World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

  Sole national flag of Nazi Germany, 1935–45

The Third Reich

      Deutsches Reich

 Nazi Germany (German: Nazideutschland), also known as the Third Reich (German: Drittes Reich)  are the common English names for Germany when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, 1933-45. Nazi Germany is best known for its aggressive foreign policy, its launching of World War II, and the Holocaust which resulted in the death of millions of European Jews and other minorities deemed a threat to the Aryan race.

On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler legally became chancellor of Germany. Although he initially headed a coalition government, he quickly eliminated his non-Nazi partners and ruled as the sole dictator. The Nazi regime restored economic prosperity and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending while suppressing labor unions and strikes. The return of prosperity gave the regime enormous popularity and made Hitler's rule mostly unchallenged, despite a growing resistance that culminated in the failed 20 July plot in 1944. The Gestapo (secret state police) under Heinrich Himmler destroyed the liberal, Socialist, and Communist opposition and persecuted the Jews. The party took control of the courts, local government, and all civic organizations except the Protestant and Catholic churches.

The Nazi state idolized Hitler as its Führer ("Leader"), centralizing all power in his hands. Nazi propaganda was quite effective in creating what historians call the "Hitler Myth" – that Hitler was all-wise and all-powerful, so that any mistakes or failures by others would be corrected when brought to his attention. In reality, Hitler had a narrow range of interests and decision-making was diffused among overlapping, feuding power centers; on some issues he was passive, simply assenting to pressures from whoever had his ear. All top officials still reported to Hitler and followed his basic policies, but they had considerable autonomy on a daily basis. All expressions of public opinion were controlled by propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, who made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's skillful oratory.

In foreign policy Nazi Germany used a strategy of making aggressive demands, threatening war if they were not met. When nations tried to compromise using appeasement, Hitler accepted the gains that were offered, then moved on to his next goal. That policy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations (1933), rejected the Versailles Treaty and began to re-arm (1935), won back the Saar (1935), remilitarized the Rhineland (1936), formed an alliance ("Axis") with Benito Mussolini's Italy (1936), sent massive military aid to Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), annexed Austria in the Anschluss (1938), took over Czechoslovakia after the British and French appeasement of the Munich Agreement of 1938, signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union to divide up Eastern Europe in August 1939, and finally invaded Poland in September 1939, starting World War II. In 1939-42 Germany conquered most of Europe, intending to establish a "New Order" of complete hegemony, while eliminating Jews and Slavic inhabitants of Eastern Europe.

After stunning German successes in 1941-42 in the East, the Soviets counter-attacked in a series of huge, fierce battles that overwhelmed the Nazis. Germany made ineffective use of its allies and was overrun in 1945 by the Soviets from the East and the Allies from the west. The winners set out to remove all traces of Naziism and put its leadership on trial. Up to 40 million Europeans died as a result of the war. In the 21st century Hitler, Nazism, the Swastika, and the Holocaust are often invoked as symbols of evil in the modern world. Newman and Erber (2002) wrote, "The Nazis have become one of the most widely recognized images of modern evil. Throughout most of the world today, the concept of evil can readily be evoked by displaying almost any cue reminiscent of Nazism ... "

Europe under Nazi expansion

Name and boundaries
The official name of the state was the "German Realm" ("Deutsches Reich") from 1933 to 1943, and the "Greater German Realm" ("Großdeutsches Reich") from 1943 to 1945. The name Deutsches Reich has often been translated in English as "German Empire", but it literally means "German Realm".

The most popular name to refer to this state in English is "Nazi Germany" (German: Nazideutschland), mostly used to differentiate it from other historical German states such as Imperial Germany and Weimar Germany (although there is direct legal continuity between the Weimar and Nazi periods, see below). "Third Reich" (German: Drittes Reich) is another common but informal term, suggesting a historical succession from the medieval Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) and the modern German Empire (1871–1918). This term, although in common usage among many Germans at the time, eventually fell from favor with the Nazi authorities, who banned its continued use by the press in the summer of 1939. Germany had two official names during the Nazi period; "German Reich" (German: Deutsches Reich), which was in use from the Unification of Germany in 1871 onward until 1943, when the regime legally renamed it "Greater German Reich" (German: Großdeutsches Reich).

