Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds The antisemitic policies implemented by the Nazi regime in the 1930s, and the ensuing anti-Jewish violence reached a culmination during the years of the Second World War with the events of the Holocaust. The Holocaust of European Jewry serves as the most extreme and lethal expression of antisemitism. An estimated six million Jews including 1.5 million children were murdered, a catastrophic loss which, together with the watershed events of the Second World War, changed the face of history. Before we turn to examine the Holocaust and its horrific outcomes, let’s first explore the main developments surrounding World War II in general.
Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds As we have seen during the 1920s and 30s, rivaling political and economic movements alongside ethnic and national groups were clashing around Europe. This caused instability and polarization, of which an extreme expression, was the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, who would draw Europe back into war. Breaking out a mere two decades after the previous war had ended, the Second World War would prove even more devastating. Over the span of less than six years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war.
Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds An estimated 45 to 80 million soldiers and civilians were killed worldwide, among whom were the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust because of their Jewishness. Obsessed with the idea of the superiority of the pure Aryan race, Hitler believed that the war was the only way to gain the necessary Lebensraum or living space for that race to expand. In the mid 1930s, he began the secret rearmament of Germany. The Nazi regime then sent troops to annex Austria in march 1938 and to dismantle Czechoslovakia over the course of the following year. It was also during this time that alliances were signed between Germany and Japan and Italy.
Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds Though the Nazi regime’s actions breached several international treaties and agreements, no one declared war against them. Europe was still recovering from the trauma of the First World War. World’s powers and especially France and England would have done almost anything to prevent another horrific World War. This included tolerating Hitler and adopting a policy of “appeasement.” This would change, following Germany’s invasion of Poland, on September 1st 1939, when, as a response, Poland’s allies France and Britain declared war on Germany. Though this act is generally perceived as the starting point of the Second World War, no Western power committed to launching a land offensive and Poland was swiftly conquered by both Nazi and Soviet forces.
Skip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds The country was subsequently divided between the Soviet Union and Germany. According to a secret agreement, the two countries signed in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact nine days before the invasion. The western part of Poland was annexed to Nazi Germany, the east to the USSR and to the central part, known as General Government , came under the rule of a German civilian occupation regime. Following their victory in Poland, Germany proceeded to successfully and quickly conquer Denmark, Norway Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and, to the world’s astonishment, France. In 1941, following Italy struggle in conquering Greece, Germany, as its ally, stepped in and Greece was also seized, followed by Yugoslavia.
Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds By that point, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the independent state of Croatia and Bulgaria had joined forces with the Nazis and their allies. It is important to point out here that in every region the Germans conquered, their antisemitic racial worldview was implemented, in different forms and to varying degrees depending on the specific location. This would of course bring about disastrous outcomes for the Jewish population of Europe. Returning to the course of the war, after a massive bombing offensive, known as the Blitz, it became clear to Hitler that the struggle to subdue Britain was proving unsuccessful. Nazi Germany then turned
Skip to 4 minutes and 23 seconds its efforts eastward towards its major objective: an invasion of the Soviet Union, whose vast territory would give the German master race the “Lebensraum” it needed as well as further secure the enslavement of the Slavic peoples to the Aryan race. Thus in June 1941, Germany invaded the USSR, nullifying its earlier non-aggression pact. The invasion’s code name was “Operation Barbarossa.” The operation had created an additional Eastern Front. It also marked a major turning point in the nature of the war, turning it into a full-blown “ideological war,” aimed at destroying the perceived “Judeo-Bolshevik” enemy.
Skip to 5 minutes and 3 seconds As we will soon see it will also serve as a major and lethal stage in the development of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi attempt to murder all the Jews in Europe. On December 7th, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a United States naval base in Hawaii. In response, the United States declared war on Japan. It was followed by Germany declaring war on the United States and the United States responding with their own declaration of war on Germany. The war had now escalated to a global scale. At the end of 1941 German expansion was halted with a Soviet counter-offensive in the Eastern Front. Meanwhile, Hitler’s hope of breaking Britain’s supply lines from the US.
Skip to 5 minutes and 45 seconds in the Atlantic Ocean was also failing, as British intelligence deciphered the “Enigma” code machine which had previously enabled German naval superiority in the Atlantic. In North Africa, Germany was also losing its dominance, after the “El Alamein” battle in Egypt during the fall of 1942 and the Allies’ victory in North Africa and the Mediterranean, resulted in the Allies invasion of Italy in July 1943. 1943 brought with it additional losses for the Germans, when in the winter of that year Germany lost the bloody battle of Stalingrad. Soviet forces began progressing westwards. The successful landing of British and American forces in Normandy on June 6th, 1944, known as “D-Day,” marked another crucial turning point in the war.
Skip to 6 minutes and 34 seconds German cities came under heavy allied air strikes, resulting in the death of tens of thousands. During the last days of the war, Soviet forces steadily conquered German territories, closing in from the east, finally conquering Berlin in May, 1945. At the same time, American forces were proceeding from the west, gradually bringing down the last bastions of Nazi resistance. As a result of the collapse of Nazi Germany, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on April 30th, 1945, and Germany surrendered on all fronts on may 8th and 9th.
Skip to 7 minutes and 10 seconds The war continued to rage in the Pacific until Japan’s surrender on August 15th, 1945, following the United States atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two Japanese cities, in which tens of thousands of people were killed. The most gruesome of all wars reached its end after six earth-shattering years.
World War II
Breaking out a mere two decades after the previous war had ended, WWII would prove even more devastating. Over the span of less than six years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. An estimated 45 to 80 million soldiers and civilians were killed worldwide, among whom were the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust because of their Jewishness. Before we turn to examine the Holocaust and its horrific outcomes, let’s first explore the main stages of this war.
For additional visual materials please see “downloads” below.
Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich at War (New York: Penguin Press, 2009).
Murray, Williamson and Allan R. Millett, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 2000).
Rupprecht, Nancy E. and Wendy Koenig, eds., The Holocaust and World War II: In History and In Memory (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012).
Weinberg, Gerhard, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, New Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
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