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The Onset of War Closed Clubs in the 1930s and 1940s

In the same way as the Board of Directors of Rotary international issues charters, so it can revoke or cancel charters where for specific reasons, any club does not, or can not, operate within the accepted rules and style of a Rotary Club. Most frequently this has occurred in countries where a totalitarian regime has forbidden meetings of Rotary and similar clubs.  

Thus, "in July 1936 almost immediately after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Rotary Clubs in that country ceased to operate" (Board minutes January 1940). At first, the Board of Directors did nothing directly about this but at their meeting in mid-July 1936 the Board recorded, that, "It appears that there are or may be occasions when the board would be fully justified in canceling the charter of a club in the ENAEM region **. Such cancellations should be made, of course, with the same due deliberation that has always characterized the procedure of the board in such instances." At this meeting, the members of the board resident in the region were authorized to act in canceling club charters, subject to a unanimous vote of those members. 

In practice, RI ceased to maintain contact with the 28 Spanish clubs although still counting them among their total of clubs in the world. However, following a report in June 1939 by RI President Maurice Duperrey, 1937-38, the cancellation of Spanish charters was agreed to, and by a decision of the full board in January 1940, effective immediately, the 2 in the Canaries and 24 in Spain, and the Tetuan club in Spanish Morocco had their membership officially terminated. At the same time, the general "secretary was released from any further obligation to obtain the charters issued to these clubs". 

It was also possible for clubs to resign from Rotary International upon the return of their certificate of membership to the General Secretary of RI. In Germany, the National Socialist Party (the Nazi party) decreed that membership of the party was not compatible with membership of a Rotary club, and by December 31, 1937, party members had to withdraw from Rotary. As a result, all the clubs in Germany and in Danzig resigned and officially disbanded, except for four; Gorlitz, Liegnitz, Heilbronn and Garmisch, none of which returned their charters. Although they did not actually exist, they remained nominally on the records of RI. By contrast, a similar situation occurred in Austria following the country's occupation by Germany in 1938, where four clubs failed to surrender their charters. These were Innsbruck, Vienna, Villach and Wiener-Neustadt. However, a Board meeting in June 1938 terminated their membership anyway! 

In January 1940, the Board officially terminated the membership of the 39 clubs in Czechoslovakia. Some clubs had effectively ceased to exist after September 1938, and after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, all the others closed. The Board recognized this at their meeting in June 1939. 

The pattern was continually repeated elsewhere, as the German war machine rolled across Europe. In January 1941, the Board recognized the dissolution of the clubs in Estonia (3), Latvia (2), Lithuania (2), Poland (10), Luxembourg (1), Norway and the Netherlands (34). It also meant writing off various payments for goods supplied or per capita taxes due from these closed clubs. In June 1941 following a law passed that country in January 1941, the seven clubs in Bulgaria had their charters cancelled and  one year later those in Belgium, Yugoslavia, Greece, Belgium and Roumania followed suit.  The effect of all these closures led to some districts being removed from the list and the boundaries of others withdrawn.

It was not just the Germans who were repressing Rotary. In Italy the Fascist government of Mussolini also took action against Rotary and in January 1939, the Board accepted that District 46, covering Italy, no longer had any active clubs in it and consequently the number was voided.  

Next to go was Hungary where most clubs had already closed by the out break of the war but three, Budapest, Pecs and Szeged, had continued to meet. Towards the end of 1941, Szeged stopped functioning, Budapest decided to suspend activities for a year and in view of the situation, the District Governor had resigned his office. By a meeting in June 1942, the Board accepted the position and District 82 and the clubs in it were struck off the list. 

While this was going on in Europe, there were problems for Rotary in the Far East. Even before Pearl Harbor, Japanese activities in China had led to "the advisory committees in Districts 70, 71 and 72 (Japan and the Rotary clubs of Dairen, Pusan, Harbin., Heijyo, Keijo, Mukden and Taikyu) making formal announcements of the disbandment of the Rotary Clubs in the territory comprising thse districts." (Board minutes January 1941). Of the 48 clubs involved, 31 returned their charters and the remaining 17 were reported to be either lost or destroyed. The Board "with deep regret" deleted the three districts and their constituent clubs from the lists. Some Japanese clubs did continue informal meetings throughout the war years.  

As happened in Europe with German occupation, the advance of the Japanese armies led to a Board meeting in January 1944 at which the members recognized the position in the Far East. Three more districts, 79, 80 and 81, no longer had any functioning clubs and "that there was no prospect of their reorganizing or resuming activity in the near future." (Board minutes). As a result, the Board terminated the membership of clubs in Borneo, Celebes, Java, Sumatra, the Federated Malay States, Sarawak, the Straits Settlements, Thailand, and The Philippines. Additionally the Board recognized that because of Japanese occupation, four clubs in Burma and a further sixteen in China were no longer able to function as well as ones in Hong Kong and Guam. All were to be deleted from lists of Rotary International clubs. As before, this also meant writing off various payments for goods supplied or per capita taxes due from these closed clubs. 

At the same meeting in January 1944, it was also accepted that all the clubs in that part of France, which had been occupied by the Germans, as opposed to that part which had been under Vichy control, were no longer operative. The board listed 47 such clubs. 

There is one curious omission from these lists of wartime closures. The Germans also occupied the Channel Islands and the clubs there, which were visited by Paul Harris in 1937, were unable to continue meetings until the Germans left the islands.

See RC Jersey

They were the only clubs in RIBI so affected. 

**ENAEM: European, North African and Eastern Mediterranean Region of Rotary international 

Basil Lewis Rotary Global History 16 March 2003
Updated for Jersey, February 2009

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