Welcome to 1936

Demonstrators burn an orthodox Jew in effigy during an anti-migrant rally in Poland.

In 1936, fascism was on the rise. Across the globe, fascist parties were forming and finalizing their ethos rooted in racial hatred and authoritarianism, fascist regimes were coming to power, and fascist militaries were seizing territory. In Germany, Hitler had consolidated his power, holding a new rigged election and marching soldiers into the occupied Rhineland in the months before the Berlin Summer Olympics. From Italy, Mussolini continued to prosecute his brutal and illegal invasion of Ethiopia. In Japan, the Imperial army geared up for war with China, which would begin in July 1937.

But the rise and expansion of fascism wasn’t limited to those countries we remember as the Axis powers. Still in 1936, the Spanish fascist Francisco Franco launched an abortive coup d’état that quickly developed into a civil war. Within a few years, the American Nazi Charles Lindbergh would form an anti-war and pro-Germany movement with a strikingly familiar name – the America First Committee.

The Dutch Nazi party (which would later rule the country during the years of German occupation) officially endorsed anti-Semitism as a policy in 1936. The British Union of Fascists similarly began promoting anti-Semitism in that year, triggering street fights that eventually led to the passage of a Public Order Act.

We live in a similar world today. The global movement of extreme social conservatism, coupled with ethnic (often white or slavic) nationalism and upheld by violence and racial hatred from the people that has seized headlines may not be fascism now, but it has the potential to emulate and impose some of fascism’s worst tenets. Many see Brexit as evocative of a surge of right-wing populist xenophobia in a country that has historically resisted such impulses. In Austria, a neo-fascist came so close to winning the presidency that a re-vote has been called for late December. Since defeating an attempted coup in July, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has cracked down on civic life and civil liberties in the country.

France’s National Front now leads the polls, and the right-wing Alternative for Germany party has similarly surged in recent months. Although the leaders of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are on trial for forming a criminal organization and inciting the murder of an anti-fascist rapper, the party still garnered an extra seat in the Hellenic Parliament in the most recent elections. Russia’s Vladimir Putin exemplifies the worst in Russian ultranationalism, and has attacked marginalized groups like LGBT Russians while aggressively expanding his country’s borders.

In the United States, Donald J. Trump is running for President.

But this rise of neo-fascism and ethnic nationalism displays itself in more than electoral victories and authoritarian policies. A striking aspect of fascism, now and in 1936, is the violence it incites amidst its people. The history of anti-Jewish violence in the 1930s, culminating in the Holocaust, does not need to be explained here. But we should be horrified to see echoes of that hatred in the violence wracking our world today.

Demonstrations by these right-wing groups frequently turn violent. In Germany in January, an anti-Islam and anti-refugee rally descended into chaos. In May, the same happened with an anti-Islam protest in Australia. A white nationalist demonstration in California in June ended with six people stabbed. The aforementioned Golden Dawn party made headlines in 2013 for attacking immigrants.

These movements also incite racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, both at demonstrations and online. The New York Times has a video of Donald Trump supporters shouting invective at his rallies. Outside of a Trump event in March, a supporter told a reporter to “Go to fucking Auschwitz.” At a Polish anti-refugee rally, an Orthodox Jew was burned in effigy.

Online, Jewish journalists have faced harassment and threats, to the point where some have bought guns to protect themselves. I myself was on the receiving end of this anti-Semitism, when I woke up one Sunday morning in September to a Trump supporter promising to turn me into a lampshade if Trump wins – a reference to Ilse Koch, the wife of the Buchenwald camp commandant who had a lampshade made from the skin of Jews.


I received much of this before my harasser even knew I was Jewish – the triple brackets surrounding my name on Twitter marked me as either a Jew or a “Jew-lover,” either of which was apparently worthy of the same treatment.

This is but an anecdotal example of the vast store of online hatred that awaits Jews, Muslims, and other targeted minorities – much of it emboldened by the Trump campaign. These online pogroms – sometimes accompanied by violence in the real world as well – call back to the racial hatred unleashed on the Jews and Roma by Nazi Germany, on Koreans and Chinese by Imperial Japan, and other harassment and even extermination of minority groups that occurred during fascism’s brief time on earth.

During that time, many countries successfully defeated the domestic fascist threat. In the United States, the Pearl Harbor attacks thrust us into the war before Lindbergh could gain too much steam. Similarly, the brutal surprise attack on Poland pushed the British populace away from fascist allure. But rarely did anti-fascist forces look outside their own borders to the greater threat the ideology represented – both to them and the vulnerable citizens of fascist countries.

Once the British Union of Fascists was defeated, the United Kingdom was content to sit and issue only minor protests at the mistreatment of Jews within Germany. In Spain, although Franco’s forces received aid from Hitler and Mussolini, his opposition was largely abandoned by democracies until the outbreak of World War II. Solidarity as we understand it today didn’t exist, even in the fight against fascism – it was rooted not in ideology or shared values, but much more in economic and military considerations. As well, the concept of intervening in another country’s domestic affairs over human rights violations had not yet developed, leaving the Allies content to half-heartedly condemn Hitler’s policies as he persecuted and ultimately began exterminating Jews and Roma instead of waging a serious diplomatic (or even military) campaign to stop him.

That is what must change today. We must look outside the borders of our own communities, and of our own countries and seek to combat the global rise of a proto-fascist ideology. Trump isn’t Hitler, and neither are Erdogan or Marine le Pen. But the popularity of their authoritarian, nationalist policies – and the violence and hatred embodied by their supporters – should be enough to give all the people of the world considerable pause.

Jews and Muslims and other marginalized groups must stand together, and unite together in support of black communities in America, in support of refugee communities in Europe, in support of immigrants and minorities the world over, since we are all threatened by today’s rise of fascism. This means educating ourselves about the struggles of marginalized groups in other countries, advocating on their behalf both at home and abroad, and firmly renouncing the ideologies that oppress them.

1936 was a turning point in history, and what happened after is in part due to the refusal of many to look beyond their own borders and support the causes of oppressed peoples elsewhere, through activism, diplomacy, or military means. Eighty years later, 2016 is a turning point too, and whether it will be characterized by a rejection or an embrace of international solidarity is up to us.