As a reaction to the great depression of the 1930s, many countries introduced labour services. These institutions organized unemployed persons for unskilled work projects for the common good. Labour services focused on unemployed youth and had an explicit educational dimension. In the 1930s, nazi germany offered the most important example of a labour service in practice. Therefore, all democratic countries with a labour service faced the problem of delimitation. This article examines the discussions and politics surrounding the labour services in the usa and sweden against the backdrop of the ‘fascist model’. The transnational comparative study analyses how these two western democracies reacted to this challenge. It demonstrates that the perceptions of the nazi labour service left a deep imprint on both democratic societies. Moreover, there are many parallels in the way in which the third reich impinged on their social policies in the 1930s and 1940s.