South Tyrol is annexed by Italy
After the First World War the victors ceded the southern part of Tyrol to Italy. A struggle for self-determination and minority rights began.
At the end of the First World War an armistice was signed between Austria-Hungary and Italy in November 1918. The Italian army quickly occupied the southern part of Tyrol in order to provisionally take over its administration. In April 1915 a secret treaty between Italy and the Allies promised Italy the southern part of Tyrol as a reward for entering the war on their side (Treaty of London). Italy accordingly declared war on Austria-Hungary and under the terms of the Treaty of Saint Germain (September 1919) duely received the southern part of Tyrol. This included not only the Italian-speaking province of Trento but also the territory now known as Südtirol or Alto Adige which, according to the census of 1910, was inhabited almost entirely by German speakers (92.2%). This went against point 9 of Woodrow Wilson’s famous 14 points which stated: "readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality."
Following the rise to power of the Fascists with Benito Mussolini as prime minister in 1922 the government began a systematic programme of Italianising South Tyrol. Under the influence of the extreme nationalist and senator Ettore Tolomei German was forbidden in schools and German place names were replaced by Italian equivalents, for the most part completely contrived. The name Tirol was also forbidden. From 1925 secret underground schools came into being – so-called ‘catacomb schools’ – where pupils were taught in German, often by amateur teachers. German-speaking civil servants were dismissed and replaced by Italians who had been relocated to South Tyrol. Orchards to the south of Bolzano were flattened to make way for a large industrial area in preparation for a massive influx of workers from northern Italy who mostly settled in Bolzano. South Tyrol’s main town experienced an unprecedented explosion of building. Young Italian architects were appointed to create a new, Italian Bolzano, resulting in a complete town district with modern streets and monumental edifices, the architecture characterised by modernist pomposity. The crowning achievement was the Victory Monument celebrating the Italian conquest of South Tyrol.
In 1939 Hitler and Mussolini reached an agreement which was to have far-reaching and lasting consequences. Mussolini wanted South Tyrol to become entirely Italian in character, while Hitler wanted the new territories he was about to conquer to be changed into German regions. What strategy could be more expedient than to populate them with a German ethnic group? South Tyroleans were faced with the ‘Option’ of remaining at home and becoming entirely Italianised, thereby relinquishing their German culture, or of moving into the German Reich. Initially the majority of South Tyroleans opted for emigration. However, the outbreak of the Second World War put a stop to a mass exodus and in the end some 75,000 persons actually left their homeland. This ‘Option’ went down as one of the greatest traumas in the history of the South Tyrolean people. Society was divided, families split up and those who opted to stay behind were branded as traitors.
After the collapse of the Fascist regime in September 1943 South Tyrol was occupied by the Germans and Bolzano was established as administrative centre of the Pre-Alpine Operations Zone. Bolzano once again became Bozen and the town once more had a German mayor. The German occupation caused many South Tyroleans to hope for a better future. Young South Tyroleans were conscripted into the German army and over 8,000 fell.
South Tyrol was occupied by the Allies in 1945. The South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) was founded in the same year. The party championed the cause of self-determination and in subsequent years extracted important concessions from the government in Rome. Today the SVP continues to occupy the majority of seats in the South Tyrolean Legislative Assembly (Landtag).