In Germany, no club had been formed before 1927, because of opposition from the continental clubs. For a while after 1933, Rotary clubs “met with approval” by Nazi authorities, and were considered to offer “opportunity for party comrades … to provide enlightenment regarding the nature and policy of the National Socialist movement.” The Nazis, although they saw international organizations as suspect, had authorized NSDAP members to be members of Rotary through the Nazi Party’s court rulings issued in 1933, 1934 and 1936. In 1937, more than half the German Rotarians were Nazi Party members.
Six German clubs were formed after Hitler came to power. They came under pressure almost immediately to expel their Jewish members.
Rotary Clubs do not appear to have had a unified policy towards the Nazi regime: while several German Rotary clubs decided to disband their organizations in 1933, others practiced a policy of appeasement or collaborated. In Munich the club removed from its members’ list a number of Rotarians, Jewish and non-Jewish, who were politically unacceptable for the regime, including Thomas Mann (already in exile in Switzerland). Twelve members resigned in sympathy with the expelled members.
Beginning in 1937, however, hostile articles were published in the Nazi press about Rotary, comparing Rotary with Freemasonry. Soon after that, the incompatibility between Nazism and the international humanitarian organization resulted in two decisions which would jeopardize the existence of Rotary in Germany: in June 1937, the ministry of the interior forbade civil servants to be members of the Rotary; in July, the NSDAP’s party court reversed its previous rulings and declared Party and Rotarian membership incompatible as from January 1938.
Rotary’s cause was advocated before the NSDAP party court by Dr. Grill, Governor for the Rotary 73rd district, arguing that the German Rotary was compliant with the goals of the Nazi government, and had excluded Freemasons in 1933 and non-Aryans in 1936. Other attempts were made, also by foreign Rotarians, but appeasement failed this time, and, in September 1937, the 73rd district dissolved itself. Subsequently, the charter of German clubs was withdrawn by Rotary International, although some clubs continued to meet “privately.”
Rotary Clubs in Spain ceased to operate shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Clubs were disbanded across Europe as follows:
• Austria (1938) • Italy (1939) • Czechoslovakia (1940)
• Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Luxembourg (1941) • Hungary (1941/2)
In The Netherlands, Rotary was forbidden after the occupation by the German troops in 1940 and could only be reinstalled after its liberation in 1945.