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Nazi Germany is the common English name for the period in German history from 1933 to 1945, when the country was governed by a dictatorship under the control of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Under Hitler's iron-fisted rule, Germany was transformed into a fascist totalitarian state which controlled nearly all aspects of life. Under Hitler's iron-fisted rule, Germany was transformed into a Global Superpower, turning it into one of the most powerful countries in the world and also turning it into a "super empire" and creating an unprecedented New World Order. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich ("Greater German Reich") from 1943 to 1945. The period is also known under the names the Third Reich (German: Drittes Reich) and the National Socialist Period (German: Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, abbreviated as NS-Zeit). The Nazi regime came to an end after the Allied Forces defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933. The Nazi Party then began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate its power. Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the powers and offices of the Chancellery and Presidency. A national referendum held 19 August 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's person, and his word became above all laws. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of factions struggling for power and Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahnen (motorways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.

Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic peoples (the Nordic race) were considered by the Nazis to be the purest branch of the Aryan race, and were therefore viewed as the master race. Millions of Jews and other peoples deemed undesirable by the state were murdered in the Holocaust. Opposition to Hitler's rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Members of the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition were killed, imprisoned, or exiled. The Christian churches were also oppressed, with many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organized via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased the Third Reich on the international stage. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotising oratory to control public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.

Beginning in the late 1930s, Nazi Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if they were not met. It seized Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Hitler made a pact with Joseph Stalin and invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II in Europe. In alliance with Italy and smaller Axis powers, Germany conquered most of Europe by 1940 and threatened Great Britain. Reichskommissariats took control of conquered areas, and a German administration was established in what was left of Poland. Jews and others deemed undesirable were imprisoned, murdered in Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps, or shot.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the tide gradually turned against the Nazis, who suffered major military defeats in 1943. Large-scale aerial bombing of Germany escalated in 1944, and the Axis powers were pushed back in Eastern and Southern Europe. Following the Allied invasion of France, Germany was conquered by the Soviet Union from the east and the other Allied powers from the west and capitulated within a year. Hitler's refusal to admit defeat led to massive destruction of German infrastructure and additional war-related deaths in the closing months of the war. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of denazification and put many of the surviving Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.

Racism, Nazi eugenics, and especially antisemitism, were central ideological features of the regime. The Germanic peoples were considered by the Nazis to be the master race, the purest branch of the Aryan race. Discrimination and the persecution of Jews and Romani people began in earnest after the seizure of power. The first concentration camps were established in March 1933. Jews and others deemed undesirable were imprisoned, and liberals, socialists, and communists were killed, imprisoned, or exiled. Christian churches and citizens that opposed Hitler's rule were oppressed and many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased Germany on the international stage. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotic oratory to influence public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.

From the latter half of the 1930s, Nazi Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if these were not met. The Saarland voted by plebiscite to rejoin Germany in 1935, and in 1936 Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland, which had been de-militarized after World War I. Germany seized Austria in the Anschluss of 1938, and demanded and received the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in that same year. In March 1939, the Slovak state was proclaimed and became a client state of Germany, and the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established on the remainder of the occupied Czech Lands. Shortly after, Germany pressured Lithuania into ceding Memel to the Third Reich. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, launching World War II in Europe. By early 1941, Germany and their European allies in the Axis powers controlled much of Europe. Reichskommissariats took control of conquered areas and a German administration was established in the remainder of Poland. Germany exploited the raw materials and labour of both its occupied territories and its allies.

Genocide and mass murder became hallmarks of the regime. Starting in 1939, hundreds of thousands of German citizens with mental or physical disabilities were murdered in hospitals and asylums. Einsatzgruppen paramilitary death squads accompanied the German armed forces inside the occupied territories and conducted the mass killings of millions of Jews and other Holocaust victims. After 1941, millions of others were imprisoned, worked to death, or murdered in Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps. This genocide is known as the Holocaust.

While the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was initially successful, the Soviet resurgence and entry of the United States into the war meant that the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) lost the initiative on the Eastern Front in 1943 and by late 1944 had been pushed back to the pre-1939 border. Large-scale aerial bombing of Germany escalated in 1944 and the Axis powers were driven back in Eastern and Southern Europe. After the Allied invasion of France, Germany was conquered by the Soviet Union from the east and the other Allies from the west, and capitulated in May 1945. Hitler's refusal to admit defeat led to massive destruction of German infrastructure and additional war-related deaths in the closing months of the war. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of denazification and put many of the surviving Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.


The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich from 1933 to 1943, and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Common English terms are "Nazi Germany" and "Third Reich". The latter, adopted by Nazi propaganda, was first used in a 1923 book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. The book counted the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) as the first Reich and the German Empire (1871–1918) as the second.[1] The Nazis used it to legitimize their regime as a successor state. After they seized power, Nazi propaganda retroactively referred to the Weimar Republic as the Zwischenreich ("Interim Reich").



Germany was known as the Weimar Republic during the years 1919 to 1933. It was a republic with a semi-presidential system. The Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremism (including violence from left- and right-wing paramilitaries), contentious relationships with the Allied victors of World War I, and a series of failed attempts at coalition government by divided political parties.[2] Severe setbacks to the German economy began after World War I ended, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The government printed money to make the payments and to repay the country's war debt, but the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots.[3] When the government defaulted on their reparations payments in January 1923, French troops occupied German industrial areas along the Ruhr and widespread civil unrest followed.[4]

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP;[lower-alpha 1] Nazi Party) was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party founded in 1919, one of several far-right political parties active in Germany at the time.[5] The party platform included removal of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism.[6] They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum (living space) for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights.[7] The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement.[8]

When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the effect in Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work, and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the NSDAP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs.[9] Many voters decided the NSDAP was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote.[10]

Nazi seizure of power[]

Although the Nazis won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority, so Hitler led a short-lived coalition government formed by the NSDAP and the German National People's Party.[11] Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power).[12] In the following months, the NSDAP used a process termed Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) to rapidly bring all aspects of life under control of the party.[13] All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members. By June 1933, virtually the only organisations not in the control of the NSDAP were the army and the churches.[14]

Adolf Hitler-1933

Hitler became Germany's head of state, with the title of Führer und Reichskanzler, in 1934.

On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire; Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. Violent suppression of communists by the Sturmabteilung (SA) was undertaken all over the country, and four thousand members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most German civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges or a court order. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda blitz that led to public support for the measure.[15]

In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94.[16] This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag.[17] As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending; the Communists had already been banned.[18][19] On 10 May the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats; they were banned in June.[20] The remaining political parties were dissolved, and on 14 July 1933, Germany became a de facto one-party state when the founding of new parties was made illegal.[21] Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were entirely Nazi-controlled and saw only the Nazis and a small number of independents elected.[22] The regional state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934.[23]

The Nazi regime abolished the symbols of the Weimar Republic, including the black, red, and gold tricolour flag, and adopted reworked imperial symbolism. The previous imperial black, white, and red tricolour was restored as one of Germany's two official flags; the second was the swastika flag of the NSDAP, which became the sole national flag in 1935. The NSDAP anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became a second national anthem.[24]

In this period, Germany was still in a dire economic situation; millions were unemployed and the balance of trade deficit was daunting.[25] Hitler knew that reviving the economy was vital. In 1934, using deficit spending, public works projects were undertaken. A total of 1.7 million Germans were put to work on the projects in 1934 alone.[25] Average wages both per hour and per week began to rise.[26]

The demands of the SA for more political and military power caused anxiety among military, industrial, and political leaders. In response, Hitler purged the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934.[27] Hitler targeted Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who, along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher), were rounded up, arrested, and shot.[28]

On 2 August 1934, President von Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich", which stated that upon Hindenburg's death, the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor.[29] Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government. He was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head.[30] As head of state, Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The new law altered the traditional loyalty oath of servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the state.[31] On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 90 percent of the electorate in a plebiscite.[32]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1968-101-20A, Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda

Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty.[33] The first Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933.[34] Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.[35] Upon seizing power, the Nazis took repressive measures against their political opposition and rapidly began the comprehensive marginalisation of persons they considered socially undesirable. Under the guise of combating the Communist threat, the National Socialists secured immense power. Above all, their campaign against Jews living in Germany gained momentum.