The German national borders in 1933 were those mapped out by the victors in World War I, at the Treaty of Versailles (1919). To the north, Germany was bounded by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea; to the east, it was divided into two and bordered Lithuania, the Free City of Danzig, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; to the south, it bordered Austria and Switzerland, and to the west, it touched France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Saarland. These borders changed after Germany regained control of the Saarland, transformed itself into Greater Germany by annexing Austria in the Anschluss (1938), and also gained control of the Sudetenland, the remainder of Bohemia and Moravia, and the Memel Territory before the war. Germany expanded further by seizing even more land during World War II, which began in September 1939.

 

Nazi Germany arose in the wake of the national shame, embarrassment, anger and resentment resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), that dictated, to the vanquished Germans, responsibility for:

  • Germany's acceptance of and admission to sole responsibility for causing World War I[15]
  • The permanent loss of various territories and the demilitarization of other German territory[16]
  • The payment by Germany of heavy reparations, in money and in kind, such payments being justified in the Allied view by the War Guilt clause
  • Unilateral German disarmament and severe military restrictions

Other conditions fostering the rise of the Third Reich include nationalism and Pan-Germanism, civil unrest attributed to Marxist groups, hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, the global Great Depression of the 1930s, the reaction against the counter-traditionalism and liberalism of the Weimar Republic and the rise of communism in Germany, i.e. the growth of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Many voters, seeking an outlet for their frustrations and an expression for their repudiation of parliamentary democracy which appeared incapable of keeping a government in power for more than a few months, began supporting far right-wing and far left-wing political parties, opting for political extremists such as the Nazi Party.


Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, January 1933

The Nazis promised strong, authoritarian government in lieu of effete parliamentary republicanism, civic peace, radical economic policy (including full employment), restored national pride (principally by repudiating the Versailles Treaty), and racial cleansing, partly implemented via the active suppression of Jews and Marxists, all in the name of national unity and solidarity rather than the partisan divisions of democracy, and the social class divisiveness of Marxism. The Nazis promised national and cultural renewal based upon Völkisch movement traditionalism and proposed rearmament, repudiation of reparations, and reclamation of territory lost to the Treaty of Versailles.

The Nazi Party claimed that through the Treaty, the Weimar Republic’s liberal democracy, the traitorous “November criminals” had surrendered Germany's national pride by the inspiration and conniving of the Jews, whose goal was national subversion and the poisoning of German blood. To establish that interpretation of recent German history, Nazi propaganda effectively used the Dolchstoßlegende (“Stab-in-the-back legend”) explaining the German military failure.

From 1925 to the 1930s, the German government evolved from a democracy to a de facto conservative–nationalist authoritarian state under war hero-President Paul von Hindenburg, who disliked the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic and wanted to make Germany into an authoritarian state.[20] The natural ally for establishing authoritarianism was the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), "the Nationalists", but after 1929, with the German economy floundering, more radical and younger nationalists were attracted to the revolutionary nature of the National Socialist Party, to challenge the rising popular support for communism. Moreover, the middle-class political parties lost support as the voters aggregated to the left- and right- wings of the German political spectrum, thus making a majority government in a parliamentary system even more difficult.

In the federal election of 1928, when the economy had improved after the hyperinflation of the 1922–23 period, the Nazis won only 12 seats. Two years later, in the federal election of 1930, months after the US stock market crash, the Nazi Party won 107 seats, progressing from ninth-rated splinter group to second-largest parliamentary party in the Reichstag. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats. President Hindenburg was reluctant to confer substantial executive power to Hitler, but former chancellor Franz von Papen and Hitler concorded an NSDAP–DNVP party alliance that would allow Hitler’s chancellorship, subject to traditional-conservative control, to develop an authoritarian state. In the event, Hitler consistently demanded to be appointed chancellor in exchange for Hindenburg’s receiving any Nazi Party support of the cabinets appointed under his authority.

On 30 January 1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany after General Kurt von Schleicher’s failure to form a viable government (see Machtergreifung). Hitler pressured Hindenburg through his son Oskar von Hindenburg and via intrigue by von Papen, former leader of the Catholic Centre Party. By becoming the Vice Chancellor and keeping the Nazis a cabinet minority, von Papen expected to be able to control Hitler. Although the Nazis had won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority of their own, not even with the NSDAP–DNVP alliance that started governing in 1933 by Presidential Decree per Article 48 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution.


The National Socialist treatment of the Jews in the early months of 1933 marked the first step in a longer-term process of removing them from German society. This plan was at the core of Adolf Hitler's "cultural revolution".

