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January 13, 2005


Power-mad Mussolini sacrificed wife and son

From Richard Owen in Rome

BENITO MUSSOLINI drove his secret first wife and son to early deaths in lunatic asylums because they threatened his rise to power. His henchmen then tried to erase all traces of their relationship.

A documentary to be shown on state television tomorrow will shock Italians after recent attempts to rehabilitate Mussolini, who has been portrayed in recent family memoirs as a paternal figure and patriot.

But the documentary, Mussolini's Secret, paints a black picture of Il Duce's ruthlessness.

It claims that as a 31-year-old aspiring politician Mussolini married Ida Dalser, 34, a beautician from Sopramonte, near Trento -- then part of Austria -- in Milan in 1914 at the start of the First World War. The following year -- by which time Mussolini was fighting at the front -- Signora Dalser gave birth to Benito Albino, whom Mussolini accepted as his son in sworn statements.

The film quotes passionate love letters from Mussolini to Ida. But the marriage turned sour and after Mussolini had risen to power in 1922, Fascist agents sought to erase all traces of the relationship. They overlooked, however, a certificate by Milan city council ordering Mussolini to make maintenance payments and referring to "his wife Ida Dalser" and their child. Gianfranco Norelli, who produced the documentary, said that "the Milan authorities would not have issued such a document without proof of marriage".

Ida refused to bow down. When she tried to meet a Fascist minister visiting Sopramonte she was interned in a local mental hospital. She struck back by denouncing Mussolini to the Interior Ministry for treason, saying that she had proof that he had taken a substantial bribe from the French Government to use his influence to commit Italy -- initially neutral -- to war against Austria in the First World War.

"This could have finished Mussolini's career before it had begun," Signor Norelli said. The accusation was shelved, however, and Fascist doctors in Trento committed her to an asylum in 1926.

Ida's niece, Alda Cimadom, 90, recalls that Benito was abducted by Fascist police and told that his mother was dead. He was ordered to stop declaring that Il Duce was his father. In 1931, at 15, Benito was adopted by the former Fascist police chief at Sopramante. Researchers found that in 1942, at the age of 27, he died at an asylum near Milan where he was given repeated coma-inducing injections.

Ida died in 1937 of a "brain haemorrhage" at an asylum on the Venetian island of San Clemente. She and her son were officially described as "a danger to themselves and others" but newly found hospital records show that both were lucid.

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