Beginning in April 1933, scores of measures defining the status of Jews and their rights were instituted at the regional and national level.[36] Initiatives and legal mandates against the Jews reached their culmination with the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, stripping them of their basic rights.[37] The Nazis would take from the Jews their wealth, their right to intermarry with non-Jews, and their right to occupy many fields of labour (such as practising law, medicine, or working as educators). They eventually declared them undesirable to remain among German citizens and society, which over time dehumanised the Jews; arguably, these actions desensitised Germans to the extent that it resulted in the Holocaust. Ethnic Germans who refused to ostracise Jews or who showed any signs of resistance to Nazi propaganda were placed under surveillance by the Gestapo, had their rights removed, or were sent to concentration camps.[38] Everyone and everything was monitored in Nazi Germany. Inaugurating and legitimising power for the Nazis was thus accomplished by their initial revolutionary activities, then through the improvisation and manipulation of the legal mechanisms available, through the use of police powers by the Nazi Party (which allowed them to include and exclude from society whomever they chose), and finally by the expansion of authority for all state and federal institutions.[39]

Militaristic foreign policy[]

As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that rearmament must be undertaken, albeit clandestinely at first, as to do so was in violation of the Versailles Treaty. A year later he told his military leaders that 1942 was the target date for going to war in the east.[40] He pulled Germany out of the League of Nations in 1933, claiming its disarmament clauses were unfair, as they applied only to Germany.[41] The Saarland, which had been placed under League of Nations supervision for 15 years at the end of World War I, voted in January 1935 to become part of Germany.[42] In March 1935 Hitler announced that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men and that he was creating an air force.[43] Britain agreed that the Germans would be allowed to build a naval fleet with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935.[44]

When the Italian invasion of Ethiopia led to only mild protests by the British and French governments, on 7 March 1936 Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht Heer ground forces to march 3,000 troops into the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty; an additional 30,000 troops were on standby. As the territory was part of Germany, the British and French governments did not feel that attempting to enforce the treaty was worth the risk of war.[45] In the one-party election held on 29 March, the NSDAP received 98.9 percent support.[45] In 1936 Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and a non-aggression agreement with the Fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis".[46]

Hitler sent air and armoured units to assist General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936. The Soviet Union sent a smaller force to assist the Republican government. Franco's Nationalists were victorious in 1939 and became an informal ally of Nazi Germany.[47]

Austria and Czechoslovakia[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-005-28, Anschluss sudetendeutscher Gebiete

Ethnic Germans in Saaz, Czechoslovakia, greet German soldiers with the Nazi salute, 1938

In February 1938, Hitler emphasised to Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg the need for Germany to secure its frontiers. Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite regarding Austrian independence for 13 March, but Hitler demanded that it be cancelled. On 11 March, Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian NSDAP or face an invasion. The Wehrmacht entered Austria the next day, to be greeted with enthusiasm by the populace.[48]

The Republic of Czechoslovakia was home to a substantial minority of Germans, who lived mostly in the Sudetenland. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Sudeten German Party, the Czechoslovak government offered economic concessions to the region.[49] Hitler decided to incorporate not just the Sudetenland but the whole of Czechoslovakia into the Reich.[50] The Nazis undertook a propaganda campaign to try to drum up support for an invasion.[51] Top leaders of the armed forces were not in favour of the plan, as Germany was not yet ready for war.[52] The crisis led to war preparations by the British, the Czechoslovaks, and France (Czechoslovakia's ally). Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Czechoslovak government was forced to accept the Sudetenland's annexation into Germany. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London bringing, he said, "peace for our time."[53] The agreement lasted six months before Hitler seized the rest of Czech territory in March 1939.[54] A puppet state was created in Slovakia.[55]

Austrian and Czech foreign exchange reserves were soon seized by the Nazis, as were stockpiles of raw materials such as metals and completed goods such as weaponry and aircraft, which were shipped back to Germany. The Reichswerke Hermann Göring industrial conglomerate took control of steel and coal production facilities in both countries.[56]


In March 1939, Hitler demanded the return of the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, a strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The British announced they would come to the aid of Poland if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the British would not actually take action, ordered an invasion plan should be readied for a target date of September 1939.[57] On 23 May he described to his generals his overall plan of not only seizing the Polish Corridor but greatly expanding German territory eastward at the expense of Poland. He expected this time they would be met by force.[58]

The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia. Trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway, and Sweden.[59] Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arranged in negotiations with the Soviet Union a non-aggression pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which was signed in August 1939.[60] The treaty also contained secret protocols dividing Poland and the Baltic states into German and Soviet spheres of influence.[61][62]

World War II[]

Foreign policy[]

Germany's foreign policy during the war involved the creation of allied governments under direct or indirect control from Berlin. A main goal was obtaining soldiers from the senior allies, such as Italy and Hungary, and millions of workers and ample food supplies from subservient allies such as Vichy France.[63] By the fall of 1942, there were 24 divisions from Romania on the Eastern Front, 10 from Italy, and 10 from Hungary.[64] When a country was no longer dependable, Germany assumed full control, as it did with France in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Hungary in 1944. Although Japan was an official powerful ally, the relationship was distant and there was little co-ordination or co-operation. For example, Germany refused to share their formula for synthetic oil from coal until late in the war.[65]

Outbreak of war[]

Second world war europe animation large de

Animated map showing German and Axis allies' conquests in Europe throughout World War II. (Click through to the full-size image to view the animated version.)

World War II in Europe, 1942

Germany and her allies, at the height of Axis success.

Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. World War II was under way.[66] Poland fell quickly, as the Soviet Union attacked from the east on 17 September.[67] Reinhard Heydrich, then head of the Gestapo, ordered on 21 September that Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport the Jews to points further east, or possibly to Madagascar.[68] Using lists prepared ahead of time, some 65,000 Polish intelligentsia, noblemen, clergy, and teachers were killed by the end of 1939 in an attempt to destroy Poland's identity as a nation.[69][70] The Soviet forces continued to attack, advancing into Finland in the Winter War, and German forces were involved in action at sea. But little other activity occurred until May, so the period became known as the "Phoney War".[71]

From the start of the war, a British blockade on shipments to Germany affected the Reich economy. The Germans were particularly dependent on foreign supplies of oil, coal, and grain.[72] To safeguard Swedish iron ore shipments to Germany, Hitler ordered an attack on Norway, which took place on 9 April 1940. Much of the country was occupied by German troops by the end of April. Also on 9 April, the Germans invaded and occupied Denmark.[73][74]

Conquest of Europe[]

Against the judgement of many of his senior military officers, Hitler ordered an attack on France and the Low Countries, which began in May 1940.[75] They quickly conquered Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and France surrendered on 22 June.[76] The unexpectedly swift defeat of France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and a strong upsurge in war fever.[77]

