to exit from the opposite direction. Some argue that humidity had caused the train wheels to slip, and sandboxes were not helping.

Unfortunately, due to wartime restrictions, the train was burning low grade coal which produced a lot of excess and odorless carbon monoxide.

The train driver tried to reverse the train but fainted before he could accomplish it. An additional complication was that it was a two-locomotive set up. The driver in lead car could not communicate with the driver in the other one as they were not the same locomotive model. That driver was still trying to push forward. A brakeman walked back to Balvano getting there about 05:10. Quickly a locomotive was dispatched and got there by 0525. It was too late. Many people had exited the freight cars hoping to find better air in the tunnel and died there. There were so any corpses on the rails prevented it from removing the train. About 40 people in the last freight cars were alive. A second rescue mission at 08:40 was able to bring the train back to Balvano. The only train crew to survive was the brakeman and a fireman from the second locomotive.

Due to wartime restrictions, the US and Italians kept it out of the news. A commission was established to determine what happened. Blame was put on the low-quality coal and the station masters tolerating stowaways. The Italian railway company, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, declined all responsibility owing to the end of the war setup between the Italians and US. The Ministry of Treasury, in order to quell criticism, issued compensation to identified civilians (but it occurred 15 years later). A limitation on freight tonnage was introduced and the use of both diesel and steam locomotives for such routes were introduced, Steam engines were banned in 1959 and the line was electrified in 1996. Except for the train crew, the stowaways were buried in four common graves in Balvano cemetery.


Train passengers suffocate, 2 Mar 1944 (
Deadliest Train & Railroad Accidents In History (WorldAtlas)
Balvano train disaster (Wikipedia)


Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday by Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday is one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar. It opens the Lenten season, a time of fasting and prayer for Christians. The Lenten Season goes from Ash Wednesday till Easter Sunday. According to Catholic Online, it comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting, which includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes remind that God made man from and to dust you shall return. The ashes also symbolize grief and that we have turned from God in our sin.

As a Christian day of fasting and repentance, many will attend church services and receive ashes on their foreheads. Most Western Christian denominations observe the day (Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Moravians, Methodists, and Nazarenes to name a few). Fasting usually consists of two small meals and one large meal (usually dinner) that is simple rather than ostentatious or luxurious. Eating meat is also forbidden (beef, pork, poultry and related) but fish is allowed. Catholics will fast on every Friday until Easter Sunday except when it is a solemnity. It is also a time where observants will give up something for the Lenten season. Sometimes it can be a food or activity (like watching television). In more strict observances, a strictly vegetarian diet is observed for the Lenten season that often excludes dairy products.

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