The Nazi Terror
Hitler’s dreaded secret police, the Gestapo, ruthlessly crushed opposition to the Nazi Party. The Gestapo arrested anyone suspected of opposing Nazism in Germany and in German-held territories.
To free German men for combat, the Gestapo recruited workers from occupied countries. Millions of Europeans were eventually forced to work long hours under territories conditions in German war plants. Many died of mistreatment or starvation.
The Nazis brutally persecuted several groups, including Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs. By 1942, Hitler had started a campaign to murder all European Jews.
The Nazis rounded up Jewish men, women, and children from occupied Europe and shipped them in boxcars to concentration camps. About 6 million Jews died in concentration camps during World War II. Many were moved down by firing squads or killed in groups in gas chambers. Others died of lack of food, disease, or torture.
The Nazis also slaughtered many Poles, Gypsies, and members of other groups.
In the countries, conditions on the home front depended on the nearness of the fighting and on the length of the war effort. Conditions were especially difficult in the Soviet Union, where fierce fighting went on for nearly four years.
Stalin ordered retreating Soviet soldiers to burn everything in their path that German troops could use for food or shelter. But that scorched-earth policy also caused great hardships for the Soviet people. Millions of Soviet civilians died of famine and other war-related causes.
In the Ukraine and areas occupied by the Soviet Union, many of the people at first welcomed the conquering German troops. They believed that the Germans would deliver them from Stalin’s harsh rule.
But the cruelty of the Nazi occupation forces turned the people against them. During the war, civilians and soldiers in the Soviet Union fought the Germans with a hatred and determination seldom matched elsewhere in Europe.
The civilian population of Great Britain also united whole heartedly behind the war plants and accepted severe shortages of nearly all goods. Prime Minister Churchill inspired the British people with his stirring worlds.
Life was especially had in the countries under Nazi rule. Germany looted conquered lands to feed its own people and fuel its war effort. Opponents of Nazism lived in constant fear of Gestapo brutality.
Japan come closet to collapse of all the warring nations. As the Allies closed in, they deprived Japan pf more and more of the raw materials needed by the country’s industries. American bombers pounded Japan’s cities, and the American submarines sank Japanese cargo ships.
By 1945, hunger and malnutrition were widespread in Japan. But the Japanese people remained willing to make enormous sacrifices for the war effort.
Consequences of the War
Deaths and Destruction
World War II took more lives and caused more destruction than any other war. All together, about 70 million people served in the armed forces of the Allied and Axis nations. About 17 million of them lost their lives. The Soviet Union suffered about 7 ½ million battle deaths, more than any other country. The United States and Great Britain had the fewest battle deaths of the major powers. About 400,000 American and about 350,000 British military personnel died in the war. Germany lost about 3 ½ million service men, and Japan lost about 1 ¼ million.
Aerial bombing during World War II rained destruction on civilian as well as military targets. Many cities lay it ruins by the end of the war, especially in Germany and Japan. Bombs wrecked houses, factories, and transportation and communication systems. Land battles also spread destruction over vast areas.
After the war, millions of starving and homeless people wandered among the ruins of Europe and Asia.
No one knows how many civilians died as a direct result of World War II.
Bombing raids destroyed many of the records needed to estimate those deaths.
In addition, millions of people died in fires, of diseases, and of other causes after such essential services as firefighting and health care broke down in in war-torn areas.
The Soviet Union and China suffered the highest toll of civilian deaths during World War II. As many as 20 million Soviet civilians and as many as 10 million Chinese civilians may have died. Many of the deaths resulted from famine.
World War II uprooted millions of people. By the end of the war, more than 12 million displaced persons remained in Europe. They included orphans, prisoners of war, survivors of Nazi Concentration and slave labor camps, and people who had fled invading armies and war-torn areas. Others were displaced by charges in national borders. For example, many Germans moved into Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other lands in eastern Europe that the Nazis took over. After the war, those countries expelled German residents.
To help displaced persons, the Allies established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Began operating in 1944 in areas freed by the Allies from Nazi occupation.
The organization set up camps, for displaced persons and provided them with food, clothing and medical supplies. By 1947, most of the displaced persons had been resettled. However, about a million people remained in camps. Many had fled from countries in eastern Europe and refused to return to homelands that had come under Communist rule.
Next power struggles arose after World War II ended. The War had exhausted the leading prewar powers of Europe and Asia. Germany and Japan ended the war in complete defeat, and Great Britain and France were weakened. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from the was as the world’s leading powers. Their wartime alliance soon collapsed as the Soviet Union sought the spread communism in Europe and Asia.
The struggle between the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, and the non-communist world led by the United States, is known as the Cold War. The United States fought the Axis to preserve democracy. After the war, the Americans found it impossible to return to the policy of isolation their country had followed before the war. The Americans realized that they needed strong allies, and they helped the war-torn nations recover.
World War II had united the Soviet people behind a great patriotic effort. The Soviet Union came out of the war stronger than ever before, despite the severe destruction it had suffered. Before the war ended, the Soviet Union had absorbed three nations along the Baltic Sea-Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
It had also taken parts of Poland, Romania, Finland and Czechoslavakia by mid-1945. At the end of the war, the Soviet troops occupied most of eastern Europe. In March 1946, Winston Churchill warned that an “Iron Curtain” had described across Europe, dividing Eastern Europe from Western Europe.