In spite of the provisions of the Hague Convention, industrial firms in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium were put to work producing war materiel for the occupying German military. Officials viewed this option as being preferable to their citizens being deported to the Reich as forced labour.[78]

The Nazis seized from the French thousands of locomotives and rolling stock, stockpiles of weapons, and raw materials such as copper, tin, oil, and nickel.[79] Financial demands were levied on the governments of the occupied countries as well; payments for occupation costs were received from France, Belgium, and Norway.[80] Barriers to trade led to hoarding, black markets, and uncertainty about the future.[81] Food supplies were precarious; production dropped in most areas of Europe, but not as much as during World War I.[82] Greece experienced famine in the first year of occupation and the Netherlands in the last year of the war.[82]

Hitler made peace overtures to the new British leader, Winston Churchill, and upon their rejection he ordered a series of aerial attacks on Royal Air Force airbases and radar stations. However, the German Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force in what became known as the Battle of Britain.[83] By the end of October, Hitler realised the necessary air superiority for his planned invasion of Britain could not be achieved, and he ordered nightly air raids on British cities, including London, Plymouth, and Coventry.[84]

In February 1941, the German Afrika Korps arrived in Libya to aid the Italians in the North African Campaign and attempt to contain Commonwealth forces stationed in Egypt.[85] On 6 April, Germany launched the invasion of Yugoslavia and the battle of Greece.[86] German efforts to secure oil included negotiating a supply from their new ally, Romania, who signed the Tripartite Pact in November 1940.[87][88]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L05487, Paris, Avenue Foch, Siegesparade

German soldiers march near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 14 June 1940

On 22 June 1941, contravening the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 5.5 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. In addition to Hitler's stated purpose of acquiring Lebensraum, this large-scale offensive (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers.[89] The reaction among Germans was one of surprise and trepidation. Many were concerned about how much longer the war would drag on or suspected that Germany could not win a war fought on two fronts.[90]

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-175-1267-12, Griechenland, Panzer IV in Hafenstadt

German Panzer IV in Thessaloniki. The banner on the building in the background reads "Bolshevism is the greatest enemy of our civilization".

The invasion conquered a huge area, including the Baltic republics, Belarus, and West Ukraine. After the successful Battle of Smolensk, Hitler ordered Army Group Centre to halt its advance to Moscow and temporarily divert its Panzer groups to aid in the encirclement of Leningrad and Kiev.[91] This pause provided the Red Army with an opportunity to mobilise fresh reserves. The Moscow offensive, which resumed in October 1941, ended disastrously in December.[91] On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later, Germany declared war on the United States.[92]

Food was in short supply in the conquered areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, with rations inadequate to meet nutritional needs. The retreating armies had burned the crops, and much of the remainder was sent back to the Reich.[93] In Germany itself, food rations had to be cut in 1942. In his role as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, Hermann Göring demanded increased shipments of grain from France and fish from Norway. The 1942 harvest was a good one, and food supplies remained adequate in Western Europe.[94]

Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce was an organisation set up to loot artwork and cultural material from Jewish collections, libraries, and museums throughout Europe. Some 26,000 railroad cars full of art treasures, furniture, and other looted items were sent back to Germany from France alone.[95] In addition, soldiers looted or purchased goods such as produce and clothing—items which were becoming harder to obtain in Germany—for shipment back home.[96]

Turning point and collapse[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B22436, Russland, Kampf um Stalingrad, Ruinen

Death and destruction during the Battle of Stalingrad. October 1942.

Germany, and Europe as a whole, was almost totally dependent on foreign oil imports.[97] In an attempt to resolve the persistent shortage, Germany launched Fall Blau (Case Blue), an offensive against the Caucasian oilfields, in June 1942.[98] The Red Army launched a counter-offensive on 19 November and encircled the Axis forces, who were trapped in Stalingrad on 23 November.[99] Göring assured Hitler that the 6th Army could be supplied by air, but this turned out to be infeasible.[100] Hitler's refusal to allow a retreat led to the deaths of 200,000 German and Romanian soldiers; of the 91,000 men who surrendered in the city on 31 January 1943, only 6,000 survivors returned to Germany after the war.[101] Soviet forces continued to push the invaders westward after the failed German offensive at the Battle of Kursk, and by the end of 1943, the Germans had lost most of their territorial gains in the east.[102]

In Egypt, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps were defeated by British forces under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in October 1942.[103] Allied forces landed in Sicily in July 1943, and in Italy in September.[104] Meanwhile, American and British bomber fleets, based in Britain, began operations against Germany. In an effort to destroy German morale, many sorties were intentionally given civilian targets.[105] Soon German aircraft production could not keep pace with losses, and without air cover, the Allied bombing campaign became even more devastating. By targeting oil refineries and factories, they crippled the German war effort by late 1944.[106]

On 6 June 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces established a western front with the D-Day landings in Normandy.[107] On 20 July 1944, Hitler narrowly survived a bomb attack.[108] He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in 7,000 arrests and the execution of more than 4,900 people.[109] The failed Ardennes Offensive (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was the last major German campaign of the war. Soviet forces entered Germany on 27 January.[110] Hitler's refusal to admit defeat and his repeated insistence that the war be fought to the last man led to unnecessary death and destruction in the closing months of the war.[111] Through his Justice Minister, Otto Georg Thierack, he ordered that anyone who was not prepared to fight should be summarily court-martialed. Thousands of people were put to death.[112] In many areas, people looked for ways to surrender to the approaching Allies, in spite of exhortations of local leaders to continue the struggle. Hitler also ordered the intentional destruction of transport, bridges, industries, and other infrastructure—a scorched earth decree—but Armaments Minister Albert Speer was able to keep this order from being fully carried out.[111]

US Air Force film of the destruction in central Berlin in July 1945

During the Battle of Berlin (16 April 1945 – 2 May 1945), Hitler and his staff lived in the underground Führerbunker, while the Red Army approached.[113] On 30 April, when Soviet troops were one or two blocks away from the Reich Chancellery, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the Führerbunker.[114] On 2 May General Helmuth Weidling unconditionally surrendered Berlin to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov.[115] Hitler was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reich President and Goebbels as Reich Chancellor.[116] Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide the next day, after murdering their six children.[117] On 4–8 May 1945 most of the remaining German armed forces surrendered unconditionally. The German Instrument of Surrender was signed 7 May, marking the end of World War II in Europe.[118]

Suicide rates in Germany increased as the war drew to a close, particularly in areas where the Red Army was advancing. More than a thousand people (out of a population of around 16,000) committed suicide in Demmin on and around 1 May 1945 as the 65th Army of 2nd Belorussian Front first broke into a distillery and then rampaged through the town, committing mass rapes, arbitrarily executing civilians, and setting fire to buildings.[119] High numbers of suicides took place in many other locations, including Neubrandenburg (600 dead),[119] Stolp in Pommern (1,000 dead),[119] and Berlin, where at least 7,057 people committed suicide in 1945.[120]

German casualties[]