 Consolidation of power
Within a few months, the new government installed a single party dictatorship in Germany with legal measures establishing a coordinated central government, (see Gleichschaltung). On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire (the Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside; he was arrested, charged with arson, tried, and then decapitated.). The Nazis claimed that the arson was a signal for a communist uprising and thousands of communist party members were arrested, the party offices raided and all KPD publications banned. The Nazis imprisoned many in the Dachau concentration camp. The Reichstag Fire Decree (27 February 1933), rescinded most German civil liberties including habeas corpus, to so suppress their opponents. While Van der Lubbe had had contacts with communists in Holland, there was no evidence that the KPD was in any way implicated in planning or execution of the fire. The 'Fire Decree' was the second enactment that allowed the Nazi administration to restrict civil liberties. The first was a rule that forbade Germans from 'insulting the flag' and this was used consistently to repress any kind of opposition.

In March 1933, with the Enabling Act, was passed by 444–94 (the remaining Social Democrats), the Reichstag changed the Weimar Constitution to allow Hitler's government to pass laws without parliamentary debate for a four-year period, even such deviating from other articles in the constitution (the Act, forming the legal basis for the regime, was subsequently renewed by Hitler's government in 1937 and 1941). Forthwith, throughout 1934, the Nazi Party ruthlessly eliminated all political opposition; the Enabling Act already had banned the Communists (KPD), the Social Democrats (SPD) were dissolved in June, and in the June–July period, the Nationalists (DNVP), the People's Party (DVP) and the German State Party (DStP) were likewise obliged to disband, their members urged to join the Nazi Party or else leave politics. Moreover, at the urging of Franz von Papen, the remaining Catholic Centre Party disbanded on 5 July 1933 after obtaining Nazi guarantees for Catholic religious education and youth groups. On 14 July 1933, Germany became a de facto single-party state, as the founding of new parties was banned. Further elections in late 1933, 1936 and 1938 were entirely Nazi-controlled and only saw the Nazis and a minor number of independent "guests" (such as Hugenberg) elected for the rubber-stamp legislature.

 Coat of arms of the Weimar Republic, 1928–33, and Nazi Germany, 1933–1935

 Flag of the Weimar Republic, 1919–33

 Flag of Nazi Germany, used jointly with the swastika flag, 1933–35


The Nazi regime abolished the symbols of the Weimar Republic, including the black-red-gold tricolor flag, and adopted new and old imperial symbolism representing the dual nature of Germany’s third empire. The previous, imperial black-white-red tricolor was restored as one of Germany's two official national flags; the second was the swastika flag of the Nazi party which became the sole national German flag in 1935. The national anthem remained Deutschland über Alles (aka the Deutschlandlied, "Song of Germany"), but only the first stanza was sung, immediately followed by the Nazi anthem Horst-Wessel-Lied ("Horst Wessel Song") accompanied by the Nazi salute.

On 30 January 1934, Chancellor Hitler formally centralized government power to himself with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to Rebuild the Reich) by disbanding Länder (federal state) parliaments and transferring states’ rights and administration to the Berlin central government. The centralization began soon after the March 1933 Enabling Act promulgation, when state governments were replaced with Reichsstatthalter (Reich governors). Local government also was deposed; Reich governors appointed mayors of cities and towns with populaces of fewer than 100,000; the Interior Minister appointed the mayors of cities with populaces greater than 100,000; and, in the cases of Berlin and Hamburg (and Vienna after the Anschluss Österreichs in 1938), Hitler had personal discretion to appoint their mayors.

By spring of 1934, only the Reichswehr remained independent of government control; traditionally, it was separate from the national government, a discrete political entity. The leaders of the Nazi paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA, "Storm Detachment") which had well over a million members, had expected to assume command of the German army and absorb the Reichswehr (German Army) into its ranks under Ernst Röhm’s leadership.[26] The Reichswehr opposed Röhm's ambition; moreover, Röhm favoured a "socialist revolution" to complement the "nationalist revolution" and which would in Röhm's view complete the Nazi revolution. Industrialists, who had provided funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Röhm's socialistic goals and weary of SA political violence. Matters came to a head in June 1934 when President Hindenburg, who had the complete loyalty of the Army, informed Hitler that if he didn't move to curb the SA then Hindenburg would dissolve the Government and declare martial law.

At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense, I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years!... Don’t forget how people laughed at me, 15 years ago, when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!
—Adolf Hitler to a British correspondent in Berlin, June 1934.


 March at Reichsparteitag, Nürnberg, 1935.

