WO2 in 10 steps


Rarely has there been an event that affected the history of humanity as much as the Second World War. When describing it in ten steps, there is a danger of turning it into something so brief that the human consequences, the crimes against humanity and the enormous suffering that lies behind the War are lost sight of.  

On the other hand, we must note that the Second World War was long time ago. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to form a picture of what the war was all about. Or how it was started. Or even between whom.

The following ten steps are intended as an overview, as a framework in which individual events can be placed. It is impossible to list all events per step, but for anyone who wants to know more about this, offline and online there are tens of thousands of books and articles about people and events from the Second World War. In the meantime, the majority can be placed in one of the ten steps.

We have limited each step to 100 words. So here it is; the Second World War in a thousand words:

The First World War lasted from 1914 to 1918. The Netherlands did not participate. Germany lost that war to the Allied countries, such as England, France and the USA. The peace treaty, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, imposed strict conditions on Germany. Meanwhile, the revolution broke out in Russia in 1917 and the Communists came to power. They wanted the political power to be with the workers. Everywhere there were communist groups, who also wanted to implement this in their own country. Thus, in 1922, the Soviet Union emerged from Russia, a huge country on two continents, Europe and Asia.

Adolf Hitler had fought as an Austrian with Germany in the First World War. He was embittered by the loss and founded his own political party, the NSDAP. In 1923 he wanted to seize power but it failed. In prison he wrote Mein Kampf, in which he stated that the Jews were a poor race and the German people were entitled to more territory. In the meantime, an economic world crisis had broken out. Hitler blamed the Jews. He also warned against the communists. Hitler was democratically elected in Germany in 1933. He knocked out his opponents and built up a new army.

Germany had two friends: Italy and Japan. The three together were called the Axis powers. And there were also smaller countries in Eastern Europe that joined the Axis powers. Italy wanted to integrate a large part of Africa and Japan, which waged war with China in the 1930s, wanted more power in Asia. Raw materials were important for economic growth. Japan did not have it itself, but surrounding countries did, as did the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies. In August 1939, Germany made an agreement with the Soviet Union that both countries would not attack each other. A month later, Germany invaded Poland.

After Poland, Germany first attacked Denmark and Norway and in May 1940 also the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. After short battles, they were occupied by the German army. Hitler also wanted to conquer England, but in the end it did not come to that, partly because the English Air Force fiercely opposed the German Luftwaffe. But Western Europe had therefore largely come into German hands. England stood alone. Surprising was Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. And, in 1941 and 1942, Japan's attack on Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and a number of American islands, among others. That is how the USA ended up in the war.

There were quite a few differences between the territories occupied by Germany. In Eastern Europe, the German army was relieved. But in Western Europe it remained fairly calm after the first battles and the occupation mainly led to new rules and a scarcity of fuel and food. A lot changed immediately for Jewish residents. The rest of the population saw this but did not dare to act against it. And then there were people who were more than happy to work with the Germans ... When Germany got a lot harder later in the war, the German regime in the oppressed countries became increasingly strict.

Jews living in Germany had a hard time after Hitler became the boss there. Their liberties were curtailed and their property taken away. Many emigrated, sometimes to America, but sometimes also to nearby countries. But when they were also occupied, it became difficult to get away. Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jewish race completely and during the Wannsee Konferenz it was arranged by German soldiers and officials that this would be tackled on a large scale: the so-called Endlösung. Millions of Jews were taken to extermination camps, mostly in former Eastern Europe, and killed there. Incidentally, not only Jews were persecuted, but also homosexuals and gypsies, for example.

Resistance and the persecution of the Jews were resisted. For example, there were groups of partisans in Eastern Europe. In Western Europe it was usually smaller in scale but no less dangerous. Anyone who helped people in hiding or did not follow the German rules in any other way could be arrested, tortured and killed. The number of people who engaged in resistance in occupied territory was therefore limited to a few percent of the total population. Nevertheless, the resistance arranged subsistence vouchers and hiding places for people in hiding or crews of shot down aircraft, made and distributed illegal newspapers with reliable information, or carried out sabotage actions.

The reversal of the war began in mid-1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Hitler was able to advance very far on this Eastern front. In the winter the German attack crashed, but Russian cities were besieged for a long time before major counterattacks. From 1943 the German army was really pushed back. The Russian army was not that modern, but much larger. Moreover, Stalin had ensured that many factories immediately after the German invasion moved their production to areas behind the Urals, far from the German army. And the Soviet Union, unlike Germany, had almost unlimited resources such as iron and oil.

In addition to the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy had also lost ground in Africa and there was an Allied invasion of southern Italy in 1943. American, British, Canadian, French and Polish soldiers mainly participated in the European liberation operations. In Normandy, the Allies landed on D-day, 6 June 1944. From August the liberation started well here and part of the countries occupied in 1940 was liberated in 1944. The rest followed in 1945. Hitler committed suicide on April 30 and Germany capitulated on May 8. Japan followed in August, after two American atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Stalin, US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill had made agreements about Europe after the war during the Yalta Conference in early 1945. It meant that a large part of Europe came under Russian influence. Germany was divided into East and West Germany. The Cold War was about to break out ... Japan was defeated in Asia, but the countries that had been occupied wanted to be independent from now on. This led to Indonesian independence in 1949, after fighting with Dutch troops. 72 million people died worldwide as a result of the Second World War. In the Netherlands there were 200,000 - half of them Jewish.

And with that, the Second World War has been written in ten times a hundred words. With all the limitations that we mentioned in the introduction. But these ten steps offer some background to individual events, large and small, as they regularly come to the fore again.

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