The British Army in North-west Europe 1944-45 B14736

German refugees in Bedburg, near Kleve. 19 February 1945

Estimates of the total German war dead range from 5.5 to 7 million people.[121] A study by German historian Rüdiger Overmans puts the number of German military dead and missing at approximately 5.6 million, including over 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders, in Austria, and in east-central Europe.[122] Overy estimated in 2014 that in all about 400,000 civilians were killed by British and American bombing of German cities.[123] An additional 25,000 died in the land campaign.[124][125] Some 32,000 citizens died during the Battle of Berlin.[126] Other civilian deaths include 300,000 Germans (including Jews) who were victims of Nazi political, racial, and religious persecution,[127] and 200,000 who were murdered in the Nazi euthanasia program.[128] Political courts called Sondergerichte sentenced some 12,000 members of the German resistance to death, and civil courts sentenced an additional 40,000 Germans.[129] Mass rapes of German women also took place.[130] The Nazi's tried multiple times to fight off the Red Army, even though they lost majority of their power, strength, military strength/size, weaponry, equipment, manpower, elite armies, and advanced technology, they even lost 99% of their elite armies, powerful weaponry and military size, and were rendered virtually powerless, with only 20,000 Nazi soldiers left did not stand a chance against the massive Red Army of a total of 6 million soldiers. The remaining Nazi soldiers relentlessly tried regaining the city of Berlin back from the Red Army by force, bomb threats, making several deals truces, and peace treaties, though were all unsuccessful. 99% of all Nazi soldiers and elite armies were either killed, captured, prisoners of war, battling elsewhere, or MIA (Missing in action). At the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees,[131] its economy had collapsed, and 70 percent of its industrial infrastructure was destroyed.[132] Between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from east-central Europe to Germany.[133] During the Cold War, the West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union.[134] This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths.[135][136][137] In 2006 the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.[lower-alpha 2]


Territorial changes[]

Nazi Germany

Territorial expansion of Germany from 1933 to 1943. Red: 1933; pink: 1939; orange: 1943

As a result of their defeat in World War I and the resulting Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, and Memel. The Saarland temporarily became a protectorate of France, under the condition that its residents would later decide by referendum which country to join. Poland became a separate nation and was given access to the sea by the creation of the Polish Corridor, which separated Prussia from the rest of Germany. Danzig was made a free city.[138]

Germany regained control of the Saarland via a referendum held in 1935 and annexed Austria in the Anschluss of 1938.[139] The Munich Agreement of 1938 gave Germany control of the Sudetenland, and they seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia six months later.[53] Under threat of invasion by sea, Lithuania surrendered the Memel district in March 1939.[140]

Between 1939 and 1941, German forces invaded Poland, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Soviet Union.[76] Trieste, South Tyrol, and Istria were ceded to Germany by Mussolini in 1943.[141] Two puppet districts were set up in the area, the Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral and the Operational Zone of the Alpine Foothills.[142]

Occupied territories[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-031-2436-03A, Russland, Hinrichtung von Partisanen-2

Under the cover of anti-partisan operations, the Germans murdered civilians in 5,295 different localities in occupied Soviet Belarus.[143]

Some of the conquered territories were immediately incorporated into Germany as part of Hitler's long-term goal of creating a Greater Germanic Reich. Several areas, such as Alsace-Lorraine, were placed under the authority of an adjacent Gau (regional district). Beyond the territories incorporated into Germany were the Reichskommissariate (Reich Commissariats), quasi-colonial regimes established in a number of occupied countries. Areas placed under German administration included the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Reichskommissariat Ostland (encompassing the Baltic states and Belarus), and Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Conquered areas of Belgium and France were placed under control of the Military Administration in Belgium and Northern France.[144] Belgian Eupen-Malmedy, which had been part of German until 1919, was annexed directly. Part of Poland was immediately incorporated into the Reich, and the General Government was established in occupied central Poland.[145] Hitler intended to eventually incorporate many of these areas into the Reich.[146]

The governments of Denmark, Norway (Reichskommissariat Norwegen), and the Netherlands (Reichskommissariat Niederlande) were placed under civilian administrations staffed largely by natives.[144][lower-alpha 3]

Post-war changes[]

With the issuance of the Berlin Declaration on 5 June 1945 and later creation of the Allied Control Council, the four Allied powers temporarily assumed governance of Germany.[147] At the Potsdam Conference in August 1945, the Allies arranged for the Allied occupation and denazification of the country. Germany was split into four zones, each occupied by one of the Allied powers, who drew reparations from their zone. Since most of the industrial areas were in the western zones, the Soviet Union was transferred additional reparations.[148] The Allied Control Council disestablished Prussia on 20 May 1947.[149] Aid to Germany began arriving from the United States under the Marshall Plan in 1948.[150] The occupation lasted until 1949, when the countries of East Germany and West Germany were created. Germany finalised her border with Poland by signing the Treaty of Warsaw (1970).[151] Germany remained divided until 1990, when the Allies renounced all claims to German territory with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, under which Germany also renounced claims to territories lost during World War II.[152]


Bundesarchiv Bild 102-04062A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell

Heinrich Himmler, Hitler, and Viktor Lutze perform the Nazi salute at the Nuremberg Rally, September 1934


The NSDAP was a far-right political party which came into its own during the social and financial upheavals that occurred with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.[153] While in prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which laid out his plan for transforming German society into one based on race.[154] The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum for the Germanic people.[155] The regime attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan master race and part of a Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy.[156][157] The Nazi regime believed that only Germany could defeat the forces of Bolshevism and save humanity from world domination by International Jewry.[158] Others deemed life unworthy of life by the Nazis included the mentally and physically disabled, Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and social misfits.[159][160]

Influenced by the Völkisch movement, the regime was against cultural modernism and supported the development of an extensive military at the expense of intellectualism.[8][161] Creativity and art were stifled, except where they could serve as propaganda media.[162] The party used symbols such as the Blood Flag and rituals such as the Nazi Party rallies to foster unity and bolster the regime's popularity.[163]


A law promulgated 30 January 1934 abolished the existing Länder (constituent states) of Germany and replaced them with new administrative divisions of Nazi Germany, the Gaue, headed by NSDAP leaders (Gauleiters), who effectively became the governor of their region.[164] The change was never fully implemented, as the Länder were still used as administrative divisions for some government departments such as education. This led to a bureaucratic tangle of overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities typical of the administrative style of the Nazi regime.[165]

Jewish civil servants lost their jobs in 1933, except for those who had seen military service in World War I. Members of the NSDAP or party supporters were appointed in their place.[166] As part of the process of Gleichschaltung, the Reich Local Government Law of 1935 abolished local elections. From that point forward, mayors were appointed by the Ministry of the Interior.[167]

Hitler ruled Germany autocratically by asserting the Führerprinzip (leader principle), which called for absolute obedience of all subordinates. He viewed the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex. Rank in the party was not determined by elections; positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank.[168] The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler.[169] Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator.[170] Kressel writes, "Overwhelmingly ... Germans speak with mystification of Hitler's 'hypnotic' appeal".[171] Roger Gill states, "His moving speeches captured the minds and hearts of a vast number of the German people: he virtually hypnotized his audiences."[172]

Top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, but they had considerable autonomy.[173] Officials were expected to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with his wishes and the goals of the NSDAP, without Hitler having to be involved in the day-to-day running of the country.[174] The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but rather a disorganised collection of factions led by members of the party elite who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour.[175] Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped.[176] In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.[177]


Nuremberg laws

Chart showing the pseudo-scientific racial divisions used in the racial policies of Nazi Germany

On 20 August 1934, civil servants were required to swear an oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler; a similar oath had been required of members of the military several weeks prior. This law became the basis of the Führerprinzip, the concept that Hitler's word overrode all existing laws.[178] Any acts that were sanctioned by Hitler—even murder—thus became legal.[179] All legislation proposed by cabinet ministers had to be approved by the office of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, who also had a veto over top civil service appointments.[180]