 Possessing absolute power only in theory without the support of the Reichswehr, and wanting to preserve good relations with both the army and certain politicians and industrialists, Hitler ordered the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo to assassinate his political enemies both in and outside the Nazi Party with the "Night of the Long Knives". The purges of Ernst Röhm, his SA cohort, the Strasserist, left-wing Nazis, and other political enemies lasted from 30 June to 2 July 1934. While some Germans were shocked by the killing, many others saw Hitler as the one who restored "order" to the country.

Upon the death of Hindenburg, on 2 August 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag consolidated the offices of Reichspräsident (Reich President) and Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor), and reinstalled Adolf Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). After the "Night of the Long Knives" and Hindenburg’s death, the Reichswehr was prepared to accept Hitler's leadership. As Hitler had announced plans to rearm and increase the size of the Reichswehr, the agreement of the generals was unsurprising. The assassination of Röhm and the SA leaders consolidated the Reichswehr as the sole armed force of the Reich, and the Führer’s promises of military expansion guaranteed him military loyalty. Hindenburg’s death facilitated changing the German soldiers’ oath of allegiance from the Reich of the German Constitution to personal fealty to Adolf Hitler.

 In the event, the Nazis ended the official NSDAP–DNVP government alliance and began introducing Nazism and Nazi symbolism to public and private German life; textbooks were revised, or rewritten to promote the Pan-German racist doctrine of Großdeutschland (Greater Germany) to be established by the Nazi Herrenvolk; teachers who opposed curricular Nazification were dismissed. Furthermore, to coerce popular obedience to the state, the Nazis established the Gestapo (secret state police) as independent of civil authority. The Gestapo controlled the German populace with some 100,000 spies and informers, and thereby were aware of anti-Nazi criticism and dissent.

The majority of the German people were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting had been ended and were deluged in a barrage of propaganda orchestrated by Josef Goebbels and which promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country that would redress the wrongs done to Germany in the Versailles Treaty.[original research?][when?] The first concentration camp for political prisoners was opened at Dachau near Munich in 1933 and "between 1933 and 1945, more than 3 million Germans had been in concentration camps, or prison, for political reasons".

"Tens of thousands of Germans were killed for one or another form of resistance. Between 1933 and 1945, Sondergerichte (Nazi "special courts") sentenced some 12,000 Germans to death, courts-martial ordered the execution of 25,000 German soldiers on charges of cowardice, while civil courts sentenced 40,000 Germans. Many of these Germans were part of the government, civil, or military service, a circumstance which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy, while involved, marginally or significantly, in the government’s policies."

 Jewish shops were vandalized to warn people not to buy there.

 Fate of minorities

From the very earliest speeches and writings of Hitler it was clear that the Jewish community in Germany were an object of hatred, together with gypsies, and the mentally disadvantaged or the handicapped. The Nazi ideology laid down strict rules about who was or was not a 'pure German' and actions were set into motion to 'purify' the 'German race' soon after the Nazi takeover. The first wave of antisemitism began in 1933, when the S.A. attacked Jewish-owned stores and called for a boycott of all Jewish commercial activities. Many Jewish families prepared to leave, but many others hoped that as they were German citizens, their livelihoods and property would be safe.

 In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were enacted depriving Jews of all citizens' rights, using public transportation, banned from public parks and restaurants, theaters and cinemas, they were forced to bear a yellow star to show that they were Jewish.

In November 1938, a young Jewish male in Paris requested an interview with the German ambassador and was shown in to a meeting with a legation secretary, whom he shot in protest against the treatment meted out to his family in Germany. By coincidence, both men were from Frankfurt and knew each other slightly. The attempt was used by the Nazi Party to stir up hatred against the Jewish communities in Germany. The SA was given the task of attacking synagogues and Jewish property throughout Germany. During 'Kristallnacht,' the Night of Broken Glass, at least ninety-one German Jews were killed and Jewish property throughout was destroyed. This phase of exclusion made it very clear that the Jews in Germany were to be targeted in the future. To further illustrate, the Jewish communities were fined one billion marks and told that they would not receive compensation for their losses.

Foreign policy

Hitler began to systematically undermine and eradicate the provisions of the Versailles Treaty that were still valid in 1933. The disarmament clauses had been long since abandoned and Hitler achieved a minor victory when he withdrew Germany from the League of Nations on the grounds that disarmament was applied only to Germany. In January 1935 the Saarland voted to become part of Germany. The region had been placed under League of Nations supervision for 15 years and the decision was greeted as a great victory for the new Germany. In March 1935 Hitler announced that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men and that there would be a German Air Force. When Britain agreed that the Germans would be allowed to build a naval fleet, the Treaty became little more than a piece of paper. The signees were ready in the name of peace, to negotiate away on a bilateral basis the terms that Germany had agreed to in 1919.

