Italianization of South Tyrol

In 1919, at the time of its annexation, the middle part of the County of Tyrol which is today called South Tyrol (in Italian Alto Adige) was inhabited by almost 90% German speakers.[1] Under the 1939 South Tyrol Option Agreement, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini determined the status of the German and Ladin (Rhaeto-Romanic) ethnic groups living in the region. They could emigrate to Germany, or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianization. As a consequence of this, the society of South Tyrol was deeply riven. Those who wanted to stay, the so-called Dableiber, were condemned as traitors while those who left (Optanten) were defamed as Nazis. Because of the outbreak of World War II, this agreement was never fully implemented. Illegal Katakombenschulen ("Catacomb schools") were set up to teach children the German language.

The middle part of Tyrol, partitioned in 1919, contained a large German-speaking majority.[1]

Italianization programme

Fascist period (1922-1945)

Südtiroler Platz - Innsbruck
Street sign in Innsbruck, North Tyrol, commemorating the separation of South Tyrol, set up in 1923 in response to the prohibition of the original southern Tyrolean place names.

In 1923, three years after South Tyrol had been formally annexed, Italian place names, almost entirely based on the Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige, were made official by means of a decree.[2] The German name "Tyrol" was banned, likewise its derivants and compound words such as "Tyrolean" and "South Tyrolean".[2] German newspapers, publishing houses, organized clubs and associations, including the South Tyrolean Alpine Club had to be renamed, with the decree said to have been strictly enforced by Italian carabinieri on the ground.[2] The basis for these actions was a manifesto published by Ettore Tolomei on July 15, 1923, called the Provvedimenti per l'Alto Adige ("Measures for the Alto Adige"), becoming the blueprint for the Italianization campaign. Its 32 measures were:[3]

  1. Association of Alto Adige and Trentino in a single province with the capital city of Trento.
  2. Appointment of Italian municipal secretaries.
  3. Revision of the (citizenship) options and closure of the Brenner border for all persons to whom the Italian citizenship was not granted.
  4. Entry and residence difficulties for Germans and Austrians.
  5. Prevention of German immigration.
  6. Revision of the census of 1921.
  7. Introduction of Italian as the official language.
  8. Dismissal of German officials or transfer to the old provinces (i.e. pre-war Italian provinces).
  9. Dissolution of the "Deutscher Verband" (German association).
  10. Dissolution of Alpine associations not under command of the Italian Alpine Club, transfer of all Alpine refuges to the Italian Alpine Club.
  11. Prohibition of the name "Südtirol" and "Deutsch-Südtirol”.
  12. Closure of the newspaper published in Bozen "Der Tiroler".
  13. Italianization of German local names.
  14. Italianization of public inscriptions.
  15. Italianization of road and pathnames.
  16. Italianization of the German surnames.
  17. Removal of the Walther von der Vogelweide monument from the Walther Square in Bozen.
  18. Increasing of Carabinieri troops (in the province) under the exclusion of Germans.
  19. Preferential treatment for land acquisition and immigration of Italians.
  20. Non-interference by foreign powers in South Tyrolean affairs.
  21. Elimination of German banks, establishment of an Italian mortgage Bank.
  22. Establishment of border customs offices in Sterzing and Toblach.
  23. Generous support of the Italian language and culture.
  24. Establishment of Italian nursery and primary schools.
  25. Establishment of Italian secondary schools.
  26. Strict control of foreign university diplomas.
  27. Expansion of the "Istituto di Storia per l'Alto Adige" (Institute for the history of Alto Adige).
  28. Realignment of the territory of the Diocese of Brixen and strict control of clergy activity.
  29. Using only Italian in trials and court.
  30. State control of the Chamber of Commerce and the agricultural authorities (Corporazioni).
  31. Extensive programs for new rail junctions to facilitate the Italianization of Alto Adige (rail projects Milan-Mals, Veltlin-Brenner, Agordo-Brixen).
  32. Increase military garrisons in Alto Adige.

In October 1923, the "use of the Italian language became mandatory on all levels of federal, provincial and local government".[4] Regulations by the fascist authorities required that all kinds of signs and public notices had to be in Italian only, while maps, postcards and other graphic material had to show Italian place names.[4] In September 1925, Italian became the sole permissible language in courts of law, meaning that cases could be heard from now on only in Italian.[4] The fascist law regulations remained in effect after World War II, becoming a bone of contention for decades until they were eventually reconsidered in the 1990s.[4]

The German-language press, which was still published, was harassed by the authorities and subjected to censorship prior to publication.[5] In 1926 the fascist authorities began to publish their own German-language newspaper, the Alpenzeitung.[5] Other German-language papers were obliged to follow a strictly pro-regime editorial policy.[5]

