Vincere: Bios of Ida and Mussolini

 

"Vincere," written/directed by Marco Bellocchio, surrounds the secret life of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The film, which is currently screening in the United States, was released by IFC Films.

Ida Irene Dalser (Sopramonte, 1880 – Venice, 11th December 1937)

Ida Dalser was born in Sopramonte, near Trento, in 1880 and was, therefore, a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (for this reason, she was also known as “the Austrian”). She was a beautiful, affluent young woman from a good family. Her father was the mayor of their village. Ida was also an enterprising girl: when she was just over twenty, she moved to Milan to open a “French style” beauty salon; in fact, with this project in mind, she had studied in Paris where she got a diploma in aesthetic medicine, a rare example of female entrepreneurship for that time. 

Then came her encounter with Mussolini. It was the start of an overwhelming passion. When Benito was fired from his job with the newspaper Avanti! and expelled from the Socialist Party because of his interventionism – also influenced by Futurism – Ida stood up for him. She sold everything she had for him, her apartment and her beauty salon, to finance Mussolini’s newspaper: Il Popolo d’Italia which was to become the official organ of the National Fascist Party. Though there are no documents to prove it, rumour has it that the couple were joined in a religious marriage ceremony in September 1914. One thing that is sure, however, is that on 11th November 1915 she gave birth to a baby boy: Benito Albino Mussolini. The son of the Duce who did, in fact, recognise him, only to have his date of birth and personal data altered some years later. 

While Mussolini was having his affair with Ida, he was already the lover of Rachele Guidi and the father of Edda, his daughter born in 1910. On 17th December 1915, one year after the non-recorded marriage to Ida, Mussolini re-married, in a civil ceremony held in the Treviglio (Bergamo) hospital where he was a patient. Edda, was therefore illegitimate according to the laws of the time. Indeed, she had been registered as the daughter of Mussolini but to an unknown mother. 

As Mussolini’s power grew, he distanced himself further from Ida. Her reaction to his increasing lack of concern however was one of pride, stubborness and aggression. As his first wife and mother of his first born son, she claimed the rights due to her and her child. It was when faced with this, the growing demands and the scenes caused by Ida that Mussolini reacted by having her certified as mad. 

In 1926, Ida was arrested and committed to the lunatic asylum in Pergine, near Trento and later, to San Clemente, an island opposite Venice. Her attempts to contact Mussolini and the highest authorities asking for help were all in vain. Ida wrote numerous, desperate appeals and letters, even to the Pope, that were never delivered as they were intercepted and destroyed (though traces of some of them remain). The medical director of the San Clemente asylum did not diagnose any mental illness or physical defect in her. Despite this, she was forced to undergo the worst forms of torture and ended her days semi-paralyzed. There, on 3rd December 1937, Ida died from a brain haemorrhage after having been locked away for 11 years, without ever having seeing her son again. 
 

Benito Albino Mussolini (Milan, 11th November 1915 – Milan, 26th August 1942)

Despite having been recognized by the Duce, his son, Benito Albino was also arrested and, in 1936, committed to the Mombello lunatic asylum in Limbiate (Milan). 

Both Ida’s and her son’s clinical records were destroyed, just as the pages of the parish register presumably recording Mussolini and Ida’s church wedding were torn out. Their son, Benito Albino, born 11th November 1915, was registered under his mother’s surname. A few weeks later, on 11th January 1916, the future Duce officially recognized him in the office of a notary, Angelo Buffoni, in Monza. A recognition that would remain binding until 1932 when, by royal decree, the boy was deprived of the name Mussolini and given that of sig. Bernardi, a commissioner in the Prefecture of Trento, chosen to be his guardian.

Benito Albino, who was never allowed to see his mother again, was educated in a boarding school run by Barnabite monks before enlisting in the Navy, always, it would appear, under the close surveillance of the secret police. After being sent on a mission to China, the young sailor, who looked incredibly like his father, was brought home with the false news of his mother’s death and sent away to end up just like her. Committed to the psychiatric hospital in Milan, he died on 26th August 1942 at the age of 26. For years, like his mother, he had undergone torture passed off as therapy and was left to die. His death certificate said “from malnutrition”. 

Ida Dalser and Benito Albino Mussolini don’t even have a burial place of their own. Their bodies were thrown into mass graves.