Why April 25th is Italy's Liberation Day: history and meaning of the anniversary

The 25 April it is the anniversary of the liberation of Italy, the day on which our country celebrates the liberation from the fascist regime and occupation by the Nazis. The date was chosen because April 25, 1945 took place the insurrection of the population in the Italian regions occupied by the Germans and fascists. The insurrection was the final act of the Resistencethe vast and heterogeneous movement fighting against German occupation and fascism.

The Resistance began after8 September 1943, when the armistice signed by the Italian government with the Anglo-Americans was made public, and developed in the regions occupied by the Nazi-fascists. The movement brought together fighters from different political backgrounds and enjoyed the support of the Anglo-American Allies.

The holiday of April 25, established in 1946, is celebrated with processions and demonstrations throughout the country.

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Liberation Day: the choice of the date of April 25th

The holiday of April 25th was established by the De Gasperi government temporarily in 1946 and definitively in 1949, with the aim of celebrating the memory of the fight against Nazi-fascism and reiterating the values ​​of democracy and freedom. The date of April 25th which does not celebrate the end of the war but the beginning of the retreat of the German troops and the fascists of the Republic of Salò after the breakthrough of the Gothic Line.

Every year, on April 25th they are organized ceremonies and processions throughout the country, with the participation of political leaders and citizens. The ceremonies are organized by institutions and associations of former partisans, including theANPI (National Association of Partisans of Italy), born after the war to bring together those who had fought and today made up of citizens who intend to preserve the values ​​of the Resistance.

The ceremony is attended by highest authorities of the Stateregardless of their political affiliation, and generally the President of the Republic places a laurel wreath at the Vittoriano to honor the memory of the partisans.

Laying of the laurel wreath (credits Quirinale.it)
Laying of the laurel wreath at the Vittoriano. Credits: quirinale.it.

What happened on April 25, 1945

In April 1945 the Germans, together with the Italian fascists, still occupied all of northern Italy. The Anglo-American Allies, who had liberated central and southern Italy, launched the attack on Gothic linethe defensive line set up by the Germans between Rimini and La Spezia, to definitively defeat the Nazi-Fascists.

The Gothic Line (in red)
The Gothic Line (in red).

To contribute to the battle, the National Liberation Committee (CLN), which brought together the Italian anti-fascist parties and coordinated the activities of partisansdecided to proclaim for the Wednesday 25 April 1945 the insurrection of the population throughout the still occupied area. The Germans were forced to retreat and Mussolini tried to escape, but on April 28 he was captured by partisans and shot. The war ended definitively in the following days. Italy was finally free after twenty years of dictatorship and a war. How did this situation come about?

Liberation parade in Turin in 1945
Liberation parade in Turin in 1945.

The causes of Resistance

The Second World War, which Italy entered in 1940 by decision of Mussolini, had proved to be a catastrophe for the country, which had suffered defeats on all fronts. The fascist regime had lost the consensus of the population and on 25 July 1943 the sovereign, Vittorio Emanuele III, had deposed Mussolini from the position of Prime Minister, ordering his arrest, and replaced him with Pietro Badoglio.

The new government surrendered to the Allies, signing on September 3 a armistice (made public on day 8). The Nazis, who did not accept Italy's exit from the war, freed Mussolini and placed him at the head of a state controlled by them, the Italian Social Republic, in the area they occupied. In 1943 the RSI included the entire central-northern part of the country, but the advance of the Allies from the south progressively reduced its territory. In the regions of the RSI, the Resistance developed, that is, the fight against the German occupation and the fascist regime.

What was the Resistance?

The Resistance was a complex phenomenon, which included the armed struggle on the mountains, the insurrections and the clandestine actions in the cities, passive opposition to employment. The armed struggle was led by partisansthat is, citizens gathered in armed military formations, active in the mountains.

Partisans in the mountains
Partisans in the mountains.

In the cities they operated Patriotic action groups, clandestine groups that carried out acts of sabotage against the German armed forces. The partisans belonged to very different political currents: communists, socialists, Catholics, liberals, monarchists. They were united by the desire to free the country from dictatorship and occupation. The number of partisans changed over time: from a few thousand after September 8th to around 200,000 in 1945 (however, there are no precise estimates).

Alongside the armed resistance there was the passive resistance of the population, which was largely on the side of the partisans and opposed, when it could, the deportations and requisitions of goods carried out by the Nazi-fascists. The population was the victim of numerous massacresincluding those of Marzabotto, Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Fosse Ardeatine and many others.

Some victims of the Marzabotto massacre
Some victims of the Marzabotto massacre.

A minority of citizens instead took the side of the Nazi-fascists and fought for the RSI. This is why the Resistance was even a civil war, which pitted Italians against Italians. Another share of Italians, the so-called “gray area”, took a wait-and-see position, without clearly taking sides either on one side or the other.


We Partisans. Memorial to the Italian Resistance