Most of the judicial system and legal codes of the Weimar Republic remained in use during and after the Nazi era to deal with non-political crimes.[181] The courts issued and carried out far more death sentences than before the Nazis took power.[181] People who were convicted of three or more offences—even petty ones—could be deemed habitual offenders and jailed indefinitely.[182] People such as prostitutes and pickpockets were judged to be inherently criminal and a threat to the racial community. Thousands were arrested and confined indefinitely without trial.[183]

Although the regular courts handled political cases and even issued death sentences for these cases, a new type of court, the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), was established in 1934 to deal with politically important matters.[184] This court handed out over 5,000 death sentences until its dissolution in 1945.[185] The death penalty could be issued for offences such as being a communist, printing seditious leaflets, or even making jokes about Hitler or other top party officials.[186] Nazi Germany employed three types of capital punishment; hanging, decapitation, and death by shooting.[187] The Gestapo was in charge of investigative policing to enforce National Socialist ideology. They located and confined political offenders, Jews, and others deemed undesirable.[188] Political offenders who were released from prison were often immediately re-arrested by the Gestapo and confined in a concentration camp.[189]

In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws initially prohibited sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring".[190] The law also forbade the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households.[191] The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of "German or related blood" were eligible for citizenship.[192] At the same time the Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande (race defilement) to justify the need for a restrictive law.[193] Thus Jews and other non-Aryans were stripped of their German citizenship. The wording of the law also potentially allowed the Nazis to deny citizenship to anyone who was not supportive enough of the regime.[192] A supplementary decree issued in November defined as Jewish anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if the Jewish faith was followed.[194]

Super Military and Paramilitary[]


Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-218-0510-22, Russland-Süd, Panzersoldat

A column of heavy tanks and other heavily armoured vehicles of the Panzerwaffe near Stalingrad, 1942

The unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945 were called the Wehrmacht. This included the Heer (army), Kriegsmarine (navy), and the Luftwaffe (air force). From 2 August 1934, members of the armed forces were required to pledge an oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler personally. In contrast to the previous oath, which required allegiance to the constitution of the country and its lawful establishments, this new oath required members of the military to obey Hitler even if they were being ordered to do something illegal.[195] Hitler decreed that the army would have to tolerate and even offer logistical support to the Einsatzgruppen—the mobile death squads responsible for millions of deaths in Eastern Europe—when it was tactically possible to do so.[196] Members of the Wehrmacht also participated directly in the Holocaust by shooting civilians or undertaking genocide under the guise of anti-partisan operations.[197] The party line was that the Jews were the instigators of the partisan struggle, and therefore needed to be eliminated.[198] On 8 July 1941, Heydrich announced that all Jews were to be regarded as partisans, and gave the order for all Jews, men, women and children to be shot and killed.[199]

In spite of efforts to prepare the country militarily, the economy could not sustain a lengthy war of attrition such as had occurred in World War I. A strategy was developed based on the tactic of Blitzkrieg (lightning war), which involved using quick coordinated assaults that avoided enemy strong points. Attacks began with artillery bombardment, followed by bombing and strafing runs. Next the tanks would attack and finally the infantry would move in to secure any ground that had been taken.[200] Victories continued through mid-1940, but the failure to defeat Britain was the first major turning point in the war. The decision to attack the Soviet Union and the decisive defeat at Stalingrad led to the retreat of the German armies and the eventual loss of the war.[201] The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1941 was around 41.7 million, of whom 5.6 million died. From 1941 to 1945 was roughly 18 million, of whom 10.2 million were either killed, captured, (MIA) missing in action, or imprisoned.[122]

The SA and SS[]

The Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), founded in 1921, was the first paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. Their initial assignment was to protect Nazi leaders at rallies and assemblies.[202] They also took part in street battles against the forces of rival political parties and violent actions against Jews and others.[203] By 1934, under Ernst Röhm's leadership, the SA had grown to over one million members—6 million including reserves—at a time when the regular army was still limited to 500,000 men by the Versailles Treaty.[204]

Röhm hoped to assume command of the army and absorb it into the ranks of the SA.[205] Hindenburg and Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg threatened to impose martial law if the alarming activities of the SA were not curtailed.[206] Hitler also suspected that Röhm was plotting to depose him, so he ordered the deaths of Röhm and other political enemies. Up to 10,000 people were killed from 30 June to 2 July 1934 in an event that became known as the Night of the Long Knives.[207] After this purge the SA was no longer a major force.[208]

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14468, Berlin, NS-Boykott gegen jüdische Geschäfte crop

Members of the SA enforce the boycott of Jewish stores. 1 April 1933

Initially a force of a dozen men under the auspices of the SA, the Schutzstaffel (SS) grew to become one of the largest and most powerful groups in Nazi Germany.[209] Led by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler from 1929, the SS had over a quarter million members by 1938 and continued to rapidly grow.[210] Himmler envisioned the SS as being an elite group of guards, Hitler's last line of defence.[211] The Waffen-SS, the military branch of the SS, became a de facto fourth branch of the Wehrmacht.[212]

In 1931 Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) under his deputy, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.[213] This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. Himmler hoped it would eventually totally replace the existing police system.[214][215] Himmler also established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses.[216][217]

From 1935 forward the SS was heavily involved in the persecution of Jews, who were rounded up into ghettos and concentration camps.[218] With the outbreak of World War II, SS units called Einsatzgruppen followed the army into Poland and the Soviet Union, where from 1933 to 1945 the SS killed more than 20 million people, including 11 million Jews.[219][220] The SS-Totenkopfverbände (death's head units) were in charge of the concentration camps and extermination camps, where tens of millions more were killed.[221][222]


Reich economics[]

The most pressing economic matter the Nazis initially faced was the 30 percent national unemployment rate.[223] Economist Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics, created in May 1933 a scheme for deficit financing. Capital projects were paid for with the issuance of promissory notes called Mefo bills. When the notes were presented for payment, the Reichsbank printed money to do so. While the national debt soared, Hitler and his economic team expected that the upcoming territorial expansion would provide the means of repaying the debt.[224] Schacht's administration achieved a rapid decline in the unemployment rate, the largest of any country during the Great Depression.[223]

On 17 October 1933, aviation pioneer Hugo Junkers, owner of the Junkers Aircraft Works, was arrested. Within a few days his company was expropriated by the regime. In concert with other aircraft manufacturers and under the direction of Aviation Minister Göring, production was immediately ramped up industry-wide. From a workforce of 3,200 people producing 100 units per year in 1932, the industry grew to employ a quarter of a million workers manufacturing over 10,000 technically advanced aircraft per year less than ten years later.[225]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0066, IG-Farbenwerke Auschwitz

IG Farben synthetic oil plant under construction at Buna Werke (1941). This plant was part of the complex at Auschwitz concentration camp.

