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European History


World War II 1939–1945

Germany acquires territory, claims right to Germanic ethnic lands

  • 1935: Hitler rearms, rejecting Treaty of Versailles

  • 1938:Anschluss (“connection”): Germany incorporates Austria

  • 1938:Munich Conference: Britain, France allow German occupation of part of Czechoslovakia, hope to prevent war

  • 1939:Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: Surprise Germany-USSR alliance

1939: Germany invades Poland; USSR invades Poland soon afterward, beginning World War II in Europe

1939: Britain and France declare war on Germany but do not fight immediately; so-called Phony War

1940: Germany invades Norway, Denmark; USSR invades Finland

1940: Germany invades France through Low Countries

  • France falls quickly, is split in two parts: northern occupied zone, southern unoccupied zone under Vichy government

  • Vichy government collaborates with Germans, sends Jews to concentration camps

1940:Battle of Britain: Germany bombs U.K. but does not invade

1941: Germany invades Greece, Yugoslavia

German allies include Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Japan

1941: Germany breaks pact with USSR, invades by surprise

  • Fighting especially brutal as Germany tries to kill, capture, or force out Slavic people to make room for Germans

Resistance movements in occupied countries hampered by supply shortages, internal rivalry, German retaliation against civilians; most successful in Yugoslavia under Communist Josip Tito

Holocaust: Nazis kill millions of Jews in concentration camps and in mass slaughter; Nazis aim to exterminate all Jews

  • Nazis also target gays, Romanies (Gypsies), Slavs, dissenters

  • Many occupied nations help Germany gather Jews to be killed

  • Concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen

1941: Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; U.S. enters war

Allied leaders: U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.K. prime minister Winston Churchill, unequal partner French general Charles de Gaulle work uneasily with USSR’s Stalin

1942: Allies (U.K., U.S.) land in North Africa, Italy

1943: Mussolini falls in Italy

1942–1943: Russians win Battle of Stalingrad; Germans retreat

1943: Allies begin strategic bombing of Germany

1944:D-Day: Allies invade France via Normandy beaches; Germans retreat east

1945: Germany surrenders after Soviet army captures Berlin; Japan surrenders after U.S. drops two atomic bombs

Results of war: Cities leveled, millions killed, millions of displaced people seek new homes, new fear of atomic war