First appearing during World War I, fascist political parties spread throughout Europe during the years before World War II.1 As Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland sparked World War II in 1939, fascist movements gained power in countries across the continent.2 Millions of Europeans now encountered fascist ideals—including extreme nationalism and authoritarianism—through propaganda, public ceremonies, and acts of violence.
The ideas and symbols of fascism also became part of citizens' physical and emotional experiences of everyday life. These encounters changed how they interacted with their environment and one another.3 Public spaces bore the flags and slogans of ruling parties, products featured images of party leaders, local clubs and associations posted signs banning Jews and other so-called "enemies." Whole communities became involved in the harassment of those who violated new social and political norms.
Everywhere that they appeared, fascists sought popular support by encouraging fear, promoting violence, and threatening foreign powers.4 Fascist leaders also addressed the day-to-day concerns of many citizens in response to economic upheavals and political conflicts after World War I. Fascists encouraged a sense of crisis, but they also offered a hopeful vision of economic prosperity, stability, and national glory. In Great Britain, the British Union of Fascists spoke to the concerns of farmers affected by the Great Depression in the 1920s.5 In occupied Yugoslavia, Serbian collaborators presented the lives of Serbian laborers as comfortable and carefree in the German capital of Berlin. The Nazi Party and other fascist movements glorified youth and masculinity through large parades and demonstrations. Young men and boys were recruited to youth movements whose activities centered on military drills and political education. Parades drew ordinary citizens into public performances of fascism. These displays were intended to encourage feelings of national strength and unity.
Fascist regimes also promoted discrimination, antisemitism, and the persecution of minorities to mark who belonged and who was excluded from the so-called "national community."6 Both public and private spaces offered opportunities to attack supposed enemies. Museums held exhibitions to teach citizens about art deemed "degenerate" by the Nazi state. Party offices and institutions sprang up in places and neighborhoods that had been known for their diversity and inclusivity. Even children's literature could transmit Nazi values. The popular book The Poisonous Mushroom taught youth about Nazi racial ideas. It was transformed into a popular exhibition. In Germany and Austria, people encountered boycotts of Jewish shops and the passage of racist legislation banning Jews from public spaces. The closure of institutions favored by supposed "social enemies" forced people to negotiate a world shaped by fascist politics. Defiance of such laws often resulted in public humiliation, imprisonment, or death.
Encounters with fascist ideologies disrupted daily life. People across Europe had to navigate a world in which fascist ideals appeared in their day-to-day lives. The items in this collection capture ordinary people's interactions with fascism in various contexts in Nazi Germany and other countries under fascist influence. These sources illustrate some of the traits and principles of fascism. They also highlight the different roles and choices of people living in the extreme social, political, and cultural conditions that became everyday reality under fascist regimes.