Juno Beach Centre | Canada in WWII
Events | On the Eve of War
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The Rise of Fascism

The Treaty of Versailles

The Christian National Socialist Party

The economic depression that follows the 1929 stock market crash has a dramatic impact on European and American nations. In a climate of social turmoil and high unemployment, marxist and socialist parties rise against right-wing industrialists often supported by the Church. Taking advantage of the social and political crisis affecting Italy after the Great War, Benito Mussolini puts in place the Fascist regime, a totalitarian doctrine that combines nationalistic, productivist and elitist ideas. As long as the innate violence of this regime remains invisible, Mussolini will find many admirers, impressed by his ambitious public works programs and by the appearance of order and discipline which he has imprinted upon his country.

“Une révolte impitoyablement écrasée” (A Revolt Savagely Suppressed), say the headlines of daily newspaper La Presse, 2 July 1934, in a coverage of the Night of the Long Knives, the arrest and killing of the SA’s leadership ordered by Hitler and Göring on 30 June 1934.

Germany, humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, stripped of its colonies and forced to compensate the allies for war damages, is also facing a major crisis. The economic situation results in a severe depression, which for many exemplifies the failure of capitalism. The National Socialist Party of German Workers (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP ) strikes an alliance with extreme-right industrialists to counter the rise of communism. The NSDAP, or Nazi Party, is ruled by a charismatic leader, Adolph Hitler, who inflames the crowds by promising a strong Germany, freed from the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles and reconciled with its past military grandeur. Through propaganda, manipulation and terror, Hitler eliminates all forms of opposition and on January 30, 1933, is named Chancellor. The following year, after a bloody repression, he takes on the title of Fuehrer (Supreme Leader) of the Third Reich and seeks popular approval of the move through the August 19 referendum.

An army of workers at the Nazi Party Congress of 1935, Nuremberg, Germany
Photo attributed to Heinrich Hoffmann. National Archives of Canada, PA-164757.

In Canada, as in other countries facing the hardships of the Great Depression, there is a strong desire for order and prosperity. For many, Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany are showing the way to economic and social reconstruction, through radical but — apparently — efficient doctrines.

The stage of the Monument National Theatre was decorated with four huge letters, the initials of the Party’s name, PNSC, spelled out in small three-colour flags with the swastika…
The Christian National Socialist Party

In 1935, Hitler proclaims the Nuremberg Racial Laws that deprive Jews of their civil rights and pave the way to their persecution. The brutality and intolerance of the Fascist and Nazi regimes are now blatant but their action still restricted to their national territories. Starting in 1935, both dictators will launch attacks beyond their borders and threaten the whole of Europe.

Next: The Treaty of Versailles