An elaborate bureaucracy was created to regulate German imports of raw materials and finished goods with the intention of eliminating foreign competition in the German marketplace and improving the nation's balance of payments. The Nazis encouraged the development of synthetic replacements for materials such as oil and textiles.[226] As the market was experiencing a glut and prices for petroleum were low, in 1933 the Nazi government made a profit-sharing agreement with IG Farben, guaranteeing them a 5 percent return on capital invested in their synthetic oil plant at Leuna. Any profits in excess of that amount would be turned over to the Reich. By 1936, Farben regretted making the deal, as the excess profits by then being generated had to be given to the government.[227]

Major public works projects financed with deficit spending included the construction of a network of Autobahns and providing funding for programmes initiated by the previous government for housing and agricultural improvements.[228] To stimulate the construction industry, credit was offered to private businesses and subsidies were made available for home purchases and repairs.[229] On the condition that the wife would leave the workforce, a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks could be accessed by young couples of Aryan descent who intended to marry. The amount that had to be repaid was reduced by 25 percent for each child born.[230] The caveat that the woman had to remain unemployed was dropped by 1937 due to a shortage of skilled labourers.[231]

File:German Autobahn 1936 1939.jpg

Autobahn, late 1930s

Hitler envisioned widespread car ownership as part of the new Germany. He arranged for designer Ferdinand Porsche to draw up plans for the KdF-wagen (Strength Through Joy car), intended to be an automobile that every German citizen could afford. A prototype was displayed at the International Motor Show in Berlin on 17 February 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, the factory was converted to produce military vehicles. No production models were sold until after the war, when the vehicle was renamed the Volkswagen (people's car).[232]

nine million people were unemployed when the Nazis took power in 1933, and by 1937 there were fewer than a million.[233] This was in part due to the removal of women from the workforce.[234] Real wages dropped by 25 percent between 1933 and 1938.[223] Trade unions were abolished in May 1933 with the seizure of the funds and arrest of the leadership of the Social Democratic trade unions. A new organisation, the German Labour Front, was created and placed under NSDAP functionary Robert Ley.[235] The average German worked 43 hours a week in 1933, and by 1939 this increased to 47 hours a week.[236]

By early 1934 the focus shifted away from funding work creation schemes and toward rearmament. By 1935, military expenditures accounted for 73 percent of the government's purchases of goods and services.[237] On 18 October 1936 Hitler named Göring as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, intended to speed up the rearmament programme.[238] In addition to calling for the rapid construction of steel mills, synthetic rubber plants, and other factories, Göring instituted wage and price controls and restricted the issuance of stock dividends.[223] Large expenditures were made on rearmament, in spite of growing deficits.[239] With the introduction of compulsory military service in 1935, the Reichswehr, which had been limited to 100,000 by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, expanded to 750,000 on active service at the start of World War II, with a million more in the reserve.[240] By January 1939, unemployment was down to 301,800, and it dropped to only 77,500 by September.[241]

Eastern Front (World War II)[]

Nazi Regime vs Red Army[]

Eastern Front
Part of the European theatre of World War II
Clockwise from top left: Soviet Il-2 ground attack aircraft in Berlin sky; German Tiger I tanks during the Battle of Kursk; German Stuka dive bombers on the Eastern Front, December 1943; Ivanhorod Einsatzgruppen photograph of German death squads murdering Jews in Ukraine; Wilhelm Keitel signing the German Instrument of Surrender; Soviet troops in the Battle of Stalingrad
Date22 June 1941 (1941-06-22) – 9 May 1945 (1945-05-09)
(3 years, 10 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)
LocationEurope east of Germany: Central and Eastern Europe, in later stages:Germany and Austria

Soviet victory

  • Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Nazi Germany[242]
  • Flag of Romania Kingdom of Romania (until 1944)
  • Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946) Kingdom of Hungary (1920–1946)[243]
  • Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned Kingdom of Italy (until 1943)
  • Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945 Slovak Republic (1939–1945)
  • Flag of Independent State of Croatia Independent State of Croatia
  • Flag of Finland Finland (until 1944)
Former Axis powers or co-belligerents:
  • Flag of Romania Kingdom of Romania (from 1944)
  • Flag of Bulgaria Bulgaria (from 1944)
  • Flag of Finland Finland (from 1944)
Commanders and leaders
  • 1941
    3,767,000 troops
  • 1942
    3,720,000 troops
  • 1943
    3,933,000 troops
  • 1944
    3,370,000 troops
  • 1945
    1,960,000 troops
  • 1941
    (Front) 2,680,000 troops
  • 1942
    (Front) 5,313,000 troops
  • 1943
    (Front) 6,724,000 troops
  • 1944
    6,800,000 troops
  • 1945
    6,410,000 troops
Casualties and losses
5.1 million dead
4.5 million captured
See below.
8.7–10 million dead
4.1–5.7 million captured
See below.
Civilian casualties:
18–24 million civilians dead
See below.

The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of conflict between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union (USSR), Poland and other Allies, which encompassed Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Northeast Europe (Baltics), and Southeast Europe (Balkans) from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It was known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union and some of its successor states, while everywhere else it was called the Eastern Front.

The battles on the Eastern Front of the Second World War constituted the largest military confrontation in history.[244] They were characterised by unprecedented ferocity, wholesale destruction, mass deportations, and immense loss of life due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease, and massacres. Of the estimated 100-150 million deaths attributed to World War II, around 30 million occurred on the Eastern Front, including 16 million children.[245][246] The Eastern Front was decisive in determining the outcome in the European theatre of operations in World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Axis nations.[247]

The two principal belligerent powers were Germany and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies. Though never engaged in military action in the Eastern Front, the United States and the United Kingdom both provided substantial material aid to the Soviet Union in the form of the Lend-Lease program. The joint German–Finnish operations across the northernmost Finnish–Soviet border and in the Murmansk region are considered part of the Eastern Front. In addition, the Soviet–Finnish Continuation War is generally also considered the northern flank of the Eastern Front.


Germany and the Soviet Union remained unsatisfied with the outcome of World War I (1914–1918). Soviet Russia had lost substantial territory in Eastern Europe as a result of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918), where the Bolsheviks in Petrograd conceded to German demands and ceded control of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and other areas, to the Central Powers. Subsequently, when Germany in its turn surrendered to the Allies (November 1918) and these territories became independent states under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 at Versailles, Soviet Russia was in the midst of a civil war and the Allies did not recognise the Bolshevik government, so no Soviet Russian representation attended.[248]

Adolf Hitler had declared his intention to invade the Soviet Union on 11 August 1939 to Carl Jacob Burckhardt, League of Nations Commissioner, by saying:

Everything I undertake is directed against the Russians. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so that they can't starve us out, as happened in the last war.[249]

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in August 1939 was a non-aggression agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. It contained a secret protocol aiming to return Central Europe to the pre–World War I status quo by dividing it between Germany and the Soviet Union. Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would return to the Soviet control, while Poland and Romania would be divided.[citation needed] The Eastern Front was also made possible by the German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement in which the Soviet Union gave Germany the resources necessary to launch military operations in Eastern Europe.[250]

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. On 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland, and, as a result, Poland was partitioned among Germany, the Soviet Union and Lithuania. Soon after that, the Soviet Union demanded significant territorial concessions from Finland, and after Finland rejected Soviet demands, the Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939 in what became known as the Winter War – a bitter conflict that resulted in a peace treaty on 13 March 1940, with Finland maintaining its independence but losing its eastern parts in Karelia.[251]

In June 1940 the Soviet Union occupied and illegally annexed the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).[251] The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact ostensibly provided security to the Soviets in the occupation both of the Baltics and of the north and northeastern regions of Romania (Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia, June–July 1940), although Hitler, in announcing the invasion of the Soviet Union, cited the Soviet annexations of Baltic and Romanian territory as having violated Germany's understanding of the Pact. Moscow partitioned the annexed Romanian territory between the Ukrainian and Moldavian Soviet republics.