Hitler's next test of the resolve of the French and British governments' intention to uphold the Versailles Treaty came in March 1936. Mussolini, Hitler's forerunner as a dictator and at the time an object of admiration, invaded Ethiopia, leading to mild protests by the British and French governments. In the wake of this crisis, Hitler ordered the Reichswehr to march into the demilitarised zone along the Rhine, with the proviso that they should withdraw if the French mobilised in response. The French government was in its usual state of internal bickering and Britain had no interest in, and no way of stopping the Reichswehr. The result was a huge victory for Hitler. He had tested the resolve of his opponents and they had been found wanting. Not that there was anything they could have done, for French military strategy was dictated by the existence of the Maginot Line, behind which their army was to remain, come what may, and British politicians regarded the Rhineland as Germany's own backyard. Hitler then held an election in which he received an overwhelming vote of support and his reputation as a vigorous and determined leader was growing fast.[38] The following year was relatively quiet on the foreign affairs front. The Spanish Civil War occupied the headlines in Europe, which was a useful trial ground for the growing Luftwaffe (German Air Force).

 The German minority in Czechoslovakia welcome Nazi troops in October 1938.

Austria and Czechoslovakia


The German minority in Czechoslovakia welcome Nazi troops in October 1938.
In November 1937, Hitler drew the military leadership together for a conference at which he elucidated the need for Germany to expand eastwards for "Lebensraum". At first he would have to deal with Austria and Czechoslovakia, but he was confident that Britain and France would do nothing when the German armies moved in.

In February 1938, Hitler called the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to a meeting at the Berghof at which he harangued Schussnigg on the need for Germans to secure their frontiers. To forestall Hitler and to preserve Austria's independence, Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite on the issue for 13 March but Hitler demanded that it be canceled. On 11 March, Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg, demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian Nazis or face an invasion. On 12 March the Wehrmacht entered Austria, to be greeted with enthusiasm by the Austrians.

Hitler told the leader of the Sudeten German Party, Heinlein, to make a number of unacceptable demands to the Czechoslovak government. Mussolini insisted that Hitler meet the British and French prime ministers to discuss the Czechoslovak crisis. Hitler demanded the immediate annexation of the German areas (called "Sudetenland"). Two more meetings followed, in the second of which, the infamous Munich Agreement was signed, forcing the Czechoslovak government to accept the annexation, but having no part in the negotiations.

The Munich Agreement has had a highly controversial reception among historians and political scientists. One interpretation sees it as a cowardly "Appeasement"-- an unwise and unnecessarily capitulation to vehement threats. Other scholars argue that risking war at that stage was unwise because France and Britain had neither the weapons nor a coherent strategy to defeat Germany in 1938. Chamberlain was greeted as a hero when he landed in London bringing, he said, "peace for our time." The agreement lasted six months before Hitler seized the rest in March 1939.[40] Hitler's next move was to call for adjustments to the borders of Poland. In the House of Commons, Chamberlian warned that any further attempts by Hitler to change the status quo would lead to war. In effect, this declaration guaranteed help to Poland and made the outbreak of war inevitable.

The German Wehrmacht began to prepare for an invasion of Poland, while the German foreign office made attempts to keep Britain out of the conflict. On 23 May 1939, Hitler ordered his generals to prepare for the attack on Poland. This has been described as a typical Hitler 'bluff' by Taylor[42] but the dynamics of mobilisation probably belie this position, for it takes several months to prepare an army for such an attack and the war began with the invasion of Poland on 1 September, just as Hitler had ordered. Hitler was still uncertain what Stalin would do when Poland was attacked. The Russian regime might be the 'anti-christ' (Kershaw) to the Nazis but it was a crucial element in the invasion of Poland. Britain and France had sent envoys to Moscow with the aim of tying Stalin into a pact. Molotov, Stalin's foreign minister, visted Berlin in July 1939 and elegant hints were dropped about the need for an agreement between Berlin and Moscow. But Stalin was in no hurry.

On 20 August, Hitler telegraphed Stalin with an offer of an agreement to be signed on 22 or 23 August. Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, flew to Moscow and an agreement was signed between Russia and Germany that made the second world war inevitable. Hitler was delighted. He knew, he told his entourage, that Britain and France would do nothing. Their leaders were worms, he said, he had seen them at Munich. The compromise over Sudetenland still rankled. The agreement signed in Moscow provided for peace for a period of ten years between the two countries. There was a secret protocol attached in which Poland was divided up 'in the event of a conflict' between Russia and Germany. Russia got the Baltic countries and Hitler could attack Poland.