The programme of Italianization was particularly forcefully applied in schools, aiming at the destruction of the German school system.[6] As of 1928, Italian had become the only language of instruction in 760 South Tyrolean classes, affecting over 360 schools and 30,000 pupils.[6] Likewise, German Kindergarten were required to use Italian, while substitutes were forced to shut down.[6] German teachers were systematically dismissed on the grounds of "insufficient didactics", or transferred to the south, from where Italian teachers were recruited instead.[6] Degrees from Austrian or German universities became valid only through an additional stay of one year at an Italian university.[6]

In religious affairs, a royal decree of November 1923 required religious instruction in Italian for all Italianized schools.[7] Fascist calls for the Italianization of German charitable organizations, religious orders and the complete abolition of German religious instruction to the Vatican were not entirely successful, not in the least due to the repeated interventions of the Bishop of Brixen and the setting up of informal Parish schools.[7] In state schools, though, Italian became mandatory for the last five classes, while the use of German was only allowed in teaching the Italian catechism in the first three years.[7]

The German-speaking population reacted by the establishment of Katakombenschulen ("catacomb schools"), clandestine home schools outside the Italianized standard educational system.[8] German schoolbooks were secretly smuggled across the border, often hidden in religious buildings before being distributed to the South Tyroleans pupils.[8] After initial difficulties, secret seminars for the instruction of teachers were organized throughout the province, usually under the protection of the Catholic church.[8] Fascist countermeasures ranged from searches and confiscations to imprisonments and deportations.[8] The balancing act between the instruction in Italian and German schools, where often the exact opposite was taught, especially in history and the social fields, is said to have left many Tyrolean pupils with a torn identity.[8] The newly composed Bozner Bergsteigerlied quickly became one of South Tyrol's unofficial hymns by celebrating an unbroken attachment of the South Tyroleans to their homeland.

Post-war period

Suedtirol ist nicht Italien - Brennero
Poster saying "South Tyrol is not Italy!" on the background of an Austrian flag. The poster is located in the Austrian side of the border, not in South Tyrol.

After the end of the Second World War, reform processes tolerated the dual use of names on street signs, while the Italian names remain as the official ones, based on the 1940 law.

In the 1990s, a commission consisting of the Professors Josef Breu (Vienna, representing Austria in the Toponymy commission of the UN), Peter Glatthard (Berne) and Carlo Alberto Mastrelli (Florence, current "Archivio per l'Alto Adige") failed as Mastrelli insisted on the fascist decrees, while Breu and Glatthard promoted the UN-Guidelines.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b Oscar Benvenuto (ed.): "South Tyrol in Figures 2008", Provincial Statistics Institute of the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, Bozen/Bolzano 2007, p. 19, Table 11
  2. ^ a b c Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 21-23
  3. ^ Provvedimenti per l'Alto Adige, in: Gruber, Alfons: Südtirol unter dem Faschismus, Schriftenreihe des Südtiroler Kulturinstitutes 1, Bozen 1974, p. 21f.
  4. ^ a b c d Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 23-24
  5. ^ a b c Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 25-26
  6. ^ a b c d e Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 26-27
  7. ^ a b c Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 27-28
  8. ^ a b c d e Steininger, Rolf (2003), p. 29-32
  9. ^ Namen in Südtirol wecken nationale Leidenschaften Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 September 2000


  • Steininger, Rolf (2003). South Tyrol: a minority conflict of the twentieth century. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-7658-0800-5.

External links

Media related to Italianization of South Tyrol at Wikimedia Commons

Alto Adige (newspaper)

Alto Adige is an Italian local daily newspaper, based in Bolzano. It is sold in South Tyrol and since 1999 also in the province of Belluno. Prior to 2000, the newspaper was published with three local editions, for South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno, when was subdivided with two new local newspapers: Trentino and Corriere delle Alpi.

Bozner Bergsteigerlied

The Bozner Bergsteigerlied (English: Bozen mountaineer song) is one of the two unofficial hymns of the South Tyroleans, the other being the Andreas-Hofer-Lied. Its lyrics were composed in 1926 by Karl Felderer in Moos am Ritten to the melody of an old Tyrolean craftsmen's song.

At the time of its composition, the Italianization of South Tyrol campaign of the Italian fascists had reached its height, effecting a prohibition of all names related to "Südtirol" and "Deutsch-Südtirol". Therefore, the lyrics never mention South Tyrol directly, referring instead to its geographical extension.

In the first verse, its north-south extension is described by the way of the Eisack source and the Salurner Klause, a bottleneck which used to mark the border between the German and Italian-speaking area. The West-East extension is characterized by the mountain Ortler and the Sexten Dolomites. In the following verses, various landmarks of South Tyrol such as the Schlern and the Rosengarten group are celebrated.

Cima Vallona ambush

The Cima Vallona ambush (Italian: Strage di Cima Vallona) was a double improvised explosive device attack on Italian security forces at Cima Vallona, Provincia di Belluno. The ambush was carried out on 26 June 1967 by members of the South Tyrolean Liberation Committee, a paramilitary organization seeking the independence of German-speaking South Tyrol from Italy. The first explosion, involving the use of a landmine, struck a patrol of Alpini from the Italian Army, called in after the bombing of an electricity pylon. A second patrol, this time composed by Carabinieri, received the full blast of a booby-trap while searching the area of the previous attack. One Alpini and three Carabinieri were killed, while a fourth Carabiniere survived with serious injuries.

