European turmoil

Rise of the dictatorships

The rise of the Nazi party in German after the First World War was one of the most notable events in a turbulent period of European history..

The years between 1918 and 1939 were marked by unprecedented upheaval in Europe, a turbulent period that witnessed the aftermath of World War I, the rise and fall of new nations, a series of wars and conflicts, assassinations that shook the continent, uprisings and pogroms, and the intense ideological struggle between communism and fascism.

This era was a crucible of intense human emotions and cataclysmic events that shaped the course of history. In this comprehensive narrative, we delve into the complex tapestry of this pivotal time, exploring the major personalities who emerged as architects of change and destruction.

Aftermath of the First World War 

The conclusion of the First World War in 1918 brought both relief and uncertainty to Europe. While the Armistice was hailed as a moment of respite, it also left the continent grappling with the repercussions of one of the deadliest conflicts in history.

Nations were in disarray, economies lay in ruins, and millions of lives had been lost. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, sought to lay the groundwork for peace but, in reality, sowed the seeds for future conflicts.

The Treaty's punitive measures against Germany, including massive reparations and territorial losses, fuelled resentment among the German populace and paved the way for the rise of extremism.

Amidst this turmoil, new nations emerged from the wreckage of empires, their borders and identities still fluid.

French soldiers on the battlefield during an offensive on the French fortress of Verdun.

In total, more than 700,000 people were killed or injured on both the French and German sides during this battle, with casualties split almost evenly between them.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

32 Colorized Images That Reveal The Horrors Of World War 1 (

Central and Eastern Europe witnessed the birth of nations like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland, but their existence was far from secure, as they faced territorial disputes and internal strife.

Wars and conflicts

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, imposed harsh penalties on Germany, sowing the seeds of discontent that would sprout into bitter resentment and nationalist fervor. In the German psyche, the treaty was a symbol of humiliation and injustice, paving the way for Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Party.

In the east, the Russian Civil War raged from 1917 to 1922. Bolshevik forces, led by Vladimir Lenin, emerged victorious, establishing the Soviet Union—a communist superpower that would become a thorn in the side of capitalist Europe.

A guard of Bolshevik fighters in 1919 outside an agit-train or agitation train (agitpoezd) after the October Revolution of 1917. During the Civil War, or War Communism period, these trains were used to spread propaganda and carried printing presses to make political leaflets and pamphlets to spread the ideals of the new regime around the remote parts of Russia, Ukraine and Siberia.

Viacheslav Peregudov / Mediadrum

New colour images of Russian Revolution including Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II | Daily Mail Online

Meanwhile, ethnic and territorial tensions smoldered in Central and Eastern Europe. The Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 marked a violent struggle for borders and identity, ultimately leading to Poland's independence.

Throughout the 1920s, economic turmoil gripped the continent. Hyperinflation plagued Germany, while soaring unemployment and poverty engulfed many European nations. In the face of adversity, extremist ideologies gained traction. Fascism in Italy, under Benito Mussolini, and Nazism in Germany both sought to exploit people's discontent.

 A Reich Youth Rally in Potsdam, 1932. The inter war years saw the sinister rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

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In 1936, the Spanish Civil War erupted, pitting the leftist Republican faction against General Francisco Franco's Nationalists. Europe became a battleground for ideological warfare, with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany backing opposing sides, foreshadowing the continent's future entanglement in global conflict.

As the 1930s wore on, appeasement became the preferred strategy of European powers toward Hitler's aggressive ambitions.

The Munich Agreement of 1938, which allowed Nazi Germany to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland, proved to be a futile attempt to appease Hitler, emboldening his quest for further expansion.

A contemporary cartoon highlighting the policy of appeasement which led to the Munich Agreement: The ultimately failed attempt to sacrifice of the Czech Republic in order to avoid another war breaking out in Europe.

Assassinations and Political Instability

While the bullets of the Great War had ceased to fly, a new breed of assassins took centre stage, triggering chaos and claiming the lives of influential figures. From 1919 to 1938, the continent witnessed a grim parade of targeted killings and internal strife, painting a haunting portrait of a troubled era.

