THERE isn’t much that’ll make Dr Barbara Warnock stop in her tracks, but the image of a woman grasping a Union Jack with a swastika at its centre did.

It was taken at a British Union of Fascists (BUF) event in the 1930s. “It’s quite striking,” Warnock says.

The image is part of a new exhibition, This Fascist Life, at The Wiener Holocaust Library in London.

The National: Why the threat of fascism is not a scourge of the past

It’s been put together in response to what the library calls the growth in strength of right-wing radicalism in Europe and elsewhere – and aims to understand what drew people into the organisations promoting hateful ideologies.

Warnock says there are many parallels between the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the inter-war period and today’s social problems.

And she says that while Oswald Mosley’s BUF failed to garner the same levels of support in Scotland as it did in some areas of England, it was still here.

“We want people to think about the circumstances in which fascism becomes more of a threat,” she told the Sunday National, “and how these ideologies are perhaps spreading through political rhetoric and online dissemination.”

Held in connection with the European Fascist Movements 1918-1941 project, the exhibition looks at how fascist political parties, militia and movements emerged across Europe in the years after the First World War.

United by ultra-nationalist ideas, they supported the accession to power of fascist parties in Italy, Germany and Austria and helped enable German occupations and the Nazis’ policies of persecution and genocide across Europe.

It’s opened during a week in which a 100-year-old former SS guard has gone on trial in Germany on charges of helping to send more than 3500 people to their deaths at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin between 1942 and 1945.

More than 200,000 people died there from 1936 onwards.

Dr Alfred Wiener, whose archives the exhibition draws on, was among the German Jews who fled to safety, and the library that bears his name is the world’s oldest and the UK’s largest archive of original material on the Nazi era and Holocaust.

There’s material on summer camps in Romania, student parades in Austria and pamphlets printed in England.

While anti-Semitism was, Warnock says, “more of a feature of some movements than others”, most championed an idealised male and relegated the female, if they considered women at all. And there’s a shared emphasis on outdoor activity and a rigidly set sense of community.

THE exhibition encourages us to think about where these ideals might flourish now.

The National: Why the threat of fascism is not a scourge of the past

“They all have this fixation with strong male bodies and men as active and heroic. They tended to exclude women, though that varied from country to country, and most of the movements embraced violence,” Warnock says. “The focus on masculinity and the male body is part of the appeal.

“They’re very much trying to create a sense of community. Whilst there were ideological, fanatical people, for ordinary members it was more of a mixed picture; the ideology might be only part of it.

“That’s kind of fascinating. With extremist politics we tend to always think people are constantly thinking about extremist ideas – not necessarily. In some ways, that is more dangerous.

“We are trying to look at what would attract people to join in large numbers and stay members.”

Scottish places with BUF branches included Motherwell and Aberdeen.

“They claimed to have branches throughout Scotland,” says Warnock. “Mosley did visit.

“Compared to somewhere like the East End of London and certain parts of England, despite there being a BUF organisation in Scotland, it didn’t attract that much support.

The National: Sir Oswald Mosley makes his address to the fascist 'Blackshirts', assembled in Victoria Park, London, June 7, 1936. Many fascists and communists were arrested in Victoria Park when thousands of Blackshirts assembled to hear an address by their

Oswald Mosley in Victoria Park, London, on June 7, 1936

“The BUF didn’t understand the specific situation in Scotland. The total lack of understanding around the issues of sectarianism is one reason why they didn’t appeal that much.”

But, she cautions, “they were there, they had meetings, they had protests, there was sometimes violence. It’s not like it was completely absent.”

The far-right Independent Green Voice, founded by former Ukip member Alistair McConnachie, ran in the recent Holyrood election, as did former Britain First figurehead Jayda Fransen, who was branded a fascist by Nicola Sturgeon when the two met on a Glasgow street in May. Neither Fransen nor McConnachie was successful.

A Ben Nevis stunt by the Patriot ­Alternative group this summer met with widespread condemnation.

Warnock doesn’t want to talk about specific figures, but says “we are now seeing a rising threat from far-right groups” in Europe.

She goes on: “While the situation in the inter-war period was specific to then, where you have got situations of economic uncertainty, of political instability, of democratic institutions being eroded, of social problems, it would seem that these are the circumstances in which fascism is more appealing to people.”

Warnock also points to the issue of small boats carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel and “the way that some figures have created a political issue that mainstream politicians have then responded to”.

Meanwhile, Covid has seen an “explosion” in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, she says, and there’s a notable misogyny present in some online spaces. “What we are seeing is, even if they aren’t signed up to anything, there are people online and it’s like a mass membership thing in these shared communities.

“It’s a bit alarming,” she says, “the rise of certain attitudes.”