Der Schlern

Der Schlern (full German title: Der Schlern – Zeitschrift für Südtiroler Landeskunde; English: The Schlern – Magazine for South Tyrolean Regional Studies) is a German-language monthly for the study of science, research, art and culture related to South Tyrol.

First published on 1 January 1920, it is named after the Schlern, a characteristic mountain in the Dolomites. In 1938, it was forbidden by the Italian fascist regime as part of their Italianization of South Tyrol programme, but permitted again by the allied administration in 1946.The magazine is currently published in Bolzano by Athesia (formerly Tyrolia).

Ettore Tolomei

Ettore Tolomei (16 August 1865 in Rovereto – 25 May 1952 in Rome) was an Italian nationalist and fascist. He was designated a Member of the Italian Senate in 1923, and ennobled as Conte della Vetta in 1937.

Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige

The Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige (Italian for Reference Work of Place Names of Alto Adige) is a list of Italianized toponyms for mostly German place names in South Tyrol (Alto Adige in Italian) which was published in 1916 by the Royal Italian Geographic Society (Reale Società Geografica Italiana). The list was called the Prontuario in short and later formed an important part of the Italianization campaign initiated by the fascist regime, as it became the basis for the official place and district names in the Italian-annexed southern part of the County of Tyrol.

It has often been criticized by the German-speaking population of the province, on the grounds that the new names often have little perceived historical relevance and that a number have been entirely invented.

Sepp Kerschbaumer

Sepp Kerschbaumer (9 November 1913 – 7 December 1964) was a leading member of the South Tyrolean Liberation Committee (Befreiungsausschuss Südtirol (BAS)), which campaigned for the break-away of South Tyrol from Italy. In 1961, the BAS staged the so-called Feuernacht (Night of Fire), the destruction of several dozen electricity pylons, which escalated the South Tyrol conflict. The Italian state viewed the BAS as a terrorist and separatist organization, while large parts of the South Tyroleans regarded them as freedom fighters.

South Tyrol

South Tyrol is an autonomous province in northern Italy, one of the two that make up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Its official trilingual denomination is Autonome Provinz Bozen – Südtirol in German, Provincia autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige in Italian and Provinzia autonoma de Bulsan – Südtirol in Ladin, reflecting the three main language groups to which its population belongs. The province is the northernmost of Italy, the second largest, with an area of 7,400 square kilometres (2,857 sq mi) and has a total population of 530,009 inhabitants as of 2018. Its capital and largest city is Bolzano (German: Bozen; Ladin: Balsan or Bulsan).

According to 2014 data based on the 2011 census, 62.3% of the population speaks German (Standard German in the written form and an Austro-Bavarian dialect in the spoken form); 23.4% of the population speaks Italian, mainly in and around the two largest cities (Bolzano and Merano); 4.1% speaks Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language; 10.2% of the population (mainly recent immigrants) speaks another language as first language.

The province is granted a considerable level of self-government, consisting of a large range of exclusive legislative and executive powers and a fiscal regime that allows it to retain a large part of most levied taxes, while remaining a net contributor to the national budget. As of 2016, South Tyrol is the wealthiest province in Italy and among the wealthiest in the European Union.

In the wider context of the European Union, the province is one of the three members of the Euroregion of Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino, which corresponds almost exactly to the historical region of Tyrol. The other members are Tyrol state in Austria, to the north and east, and the Italian Autonomous province of Trento to the South.

South Tyrol Alpine Club

The South Tyrol Alpine Club (German: Alpenverein Südtirol), abbreviated AVS, is an association of German and Ladin-speaking mountain climbers in South Tyrol, northern Italy. Founded in 1946, it is sub-divided into 32 sections and 58 local divisions. The AVS is based in Bolzano and has more than 60,000 members.

Steinerner Steg

The Steinerner Steg (Italian: Ponte Romano) is a two-arched, stone-built footbridge across the Passer in Merano, South Tyrol, northern Italy. The oldest bridge in the town, it connects the historic centre and the Steinach district with the Obermais quarter.In 1615 the wooden aqueduct which spanned the river here had fallen into disrepair and the town decided to demolish it and build a stone bridge in its place. The following year Andrä Tanner, an architect from Brixen, was contracted to build the replacement. Scarcely had the works been completed, however, when the new bridge was washed away in a flood. The current structure was completed in 1617. The bridge is in close proximity to the Passeirer Tor, one of the town gates of Merano.


Sterzing (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtɛrtsɪŋ]; Italian: Vipiteno [vipiˈtɛːno]) is a comune in South Tyrol in northern Italy. It is the main village of the southern Wipptal, and the Eisack River flows through the medieval town.

Timeline of Bolzano

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Bolzano/Bozen in the Trentino-South Tyrol region of Italy.

Opposite trends
Related concepts

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