Conquest of Europe

The "Danzig crisis" peaked in early 1939, around the time that reports of controversy in the Free City of Danzig increased, the United Kingdom "guaranteed" to defend Poland's territorial integrity and the Poles rejected a series of offers by Nazi Germany regarding both the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Then, the Germans broke off diplomatic relations. Hitler had learned that the Soviet Union was willing to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany and would support an attack on Poland. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and two days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. World War II was underway, but Poland fell quickly, as the Soviets attacked it on 17 September. The United Kingdom proceeded to bomb Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven, Heligoland and other areas. Still, aside from battles at sea, no other activity occurred. Thus, the war became known as "the Phoney War".

The year 1940 began with little more than the UK dropping propaganda leaflets over Prague and Vienna but a German attack on the British High Seas fleet was followed by the British bombing the port city of Sylt. After the Altmark Incident off the coast of Norway and the discovery of the United Kingdom's plans to encircle Germany, Hitler sent troops into Denmark and Norway. This safeguarded iron ore supplies from Sweden through coastal waters. Shortly thereafter, the British and French landed in Mid- and North Norway, but the Germans de facto defeated these forces in the ensuing Norwegian Campaign.

 German soldiers marching past the Arc de Triomphe, 14 June 1940

In May 1940, the Phoney War ended. Against the will of his advisors, Hitler ordered an attack on France through the Low Countries. The Battle of France ended with an overwhelming German victory. However, with the British refusing Hitler's offer of peace, the war continued. Germany and Britain continued to fight at sea and in the air. However, on 24 August, two off-course German bombers accidentally bombed London – against Hitler's orders, changing the course of the war. In response to the attack, the British bombed Berlin, which sent Hitler into a rage. The German leader ordered attacks on British cities, and the UK was bombed heavily during The Blitz. This change in targeting priority interfered with the Luftwaffe's objective of achieving the air superiority over Britain necessary for an invasion and allowed British air defenses to rebuild their strength and continue the fight.

Hitler hoped to break British morale and win peace. However, the British refused to back down; eventually, Hitler called off the Battle of Britain strategic bombing campaign in favor of the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union by Operation Barbarossa. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Hitler's former deputy Rudolf Hess, flew to the United Kingdom and crash-landed in Scotland. He attempted to negotiate terms of peace with the United Kingdom in an unofficial private meeting but to no avail. Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Hitler hoped that rapid success in the Soviet Union would bring Britain to the negotiating table.

Operation Barbarossa was supposed to begin earlier than it did; however, failed Italian ventures in North Africa and the Balkans caused Hitler concern. In February 1941, the German Afrika Korps was sent to Libya to aid the Italians and hold the British Commonwealth forces from British-held Egypt. As the North African Campaign continued, in spite of orders to remain on the defensive, the Afrika Korps regained lost Italian territory, pushed the British back across the desert and advanced into Egypt. In April, the Germans launched the invasion of Yugoslavia to aid friendly forces and restore order in the midst of what was believed to be a British-supported coup. This was followed by the Battle of Greece, again to bail out the Italians, and the Battle of Crete. Because of the diversions in North Africa and the Balkans, the Germans were not able to launch Barbarossa until late in June. Moreover, men and material were diverted to create the "fortified Europe" that Hitler wanted before Germany focused its attention on the East.

 Animated map showing German and Axis allies' conquests in Europe throughout World War II

In May 1940, the Phoney War ended. Against the will of his advisors, Hitler ordered an attack on France through the Low Countries. The Battle of France ended with an overwhelming German victory. However, with the British refusing Hitler's offer of peace, the war continued. Germany and Britain continued to fight at sea and in the air. However, on 24 August, two off-course German bombers accidentally bombed London – against Hitler's orders, changing the course of the war. In response to the attack, the British bombed Berlin, which sent Hitler into a rage. The German leader ordered attacks on British cities, and the UK was bombed heavily during The Blitz.

This change in targeting priority interfered with the Luftwaffe's objective of achieving the air superiority over Britain necessary for an invasion and allowed British air defenses to rebuild their strength and continue the fight.
Hitler hoped to break British morale and win peace. However, the British refused to back down; eventually, Hitler called off the Battle of Britain strategic bombing campaign in favor of the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union by Operation Barbarossa. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Hitler's former deputy Rudolf Hess, flew to the United Kingdom and crash-landed in Scotland. He attempted to negotiate terms of peace with the United Kingdom in an unofficial private meeting but to no avail. Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Hitler hoped that rapid success in the Soviet Union would bring Britain to the negotiating table.

