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A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group, such as a nation, from within, to the aid of an external enemy.


The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War. As his army approached Madridmarker, he broadcast a message that the four columns of his forces outside the city would be supported by a "fifth column" of his supporters inside the city, intent on undermining the Republican government from within (see Siege of Madrid).

In fact, this supposed "fifth column" did not prove very effective, as evidenced by the fact that Madrid held out until 1939 despite very heavy fighting. Nevertheless, the term caught on and was used extensively, especially by those fighting the Fascists and Nazis. It was especially in wide use in Britainmarker in the early stages of the Second World War. Their fear of the "fifth Column" was used as justification for the mass internment, on the Isle of Manmarker, of German nationals who resided in the United Kingdom. The United Statesmarker and Canada interned Japanese citizens around the same time (early 1940's) using similar justification.


With the grain requisition crises, famines, troubled economic conditions and international destabilization in the 1930s, the leaders of the Soviet Unionmarker became increasingly worried about the possible disloyalty of diaspora ethnic groups with cross-border ties (especially Finns, Germans and Poles), residing along its western borders; this eventually led to the start of Stalin's repressive policies towards them, most notably to the national operations of the NKVD and forced population transfer.

In Europe German minority organisations in Poland and Czechoslovakia formed the Selbstschutz, which actively helped the Third Reich in conquering those nations. After 1945, this was cited as justification for the wholesale expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakiamarker, Polandmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, as well as TA return to these countries of territories which had been annexed by Germany.

Modern usage

See also


  • "The Saturnalia" ǢBKLYN ŁCA ŶBEIJING: 5th Column Ministry of Info, 1900
  • "The German Fifth Column in Poland" London: Polish Ministry of Info, 1941
  • "Fifth Column at Work" by Bohumil Bilek, description of German minority in Czechoslovakia, London, Trinity, 1945.
  • "The German Fifth Column in the Second World War" Jong, Louis de New York Fertig, 1973
  • "The Fifth Column, and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War" New York Scribner, 1969
  • Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a selection with commentary by Richard Minnear (New Press, 2001; ISBN 1-56584-704-0).

Pop Culture

In the ABC show V, a group of rebel aliens call themselves "The Fifth Column".


  1. fifth column. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 14, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  2. Martin, Terry (1998). The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing. The Journal of Modern History 70 (4), 813-861.
  3. "North Koreans in Japan have long been vilified as a communist fifth column" (Hans Greimel, "Test sparks N. Korea Backlash in Japan", Associated Press dispach, October 24, 2006 [1])
  4. "... a fifth column, a league of traitors" (Evelyn Gordon, " No longer the political fringe", Jerusalem Post Sep 14, 2006)
  5. "[Avigdor Lieberman] compared Arab MKs to collaborators with Nazis and expressed the hope that they would be executed." (Uzi Benziman, " For want of stability", Ha'aretz undated)
  6. "We were shocked to hear of the intentions of enemies from the inside..." (Ronny Sofer, " Yesha rabbis: Majadele is like a fifth column", Ynetnews October 19, 2007)
  7. "[George Galloway] looks like a moderate next to Israeli fifth columnists like Bishara." (David Bedein, " Israel's Unrepentant Fifth Columnist", Israel Insider April 13, 2007)
  8. "The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb." (Ari Shavit, " Survival of the fittest", Ha'aretz September 1, 2004)
  9. "... many Israeli Jews view Israeli Arabs as a security and demographic threat." (Evelyn Gordon, " 'Kassaming' coexistence", Jerusalem Post May 23, 2007)
  10. "Why is Arab criticism always labeled as conspiracy to destroy Israel?" (Abir Kopty, " Fifth column forever?", Ynetnews April 7, 2007)
  11. "... they hurl accusations against us, like that we are a 'fifth column.'" (Roee Nahmias, " Arab MK: Israel committing 'genocide' of Shiites", Ynetnews August 2, 2006)

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