Nazi Germany’s place in the wider world is a controversial topic in historiography. While scholars such as Ian Kershaw argue that Hitler’s dictatorship must be understood as a unique national phenomenon, others analyse Nazism within comparative frameworks. Mark Mazower, for example, argues that the international concept of ‘empire’ is useful for comprehending the German occupation of Europe. Using an approach native to transnational cultural studies, my contribution goes a step further: I analyse how the Nazis themselves positioned their regime in a wider international context, and thus gave meaning to it. My main thesis is that, while the Nazis took a broad look at international colonialism, they differentiated considerably between the various national experiences. French and British empire-building, for instance, did not receive the same attention as Japanese and Italian colonial projects. Based on new archival evidence, I show that the act of referring in particular to the Italian example was crucial for the Nazis. On the one hand, drawing strong parallels between Italian colonialism and the German rule of eastern Europe allowed Hitler to recruit support for his own visions of imperial conquest. On the other hand, Italian colonialism served as a blueprint for the Nazis’ plans for racial segregation. The article thus shows the importance of transnational exchange for understanding ideological dynamics within the Nazi regime.