Anti-Bolshevik Crusaders

How the fascists of interwar Europe advertised their ‘crusade’ against Bolshevism (part one)

Some months before the invasion of the Soviet Union commenced, Hitler eagerly assured his allies and underlings of the ease with which the “Jewish empire” would crumble if given a little nudge — ‘We only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.’

Some months later, once Operation Barbarossa had begun and the conquest of the East seemed imminent (as imminent as it was ever going to seem), Hitler spoke with glee to Slavko Kvaternik, one of the founders of Croatia’s fascist Ustaše movement and later the country’s War Minister, of how ‘the struggle against Bolshevism has united all of Europe’.

To an extent this was true — by the mid-thirties, and certainly by the early 40s, the “crusade” against Bolshevism had become something of a trope in the far-right’s propaganda art and literature. White Russian propagandists had pioneered the crusader-style during the civil war with their depictions of chivalrous feats of Bolshevik dragon-slaying (see below). The fascists of the thirties and forties were to become the heirs to this trope. The far-right of interwar Europe was far from homogenous but one of the attributes that bound the movements and parties together was their violent paranoia concerning all things Bolshevism and a belief that only a pan-European crusade could purge Europe of the menace.

This crusader spirit obviously reached it crescendo with the planning and execution of Operation Barbarossa. It was not to be a typical war: civilians were targets as much as troops and partisans as the Nazis sent the murderous Einsatzgruppen out to murder indiscriminately behind the Wehrmacht’s advance. Nor was it to be fought with any of the chivalry idealised in Barbarossa’s era: the Nazis’ anti-Bolshevik crusade was to be pitiless, with its orchestrators ordered to ‘dispense with all their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry’ and conduct the crusade with ‘unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness’.

Hitler’s pursuit of Lebensraum served more practical ends than the more abstract aggrandising of Christendom that Barbarossa and his crusaders sought, but propaganda from the Third Reich borrowed a great deal from Europe’s knightly heritage, as you can see below. Clockwise: on the left is Hubert Lanzinger’s famous ‘Der Bannerträger’ (The Standard Bearer), on the right two postcards from 1934 and 36 respectively and below two more propaganda pieces, the first from a rally in 1936 and the second from a Veterans’ Day celebration in Saxony, 1936.

Bolshevism featured prominently in fascist propaganda through the 1930s, though in Nazi Germany it paused for the two years between the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and the surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. However, with the subsequent occupation of nations spanning from France to Lithuania there came a fresh wave of propaganda urging cooperation in the anti-Bolshevik crusade:

Clockwise: the first is from Lithuania and reads, “Fight Bolshevism! Common struggle, common victory!” The second, from Estonia, urges viewers to join the anti-Bolshevik legion. The third, from Belgium, calls for recruits to help the Waffen-SS bludgeon pitiful dragons to death. The fourth is a Frikorps Danmark recruitment poster calling for Danes to help fight and crush Bolshevism and the final one, published in the Netherlands, calls too for help in “the struggle against Bolshevism”.

There’s a silly amount of this crusader-style propaganda, especially from Norway and France, so I’m going to write a second part in the (hopefully) near-future!