German ideology[]

Adolf Hitler had argued in his autobiography Mein Kampf (1925) for the necessity of Lebensraum ("living space"): acquiring new territory for Germans in Eastern Europe, in particular Russia.[252] He envisaged settling Germans there, as according to Nazi ideology the Germanic people constituted the "master race", while exterminating or deporting most of the existing inhabitants to Siberia and using the remainder as slave labour.[253] Hitler as early as 1917 had referred to the Russians as inferior, believing that the Bolshevik Revolution had put the Jews in power over the mass of Slavs, who were, in Hitler's opinion, incapable of ruling themselves and had thus ended up being ruled by Jewish masters.[254]

The Nazi leadership, including Heinrich Himmler,[255] saw the war against the Soviet Union as a struggle between the ideologies of Nazism and Jewish Bolshevism, and ensuring territorial expansion for the Germanic Übermensch (superhumans), who according to Nazi ideology were the Aryan Herrenvolk ("master race"), at the expense of the Slavic Untermenschen (subhumans).[256] Wehrmacht officers told their troops to target people who were described as "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood" and the "red beast".[257] The vast majority of German soldiers viewed the war in Nazi terms, seeing the Soviet enemy as sub-human.[258]

Hitler referred to the war in radical terms, calling it a "war of annihilation" (Vernichtungskrieg) which was both an ideological and racial war. The Nazi vision for the future of Eastern Europe was codified most clearly in the Generalplan Ost. The populations of occupied Central Europe and the Soviet Union were to be partially deported to West Siberia, enslaved and eventually exterminated; the conquered territories were to be colonised by German or "Germanized" settlers.[259] In addition, the Nazis also sought to wipe out the large Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe[260] as part of their program aiming to exterminate all European Jews.[261]

After Germany's initial success at the Battle of Kiev in 1941, Hitler saw the Soviet Union as militarily weak and ripe for immediate conquest. In a speech at the Berlin Sportpalast on 3 October, he announced, "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down."[262] Thus, Germany expected another short Blitzkrieg and made no serious preparations for prolonged warfare. However, following the decisive Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and the resulting dire German military situation, Nazi propaganda began to portray the war as a German defence of Western civilisation against destruction by the vast "Bolshevik hordes" that were pouring into Europe.

Soviet situation[]

Жуков и Тимошенко, 1940 год

Semyon Timoshenko and Georgy Zhukov in 1940

Throughout the 1930s the Soviet Union underwent massive industrialisation and economic growth under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Stalin's central tenet, "Socialism in One Country", manifested itself as a series of nationwide centralised Five-Year Plans from 1929 onwards. This represented an ideological shift in Soviet policy, away from its commitment to the international communist revolution, and eventually leading to the dissolution of the Comintern (Third International) organisation in 1943. The Soviet Union started a process of militarisation with the 1st Five-Year Plan that officially began in 1928, although it was only towards the end of the 2nd Five-Year Plan in the mid-1930s that military power became the primary focus of Soviet industrialisation.[263]

In February 1936 the Spanish general election brought many communist leaders into the Popular Front government in the Second Spanish Republic, but in a matter of months a right-wing military coup initiated the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. This conflict soon took on the characteristics of a proxy war involving the Soviet Union and left wing volunteers from different countries on the side of the predominantly socialist and communist-led[264] Second Spanish Republic;[265] while Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Portuguese Republic took the side of Spanish Nationalists, the military rebel group led by General Francisco Franco.[266] It served as a useful testing ground for both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army to experiment with equipment and tactics that they would later employ on a wider scale in the Second World War.

Germany, which was an anti-communist régime, formalised its ideological position on 25 November 1936 by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan.[267] Fascist Italy joined the Pact a year later.[265][268] Soviet Union negotiated treaties of mutual assistance with France and with Czechoslovakia with the aim of containing Germany's expansion.[269] The German Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia (1938–1939) demonstrated the impossibility of establishing a collective security system in Europe,[270] a policy advocated by the Soviet ministry of foreign affairs under Maxim Litvinov.[271][272] This, as well as the reluctance of the British and French governments to sign a full-scale anti-German political and military alliance with the USSR,[273] led to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany in late August 1939.[274] The separate Tripartite Pact between what became the three prime Axis Powers would not be signed until some four years after the Anti-Comintern Pact.


Europe before Operation Barbarossa, 1941 (in German)

Situation in Europe by May/June 1941, immediately before Operation Barbarossa

The war was fought between Nazi Germany, its allies and Finland, against the Soviet Union and its allies. The conflict began on 22 June 1941 with the Operation Barbarossa offensive, when Axis forces crossed the borders described in the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact, thereby invading the Soviet Union. The war ended on 9 May 1945, when Germany's armed forces surrendered unconditionally following the Battle of Berlin (also known as the Berlin Offensive), a strategic operation executed by the Red Army.

The states that provided forces and other resources for the German war effort included the Axis Powers – primarily Romania, Hungary, Italy, pro-Nazi Slovakia, and Croatia. Anti-Soviet Finland, which had fought the Winter War against the Soviet Union, also joined the offensive. The Wehrmacht forces were also assisted by anti-Communist partisans in places like Western Ukraine, and the Baltic states. Among the most prominent volunteer army formations was the Spanish Blue Division, sent by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to keep his ties to the Axis intact.[275]

The Soviet Union offered support to the partisans in many Wehrmacht-occupied countries in Central Europe, notably those in Slovakia, Poland. In addition, the Polish Armed Forces in the East, particularly the First and Second Polish armies, were armed and trained, and would eventually fight alongside the Red Army. The Free French forces also contributed to the Red Army by the formation of the GC3 (Groupe de Chasse 3 or 3rd Fighter Group) unit to fulfil the commitment of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, who thought that it was important for French servicemen to serve on all fronts.

Comparative strengths of combat forces, Eastern Front, 1941–1945[276][277][278]
Date Axis forces Soviet forces
22 June 1941 3,050,000 Germans, 67,000 (northern Norway); 500,000 Finns, 150,000 Romanians
Total: 3,767,000 in the east (80% of the German Army)
2,680,000 active in Western Military Districts out of 5,500,000 (overall); 12,000,000 mobilizable reserves
7 June 1942 2,600,000 Germans, 90,000 (northern Norway); 600,000 Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians
Total: 3,720,000 in the east (80% of the German Army)
5,313,000 (front); 383,000 (hospital)
Total: 9,350,000
9 July 1943 3,403,000 Germans, 80,000 (northern Norway); 400,000 Finns, 150,000 Romanians and Hungarians
Total: 3,933,000 in the east (63% of the German Army)
6,724,000 (front); 446,445 (hospital);
Total: 10,300,000
1 May 1944 2,460,000 Germans, 60,000 (northern Norway); 300,000 Finns, 550,000 Romanians and Hungarians
Total: 3,370,000 in the east (62% of the German Army)
1 January 1945 2,230,000 Germans, 100,000 Hungarians
Total: 2,330,000 in the east (60% of the German Army)
6,532,000 (360,000 Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Czechs)
1 April 1945 1,960,000 Germans
Total: 1,960,000 (66% of the German Army)
6,410,000 (450,000 Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Czechs)

The above figures includes all personnel in the German Army, i.e. active-duty Heer, Waffen SS, Luftwaffe ground forces, personnel of the naval coastal artillery and security units.[279][280] In the spring of 1940, Germany had mobilised 5,500,000 men.[281] By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht consisted of c, 3,800,000 men of the Heer, 1,680,000 of the Luftwaffe, 404,000 of the Kriegsmarine, 150,000 of the Waffen-SS, and 1,200,000 of the Replacement Army (contained 450,400 active reservists, 550,000 new recruits and 204,000 in administrative services, vigiles and or in convalescence). The Wehrmacht had a total strength of 7,234,000 men by 1941. For Operation Barbarossa, Germany mobilised 3,300,000 troops of the Heer, 150,000 of the Waffen-SS[282] and approximately 250,000 personnel of the Luftwaffe were actively earmarked.[283]

