First appearing during World War I, fascist political parties spread throughout Europe during the years before World War II.1 As Nazi Germany began its war of conquest in 1939, collaborating fascist movements gained power in occupied and defeated countries across the continent.2 Millions of Europeans now encountered fascist ideals—including extreme nationalism, authoritarianism, and militarism—through mass propaganda, violence, and mandatory participation in public ceremonies.
The ideas behind those systems—and the symbols that represented them—also became part of citizens' physical and emotional experience of everyday life. Encounters with these representations fundamentally changed how they interacted with their environment and one another:3 public spaces bore the flags and slogans of ruling parties; purchased products featured images of party leaders; local clubs and associations posted signs banning Jews; small communities became involved in the harassment and humiliation of those who violated new social and political norms.
Everywhere they appeared, fascist parties and states sought popular support by encouraging an atmosphere of fear and crisis, promoting violence, and threatening foreign powers.4 However, in response to economic upheaval and political conflict after World War I, fascist leaders also addressed the day-to-day concerns of citizens. To many, they offered a 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 and other fascist parties 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 involving civilian participation drew ordinary citizens into public performances of fascism. These displays fostered an aura of national strength and vitality.
Fascist regimes also advocated discrimination, antisemitism, and the persecution of minorities to mark who belonged and who was excluded from the "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. Once-diverse neighborhoods were replaced with party offices and insitutions. Even children's literature became a means to transmit Nazi values. The popular antisemitic book The Poisonous Mushroom taught youth the Nazi ideal of racial purity and was transformed into a popular exhibition. In Germany and Austria, boycotts of Jewish shops, the passage of racist legislation banning Jews from public spaces, and the closure of cultural institutions favored by other "social enemies" forced individuals to choose how to approach a world shaped by fascist politics. Defiance of discriminatory laws often resulted in public humiliation, imprisonment, and oftentimes death.
Encounters with fascist ideologies disrupted daily life. From devoted members of the Nazi party to workers merely looking for economic relief, men, women, and children across Europe were forced to navigate a world in which fascist ideals appeared in many aspects of their day-to-day lives. The items in this collection capture ordinary people's interactions with fascism in various contexts in Nazi Germany, as well as in some of the territories under its influence. These sources illustrate some of the core traits and principles of fascism. They also highlight the roles played by individuals in the extreme social, political, and cultural conditions that became everyday reality under fascist regimes.