One of the earliest blows came on January 15, 1919, when Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, prominent leaders of the German Communist Party, met their tragic fate. Their murders at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries, the Freikorps, foreshadowed the turbulent years ahead for Germany.

Members of the Freikorps with a British Mk IV tank, captured by the German army in WW1 now used by the Freikorps during the suppression of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, in January 1919. Members of the government-backed Freikorps were responsible for the assassination of the leaders of the German Communist party:  Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. 

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(23) Members of the Freikorps with a british Mk IV tank, captured by the german army in WW1 now used by the Freikorps during the supression of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, in January 1919. : Colorization (

Amidst the rise of fascism in Italy, Benito Mussolini, a charismatic demagogue, seized power in 1922. However, his dictatorial regime did not deter dissenters. On October 31, 1926, an attempt on Mussolini's life by Anteo Zamboni, a 15-year-old anarchist, failed, but the message was clear: political tensions had reached a boiling point.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Weimar Republic in Germany struggled to maintain stability. Political extremists on both the left and right targeted key figures. On August 24, 1921, Walter Rathenau, a Jewish industrialist and Foreign Minister, fell victim to an assassination plot hatched by right-wing nationalists, a chilling harbinger of the Holocaust to come.

As Europe's political fabric continued to unravel, Spain grappled with turmoil. On July 13, 1936, General José Castillo, a prominent supporter of the Spanish Republic, was assassinated in Madrid. His death added fuel to the fire of the Spanish Civil War, propelling the nation into an abyss of bloodshed and ideological conflict.

The specter of assassinations loomed large over Poland too. On May 12, 1926, Prime Minister Wincenty Witos survived an assassination attempt in Warsaw. Poland's delicate political balance hung in the balance, as power struggles and discontent persisted.

In Austria, the seeds of radicalism took root. On February 15, 1934, the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss fell victim to a Nazi-led assassination attempt, leaving the nation teetering on the brink of totalitarianism.

These assassinations were not isolated events but symptoms of deeper societal and political fractures. Economic woes, ideological divisions, and disillusionment with existing systems created fertile ground for the rise of radical ideologies and their ruthless adherents.

Pogroms and uprisings

As economic and political instability spread across Europe, social unrest erupted in various forms. consuming communities in a frenzy of violence and hatred. , From 1919 to 1938, the continent bore witness to the darkest expressions of human nature, as ancient grievances, nationalism, and xenophobia collided to tragic effect.

In the aftermath of the Great War, Russia descended into chaos, providing fertile ground for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The ensuing Russian Civil War saw uprisings spreading like an epidemic across the vast nation. On the night of July 16-17, 1918, the Romanov dynasty met its brutal end with the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Yekaterinburg, marking the epitaph of a centuries-old imperial rule.

In Hungary, the Hungarian Soviet Republic briefly took power in 1919, led by Béla Kun, but was eventually suppressed by anti-communist forces.

The rise of the Nazi regime in Germany stoked the embers of hatred against Jewish communities. During the infamous "Night of Broken Glass" on November 9-10, 1938, Kristallnacht erupted as a state-sanctioned pogrom against Jews. Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were targeted, foreshadowing the Holocaust that would soon engulf the continent.

In Central and Eastern Europe, tensions simmered between ethnic communities, leading to violent outbursts. In Romania, the Pogrom of Bucharest in January 1920 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Jews and left countless others wounded and traumatized.

The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) saw violent uprisings against British rule. On November 21, 1920, the Croke Park massacre in Dublin saw British forces open fire during a Gaelic football match, killing 14 civilians and a player, further fueling the flames of Irish resistance.

Spain was not immune to upheaval. The Asturian miners' strike of 1934 saw a brutal government response, resulting in hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction, marking a chilling foreshadowing of the Spanish Civil War.