Behind the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union helped Communist governments take power in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Communism also gained strength in the Far East. The Soviet Union setup a Communist government in North Korea after the war. In China, Mao Zedong’s Communist forces battled Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist armies. In late 1949, Chiang fled to the island of Taiwan, and China joined the Communist world.
By 1947, the Communists threatened to take control of Greece, and the Soviet Union was demanding military bases in Turkey. That same year, President Truman announced that the United States would provide military and economic aid to any country threatened by Communism. American aid helped Greece and Turkey resist Communist aggression.
In 1948, the United States setup the Marshall Plan to help war-torn nations in Europe rebuild their economies. Under the plan, 18 nations received $13 billion in food, machinery, and other goods. The Soviet Union forbade countries in Eastern Europe to participate in the Marshall Plan.
The Nuclear Age opened with the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Many people believed that weapons capable of mass destruction would make war unthinkable in the future. They hoped that the world would learn to live in peace. But a race to develop ever more powerful weapons soon began. At the end of World War II, the United States knew how to build an atomic weapon. In 1946, the US proposed the creation of an international agency that would control atomic energy and ban the production of nuclear weapons. But the Soviet Union objected to an inspection system, and the proposal was dropped. Stalin ordered the Soviet Scientists to develop an atomic bomb, and they succeeded in 1949. During the early 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union each tested an even more destructive weapon, the hydrogen bomb.
People have feared a nuclear war since the nuclear age began. At times, Cold War tensions have threatened to erupt into war between the two superpowers. But the terrifying destructiveness of nuclear weapons may well have kept them from risking a major war.
Establishing the Peace
Birth of the United Nations (UN)
Out if the horror of World War II came efforts to prevent war from ever again engulfing the world. In 1943, representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and China met in Moscow.
They agreed to establish an international organization that would work to promote peace. The Four Allied Powers met again in 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks, an estate in Washington DC.
The delegates decided to call the new organization the United Nations. In April 1945, representatives from 50 nations gathered in San Francisco, CA, to draft a charter for the United Nations. They signed the charter in June, and it went into effect on October 24.
Peace with Germany
Before the war ended, the Allies had decided in a military occupation of Germany after its defeat. They divided Germany into four zones, with the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France each occupying a zone. The four powers administered Berlin.
At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the Allie set forth their occupation policy. They agreed to abolish Germany’s armed forced and to outlaw the Nazi Part. Germany’s lost territory east of the Oder and Neisse rivers. Most of the region went to Poland. The Soviet Union gained the northeastern corner of this territory.
The Allies brought to trial Nazi leaders accused of war crimes. The trials exposed the monstrous evils inflicted by Nazi Germany. Many leading Nazis were sentenced to death. The most important war trials took place in the German city of Nuremberg from 1945 to 1946.
Soon after the occupation began, the Soviet Union stopped cooperating with its western Allies. It blocked all efforts to reunite Germany. The Western Allies gradually joined their zones into one economic unit. But the Soviet Union forbade its zone to join.
The city of Berlin lay deep within the Soviet zone of Germany. In June 1948, the Soviet Union sought to drive the Western powers from berlin by blocking all rail, water and highway routes to the city. For over a year, the Western Allies flew in food, fuel, and other goods to Berlin. The Soviet Union finally lifted the Berlin blockade in May 1949, the airlift ended in September.
The Western Allies set up political parties in their zones and held elections.
In September 1949, the three Western zones were combined as the Federal Republic of Germany. It is also known as West Germany. In May 1955, the Western Allies signed a treaty ending the occupation of West Germany and granting the country full independence. But the treaty was not a general peace treaty because the Soviet Union refused to sign it.
The Soviet Union setup a communist government in its zone. In October 1949, the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic, also called East Germany. The Soviet control over East Germany remains strong though the country became officially independent in 1955.
Peace with Japan
The military occupation of Japan began in August 1945. The Americans far outnumbered other troops in the occupation forces because of the key role their country had played in defeating Japan.
General Macarthur directed the occupation as supreme commander for the Allied Nations. He introduced many reforms designed to rid Japan of its military institutions and transform it into a democracy. A Constitution drawn up by MacArthur’s staff took effect in 1947. The Constitution transferred all political rights from the Japanese emperor to the people. In addition, the Constitution granted voting rights to women, and denied Japan’s right to declare war.
The Allied occupation forces brought to trial 25 Japanese war leaders and government officials who were accused of war crimes. Seven of these individuals were executed. The other people who were tried received prison sentences.
In September 1951, the United States and most of the other Allied Nations signed a peace treaty with Japan. The Treaty took away Japan’s overseas empire. But it permitted Japan to rearm. The Allied occupation of Japan ended soon after the nations signed the peace treaty. However, a new peace treaty permitted the United States to keep troops in Japan. China’s Nationalist government signed it own peace treaty with Japan in 1952, and the Soviet Union and Japan also signed a separate peace treaty in 1956.
Peace with other Countries
Soon after World War II ended, the Allies began to draw up peace treaties with Italy and four other countries that had fought with the Axis, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary and Romania. The treaties limited the armed forces of the defeated countries and required them to pay war damages. The treaties also called the territorial changed. Bulgaria gave up territory to Greece and Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia gained land from Hungary. Finland lost territory to the Soviet Union. Italy gave up land to France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The country also lost its empire in Africa. Romania gained territory from Hungary, but in turn it lost land to Bulgaria and the Soviet Union.