Business as usual? : Triestine insurance companies, the Italian insurance industry, and the "Jewish question" during World War II / by Susan Dora Glazer.
Before 1919, the insurance industry in Italy was weak and dominated by foreign firms. By the mid 1920s, Italy boasted a vibrant domestic insurance market, and Italian insurance companies figured as major players in the international market. This shift can be explained partially by the annexation of Trieste, Austria-Hungary’s most important port city, to Italy after the First World War. Trieste was not only a thriving commercial hub but it was also the seat of two of Europe’s largest insurance firms – Assicurazioni Generali and Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà, the focus of this study. These companies, established by Jewish businessmen in the mid-nineteenth century, dominated not only the Habsburg insurance market but also the Italian insurance market.Jews continued to hold the top leadership positions of these companies in Fascist Italy, but as Mussolini moved toward an alliance with Hitler and a concomitant racist anti-Jewish policy in the late 1930s, Triestine Jews increasingly came under attack. While Fascist anti-Jewish laws effectively pushed Jews out of Italian economic, social and political life, the Jewish leadership of these two Triestine insurance firms remained largely untouched as many Jewish business leaders utilized loopholes in the Fascist racial laws to remain in their positions. The continuity of leadership only partly explains the stability and success of the Triestine insurers during this period of war and economic turmoil. The alliance of Fascist Italy with Nazi Germany caused the cessation of financial relationships with British and French insurance firms but fostered partnerships between Italian and German firms. As a result of German military successes, German and Italian insurers moved into newly opened markets in Axis-occupied Europe, increasing the profitability and hence success of the Italian insurance giants.Italy’s successful reconstruction after World War II was undertaken, in part, due to the Allies’ desire to make Italy a bulwark against the encroaching Communist threat, a position reinforced by the strength of Italy’s business sectors, particularly the insurance sector. Consequently, sanctions against collaborators in the Italian insurance industry were nominal, and allowed the continuity of its leadership from the Fascist period to the post-war period.
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