The Balkans, known for its powder keg of ethnic tensions, experienced deadly clashes. In March 1933, the Gavrilovic Pogrom in Yugoslavia claimed numerous victims in a frenzy of bloodshed and hatred.

These uprisings and pogroms serve as stark reminders of humanity's capacity for cruelty and intolerance. Ethnic, religious, and political divisions acted as volatile accelerants, creating a vicious cycle of violence and reprisals.

In conclusion, from 1919 to 1938, Europe was engulfed by a series of uprisings and pogroms that left scars on the continent's collective memory. These tragic events were fueled by nationalism, religious intolerance, and socio-economic grievances, offering cautionary tales of the consequences of unchecked hatred and violence.

Communism vs. Fascism: Ideological Struggle

During this period, Europe found itself embroiled in a bitter ideological struggle that would define the continent's destiny for decades. From 1919 to 1938, political ideologies clashed like titans on a battlefield, vying for dominance over hearts and minds in a tumultuous era of political upheaval and social transformation.

In the Soviet Union, the spark of communism ignited into an inferno under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks. On December 30, 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was born, becoming the world's first communist state. Marxism-Leninism became the guiding force, seeking to reshape society and extinguish the flames of capitalism.

In stark contrast, Italy's Benito Mussolini championed the cause of fascism, a virulent blend of nationalism and authoritarianism. On October 28, 1922, Mussolini's March on Rome culminated in his appointment as Prime Minister, heralding a dark era of totalitarian rule.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) fanned the embers of discontent in Germany. On January 30, 1933, Hitler assumed the Chancellorship, beginning a relentless pursuit of Aryan supremacy and genocidal ambitions that would plunge the world into chaos.

But the ideological storm was not limited to the left and right extremes. In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party, founded in 1900, gained momentum, seeking a more equitable society through democratic socialism. Their struggle culminated in the landslide victory of the Labour government in 1924, under Ramsay MacDonald, representing a stark departure from the traditional political landscape.

Amidst this ideological maelstrom, liberal democracies fought for survival. The Weimar Republic in Germany, established in 1919, faced unrelenting challenges from both left-wing and right-wing extremist forces, culminating in Adolf Hitler's ascent to power in 1933.

Spain, a nation teetering on the edge of an abyss, grappled with political fragmentation. The ideological tug-of-war between Republicans and Nationalists eventually erupted into the Spanish Civil War, a brutal conflict that laid bare the continent's ideological fault lines.

These ideological struggles were the soul of Europe's tumultuous interwar period. The forces of communism, fascism, socialism, and liberalism clashed, threatening to rip the continent apart. The consequences of these clashes, ultimately leading to the Second World War, were a stark reminder of the human cost of ideological extremism and the fragility of democracy.

The path to war

The tumultuous politics, uprisings, and upheavals that gripped Europe from 1919 to 1938 paved the treacherous path to First World War, where cataclysmic forces collided, leaving the continent on the brink of catastrophe.

The Treaty of Versailles, a bitter pill forced down Germany's throat in 1919, sowed seeds of resentment and economic turmoil, providing fertile ground for extremist ideologies to flourish. Hitler's Nazi Party in Germany and Mussolini's Fascist regime in Italy capitalized on people's discontent, promising glory and vengeance.

Simultaneously, Europe grappled with internal strife and territorial disputes, further straining already fragile alliances. Spain's Civil War (1936-1939) became a battlefield for ideologies, as foreign powers intervened, previewing the broader conflicts to come.

Appeasement, a shortsighted strategy embraced by European powers to pacify aggressors, only emboldened Hitler's expansionist ambitions. The Munich Agreement of 1938, sacrificing Czechoslovakia to Nazi aggression, epitomized the fatal complacency that allowed the inferno of war to ignite.

In 1939, the world reeled as Germany invaded Poland, setting the stage for a global conflict. The politics of appeasement, the internal uprisings, and the spectre of extreme ideologies collided, sparking First World War—a tempest that would engulf the world and scar Europe forever.

Further reading