MUSSOLINI, Benito. Autograph letter signed ("Mussolini") to Lt. Alberto Faiola, [Gran Sasso], "Ore 3 del giorno 12 Settembre 1943." 3 pages, 4to, blue ink slightly smudged at top and bottom, very slight wear where folded, in Italian.
MUSSOLINI, ON THE MORNING OF HIS DARING RESCUE BY COLONEL SKORZENY'S COMMANDOS, PLANS HIS SUICIDE
"SEND ME YOUR PISTOL." Unaware of his imminent rescue by German commandos, Mussolini asks his jailor to procure him a pistol to take his own life, to save him from death in enemy hands: "You know, from hard experience, what it means to fall into enemy hands. I pray you to spare me such disgrace and ruin. Send me your pistol. Thank you and goodbye..." Mussolini's request was written in response to a German broadcast Mussolini had just heard, stating that Marshal Badoglio had promised to surrender him to the Allies, which he believed must be a statement of fact: "First, German radio could not invent an official enemy communication. Second, this communication was given after the Badoglio-Eisenhower talk. Third, the plan is in relation with the German invasion and with the constitution--it is not known where nor how--of the Fascist National Government." He asks in his postscript: "Why one guard at the door of my lodgings? I have, perhaps, the intention to escape?"
In light of the day's later events, Mussolini's request to Faiola provides important insight into his state of mind. The letter makes clear that his rescue later this day by Colonel Otto Skorzeny came as a surprise to Mussolini. Skorzeny, under special orders from Hitler, had sought Mussolini for a month before finding him at the Hotel Campo, a resort high in the Gran Sasso mountains. He and his troops landed gliders on the rocky slopes surrounding the hotel, quickly stormed in and captured it without a shot. According to Denis Mack Smith, Mussolini regarded his rescue as "the most romantic and audacious escape in human history" (Mussolini, 1981). The letter was apparently only known previously second hand, without a clear date assigned to it (the terms of the armistice were announced on 8 September).
Christopher Hibbert detailed the episode: "... full terms of the armistice which Badoglio had signed with the Allies were announced on the wireless. It was a Berlin transmission repeating a news item which had been broadcast by Algiers Radio. 'It is officially announced,' Mussolini heard, 'that one of the conditions of the armistice is that Mussolini shall be handed over to the Allies.' At three o'clock the following morning Private Grevetto handed Lieutenant Faiola a letter which Mussolini had asked him to deliver. 'In the few days that you have been with me [Faiola read], I have realized that you are a true friend. You are a soldier, and know better than I what it means to fall into the hands of the enemy. I learned from the Berlin radio that one of the armistice terms speaks of handing me over to the English. I shall never submit to such a humiliation, and I ask you to let me have your revolver.' Faiola jumped out of bed and rushed to Mussolini's room, where he found his prisoner sitting on his bed, 'awkwardly waving a Gillette razor-blade, as if he were trying to slit the veins of his wrist.' According to Mussolini's own account, Faiola, 'after removing any remaining metal or other sharp objects' from the room, including all the razor-blades, repeated what he had promised previously: 'I was taken prisoner at Tobruk, where I was badly wounded. I witnessed the British cruelty to Italians and I shall never hand an Italian over to the English.' Then he burst into tears. But it was not only, as he later confessed, the fear that he would be ordered to hand Mussolini over to the English that distressed Faiola. A more urgent fear was that the Germans would make it impossible for him to do so; for in that event, so he said, his instructions were categoric. 'The Germans,' he had been ordered, 'must not take Mussolini alive...'" (Benito Mussolini, 1962).