Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


main index             © Jeff Matthews      entry Oct  2014

Period Postcards from Naples
        1
2
3
4
5
6
here
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23 24
25
26
27






Postcard from Naples 7 - No problems here. We have all the ingredients for a quick and easy ID and date: the principals in the photo are well-known, to say the least. The event was well-known and was covered by newspapers throughout the world at the time, and there is even a description and postmark on the back of the card (not shown). There are some interesting points about the event, the photo and card.

The photo (Hit & Muss both look painted!) shows Benito Mussolini welcoming Adolf Hitler aboard the Italian battleship Cavour in the Bay of Naples on May 5, 1938, during the German leader's seven-day state visit to Italy (May 3-9). Hitler was in the constant company of Mussolini and king Victor Emanuel III of Italy (not present in this photo). The occasion for the visit to Naples was to witness a naval exercise—an understatement. The New York Times ran the story the next day (May 6) from correspondent Frederik T. Birchall. The complete head line was:


Italy's Navy Holds Review for Hitler, Biggest Since War
190 Fighting Ships Parade and Drill on Blue Bay of Naples in
Show of First Rank Power

The sub-head was

85 Submarines submerge
Destroyers Burst from Smoke Screen in 'Attack'
Crowds Cheer King and Chancellor

The article, itself, described the exercise as a  seven-hour "series of naval impressions unique in naval history" and  the greatest naval demonstration anywhere in the world since the end of the Great War. There were 190 ships involved  on a calm sea under clear skies in the Bay of Naples. Forty-eight sea-planes launched from the decks of warships and 72 others were sent aloft from land stations. There were also 14 passenger liners in the bay carrying leading persons in Italian society. Thousands watched from the shore. Indeed, the city went wild in its enthusiasm for the Führer from his arrival at the Mergellina train station, along his parade route and to a ceremony at the Royal Palace. The adjacent square, Piazza del Plebiscito (pictured), was decked out in Nazi and Italian Fascist symbols. Hitler went back to Rome the next day. The only thing that caused some consternation at the time was his behavior at the opera. He sat with the king in the royal box for a performance of Aida, but did not extend his Nazi salute during the playing of the "second" German national anthem, the Horst Wessel Song. Very unusual, commented the NYT reporter. Also, at the end of the opera, cast members stepped out on the stage and applauded him. Adolf should have stepped forward to acknowledge the applause. He didn't. No one knows why.

In any event, the naval display does not appear to have been another of Mussolini's Potemkin village affairs just to impress Hitler; that is, some sources (The Italians by Luigi Barzini) claim that in Rome a few days earlier, entire sections of the city had been fabricated like movie sets from cardboard and wood to make Rome seem more modern than it was.
Barzini further cites the Roman dialect poet Trilussa (pen name of Carlo Alberto Salustri (1873-1950)  who famously wrote: Roma de Travertino, refatta de cartone, saluta l'imbianchino, suo prossimo padrone. (Rome of travertine [limestone], remade from cardboard, greets the house-painter, her next master.) The extravaganza on the bay of Naples was the real dealjust to impress Hitler. And it did.

The reverse side side of the postcard indicates that the card was a product of Photo Hoffmann in Munich. The description is in German: "Aboard the battleship Cavour during the Fleet Exercise (Flottenparade) in Naples." The postmark reads: "Firenze. 15-16, 9 V, 38.XVI". That is, the card was mailed from Florence between 3 and 4 p.m. on the 9th of May in 1938 (alias year 16 of the Fascist era, the Roman numeral at the end). The addressee is at Schloss Braunfels in Braunfels, Germany. Strange, though
or at least very efficient postcard manufacturing. It seems to me that if you take a photo on May 5, you'd have to strain to get the negatives up to Munich, developed and turned into even a few postcards and then back to Italy so you can send them from Florence a few days later.  (If you are younger than 20 years old, you don't know what I'm talking about!) My guess is that Photo Hoffmann on the back of the card refers to none other than Heinrich Hoffmann (1885 - 1957). He had his studio in Munich and was one of  Hitler's official photographers. I imagine he followed Hitler throughout the trip and had a specially equipped train car with everything he needed. Take the photo, develop it, print some cards, then go to the restaurant car for beer until you get to Florence so you can send a few. It's plausible. (Another other well-known photographer was Hugo Jaeger [1900-1970], a specialist in new-fangled color photography. He probably took the image of Piazza Plebiscito directly above. After the war, he sold all his pictures to Life magazine!)
 
Other remnant tidbits of the visit remain: for example, this large statue of  Nicola Amore was moved to facilitate Hitler's motorcade. It still stands at the other end of town, collecting bird droppings.



to main index       to history portal    to portals & series

Copyright © 2002 to 2017