Operation Barbarossa was supposed to begin earlier than it did; however, failed Italian ventures in North Africa and the Balkans caused Hitler concern. In February 1941, the German Afrika Korps was sent to Libya to aid the Italians and hold the British Commonwealth forces from British-held Egypt. As the North African Campaign continued, in spite of orders to remain on the defensive, the Afrika Korps regained lost Italian territory, pushed the British back across the desert and advanced into Egypt. In April, the Germans launched the invasion of Yugoslavia to aid friendly forces and restore order in the midst of what was believed to be a British-supported coup. This was followed by the Battle of Greece, again to bail out the Italians, and the Battle of Crete. Because of the diversions in North Africa and the Balkans, the Germans were not able to launch Barbarossa until late in June. Moreover, men and material were diverted to create the "fortified Europe" that Hitler wanted before Germany focused its attention on the East.

 Nevertheless, Barbarossa began with great success. Only Hitler worried that the German Army and its allies were not advancing into the Soviet Union fast enough. By December 1941, the Germans and their allies were at the gates of Moscow; to the north, troops had reached Leningrad and surrounded the city. Meanwhile, Germany and its allies controlled almost all of mainland Europe, with the exception of neutral Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and Turkey.

On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Not only was this a chance for Germany to strengthen its ties with Japan, but after months of anti-German hysteria in the American media and Lend-Lease aid to Britain, the leaking of Rainbow Five and the foreboding content of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech made it clear to Hitler that the US could not be kept neutral. Moreover, Germany's policy of appeasement, designed to keep the US out of the war, was a burden to Germany's war effort. Germany had refrained from attacking American convoys, even if they were bound for the United Kingdom or the Soviet Union. By contrast, after Germany declared war on the US, the German navy began unrestricted submarine warfare, using U-boats to attack ships without warning.

The goal of Germany's navy, the Kriegsmarine, was to cut off Britain's supply line. Under these circumstances, one of the most famous naval battles in history took place, with the German battleship Bismarck, Germany's largest and most powerful warship, attempting to break out into the Atlantic and raid supply ships heading for Britain. Bismarck was sunk – but not before sending Britain's largest warship, the battlecruiser HMS Hood, to the depths of the ocean. German U-boats were more successful than surface raiders like Bismarck. However, Germany failed to make submarine production a top priority early on and by the time it did, the British and their allies were developing the technology and strategies to neutralize it. Furthermore, in spite of the submarines' early success in 1941 and 1942, material shortages in Britain failed to fall to their World War I levels. The Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was achieved at a huge cost: between 1939 and 1945, 3,500 Allied ships were sunk (gross tonnage 14.5 million) at a cost of 783 German U-boats.

 Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Mengele's medical experiments. These children from Auschwitz were liberated by the Red Army in January, 1945.

 Persecution and extermination campaigns

The persecution of racial, ethnic, and social minorities and "undesirables" continued in Germany and the occupied countries. From 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow badge in public; most were kept in walled ghettos, where they remained isolated from the general populace. In January 1942, the Wannsee Conference, headed by Reinhard Heydrich (direct subordinate of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler), redacted the plans for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). From then until the end of the war some six million Jews, and six million Poles, Romanies, Slavs, Soviets, and others were systematically killed. In addition, more than ten million people were put into forced labour. In 1978, the term "Holocaust" came into general use to describe this genocide in English. It is called the Shoah in Hebrew. Thousands were shipped daily to concentration- and extermination camps.

Parallel to the Holocaust, the Nazis executed the Generalplan Ost (General Plan East) for the conquest, ethnic cleansing, and exploitation of the populaces of the captured Soviet and Polish territories; some 13.7 million Soviet civilians (including Jews & 2.0 million deaths in the annexed territories which are also included with Poland's war dead) and 2.5 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died as a result of warfare, genocide, reprisals, forced labor or famine.


Parallel to the Holocaust, the Nazis executed the Generalplan Ost (General Plan East) for the conquest, ethnic cleansing, and exploitation of the populaces of the captured Soviet and Polish territories; some 13.7 million Soviet civilians (including Jews & 2.0 million deaths in the annexed territories which are also included with Poland's war dead) and 2.5 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died as a result of warfare, genocide, reprisals, forced labor or famine. The Nazis' aggressive war for Lebensraum (Living space) in eastern Europe was waged “to defend Western Civilization against the Bolshevism of subhumans”. Estimates indicate that, had the Nazis won the war and established the New Order, they would have deported some 51 million Slavs from Central and Eastern Europe to western Siberia. Because of the atrocities suffered under Joseph Stalin, many Ukrainians, Balts, and other oppressed nationalities, fought for the Nazis. The populaces of Nazi-occupied Soviet Russia who racially qualified as of the Aryan race, or had no immediate Jewish ancestors, were not persecuted, and often were recruited to the Waffen Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) divisions.

Eventually, the Nazi regime meant to Germanize the racially acceptable volk (ethnic groups) of occupied eastern Europe, with the rest to be exterminated. Parts of the plan were implemented in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany, with the classification of Poles on the Nazi Volksliste, according to their racial characteristics. People classified as Germans who resisted were sent to concentration camps. Those who were not classified as Germans were expelled. Ethnic Germans from the Baltic states were encouraged to leave them, and were settled in Poland in the houses of the expelled Poles. These, and the Poles classified as Germans, were subjected to programs to Germanize them. Children were also abducted from Eastern Europe for Germanization.

 Allied victory


Field Marshal Rommel inspecting the Free India Legion, France, 1944


US soldiers cross the Franco–German Siegfried Line
In early 1942, the Red Army counter-attacked, and, by winter’s end, the Wehrmacht were no longer immediately outside Moscow. Yet the Germans and their allies held a strong line, and, in the summer, launched a major attack against the petroleum fields of the Caucasus in Southern Russia. For securing the flanks of this offensive, a line at the Volga had to be held, which led to the Battle of Stalingrad (17 July 1942 – 2 February 1943), wherein Germany and its allies were defeated. After winning a major tank battle at Kursk-Orel in July 1943, the Red Army progressed west, to Germany; henceforth, the Wehrmacht and its allies remained on the defensive.
In Libya, the Afrika Korps failed to break through the line at First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942), having suffered repercussions from the Battle of Stalingrad. Beginning in 1942, Allied bombing of Germany increased, severely damaging, among others, the cities of Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden, killing thousands of civilians, and causing hardship for the survivors.[65] Contemporary estimates of Nazi German military dead is 5.5 million.[66]
In November 1942, the Wehrmacht and the Italian Army retreated to Tunisia, where they fought the Americans and the British in the Tunisia Campaign (17 November 1942 – 13 May 1943). The Allies invaded Sicily and Italy next, but met fierce resistance, particularly at Anzio (22 January 1944 – 5 June 1944) and Cassino (17 January 1944 – 18 May 1944), and the campaign continued from mid-1943 to nearly the end of the war. In June 1944, American, British and Canadian forces established the western front with the D-Day (6 June 1944) landings in Normandy, France. After the successful Operation Bagration (22 June – 19 August 1944), the Red Army was in Poland; and in East Prussia, West Prussia, and Silesia the German populaces fled en masse, fearing Communist persecution, atrocity, and death. In spring of 1945, the Red Army was at Berlin; US and UK forces had conquered most of west Germany (and would go on to meet up with the Red Army at Torgau on the Elbe on 26 April 1945).
During the Battle of Berlin (16 April 1945 – 2 May 1945), Hitler and key staff members lived in the armoured, underground Führerbunker while above ground the Red Army fought remnant forces made up of the German army, Hitler Youth, and Waffen-SS for control of the ruined capital city of Nazi Germany. In the Führerbunker, Adolf Hitler became psychologically isolated and detached. At the situation conference of 22 April, Hitler suffered a total nervous collapse when he was informed that the instructions he had issued the previous day for SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment Steiner to move to the rescue of Berlin had not materialised.[67] Hitler openly declared for the first time the war was lost and blamed the generals. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself.[68] On 23 April, as Berlin became more isolated, Hermann Göring sent Hitler an ultimatum, threatening to assume command of Nazi Germany if he received no reply—which he would interpret as Hitler being incapacitated. Upon receiving the ultimatum, the Führer ordered Göring's immediate arrest, and despatched an aeroplane delivering the reply to Göring in Bavaria. By 25 April the Red Army encirclement of Berlin was complete and secure radio communications with defending units had been lost; the command staff in the bunker were depending on telephone lines for passing orders and on public radio for news and information.[69] Despite the losses of armies and lands, the Führer neither relinquished power, nor surrendered. On 28 April, a BBC report stated that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had offered surrender to the western Allies.[70] Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.[71]