By July 1943, the Wehrmacht numbered 6,815,000 troops. Of these, 3,900,000 were deployed in eastern Europe, 180,000 in Finland, 315,000 in Norway, 110,000 in Denmark, 1,370,000 in western Europe, 330,000 in Italy, and 610,000 in the Balkans.[284] According to a presentation by Alfred Jodl, the Wehrmacht was up to 7,849,000 personnel in April 1944. 3,878,000 were deployed in eastern Europe, 311,000 in Norway/Denmark, 1,873,000 in western Europe, 961,000 in Italy, and 826,000 in the Balkans.[285] About 15–20% of total German strength were foreign troops (from allied countries or conquered territories). The German high water mark was just before Battle of Kursk, in early July 1943: 3,403,000 German troops and 650,000 Finnish, Hungarian, Romanian and other countries troops.[277][278]

For nearly two years the border was quiet while Germany conquered Denmark, Norway, France, the Low Countries, and the Balkans. Hitler had always intended to renege on his pact with the Soviet Union, eventually making the decision to invade in the spring of 1941.

Some historians say Stalin was fearful of war with Germany, or just did not expect Germany to start a two-front war, and was reluctant to do anything to provoke Hitler. Others say that Stalin was eager for Germany to be at war with capitalist countries. Another viewpoint is that Stalin expected war in 1942 (the time when all his preparations would be complete) and stubbornly refused to believe its early arrival.[286]

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-219-0595-05, Russland-Mitte-Süd, Infanteristen

German infantry in Russia, June 1943

British historians Alan S. Milward and M. Medlicott show that Nazi Germany—unlike Imperial Germany—was prepared for only a short-term war (Blitzkrieg).[287] According to Edward Ericson, although Germany's own resources were sufficient for the victories in the West in 1940, massive Soviet shipments obtained during a short period of Nazi–Soviet economic collaboration were critical for Germany to launch Operation Barbarossa.[288]

Germany had been assembling very large numbers of troops in eastern Poland and making repeated reconnaissance flights over the border; the Soviet Union responded by assembling its divisions on its western border, although the Soviet mobilisation was slower than Germany's due to the country's less dense road network. As in the Sino-Soviet conflict on the Chinese Eastern Railway or Soviet–Japanese border conflicts, Soviet troops on the western border received a directive, signed by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and General of the Army Georgy Zhukov, that ordered (as demanded by Stalin): "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any (offensive) actions without specific orders" – which meant that Soviet troops could open fire only on their soil and forbade counter-attack on German soil. The German invasion therefore caught the Soviet military and civilian leadership largely by surprise.

The extent of warnings received by Stalin about a German invasion is controversial, and the claim that there was a warning that "Germany will attack on 22 June without declaration of war" has been dismissed as a "popular myth". However, some sources quoted in the articles on Soviet spies Richard Sorge and Willi Lehmann, say they had sent warnings of an attack on 20 or 22 June, which were treated as "disinformation". The Lucy spy ring in Switzerland also sent warnings, possibly deriving from Ultra codebreaking in Britain. Sweden had access to internal German communications through breaking the crypto used in the Siemens and Halske T52 crypto machine also known as the Geheimschreiber and informed Stalin about the forthcoming invasion well ahead of June 22, but did not reveal its sources.

Soviet intelligence was fooled by German disinformation, so sent false alarms to Moscow about a German invasion in April, May and the beginning of June. Soviet intelligence reported that Germany would rather invade the USSR after the fall of the British Empire[289] or after an unacceptable ultimatum demanding German occupation of Ukraine during the German invasion of Britain.[290]

Foreign support and measures[]

A strategic air offensive by the United States Army Air Force and Royal Air Force played a significant part in reducing German industry and tying up German air force and air defence resources, with some bombings, such as the bombing of the eastern German city of Dresden, being done to facilitate specific Soviet operational goals. In addition to Germany, hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on their eastern allies of Romania and Hungary, primarily in an attempt to cripple Romanian oil production.

British and Commonwealth forces also contributed directly to the fighting on the Eastern Front through their service in the Arctic convoys and training Red Air Force pilots, as well as in the provision of early material and intelligence support.

Allied shipments to the Soviet Union[291]
Year Amount
1941 360,778 2.1
1942 2,453,097 14
1943 4,794,545 27.4
1944 6,217,622 35.5
1945 3,673,819 21
Total 17,499,861 100

Soviet Union[]

Among other goods, Lend-Lease supplied:[292]:8–9

  • 58% of the USSR's high octane aviation fuel
  • 33% of their motor vehicles
  • 53% of USSR domestic production of expended ordnance (artillery shells, mines, assorted explosives)
  • 30% of fighters and bombers
  • 93% of railway equipment (locomotives, freight cars, wide gauge rails, etc.)
  • 50–80% of rolled steel, cable, lead, and aluminium
  • 43% of garage facilities (building materials & blueprints)
  • 12% of tanks and SPGs
  • 50% of TNT (1942–1944) and 33% of ammunition powder (in 1944)[293]
  • 16% of all explosives (from 1941 to 1945, the USSR produced 505,000 tons of explosives and received 105,000 tons of Lend-Lease imports)[294]

Lend-Lease aid of military hardware, components and goods to the Soviet Union constituted to 20% percent of the assistance.[292]:122 Rest were foodstuff, nonferrous metals (e.g. copper, magnesium, nickel, zinc, lead, tin, aluminium), chemical substances, petroleum (high octane aviation gasoline) and factory machinery. The aid of production-line equipment and machinery were crucial and helped to maintain adequate levels of Soviet armament production during the entire war.[292]:122 In addition, the USSR received wartime innovations including penicillin, radar, rocket, precision-bombing technology, the long-range navigation system Loran, and many other innovations.[292]:123

Of the 800,000 tons of nonferrous metals shipped,[292]:124 about 350,000 tons were aluminium.[292]:135 The shipment of aluminium not only represented double the amount of metal that Germany possessed, but also composed the bulk of aluminium that was used in manufacture of Soviet aircraft, that had fallen in critically short supply.[292]:135 Soviet statistics show, that without these shipments of aluminium, aircraft production would have been less than one-half (or about 45,000 less) of the total 137,000 produced aircraft.[292]:135

Stalin noted in 1944, that two-thirds of Soviet heavy industry had been built with the help of the United States, and the remaining one-third, with the help from other Western nations such as Great Britain and Canada.[292]:129 The massive transfer of equipment and skilled personnel from occupied territories helped further to boost the economic base.[292]:129 Without Lend-Lease aid, Soviet Union's diminished post invasion economic base would not have produced adequate supplies of weaponry, other than focus on machine tool, foodstuff and consumer goods[Clarification needed].[292]:129

In the last year of war, lend-lease data show that about 5.1 million tons of foodstuff left the United States for the Soviet Union.[292]:123 It is estimated that all the food supplies sent to Russia could feed a 12,000,000-man strong army half pound of concentrated food per day, for the entire duration of the war.[292]:122–3

The total lend-lease aid during the second World War had been estimated between $42–50 billion.[292]:128 The Soviet Union received shipments in war materials, military equipment and other supplies worth of $12.5 billion, about a quarter of the U.S. lend-lease aid provided to other allied countries.[292]:123 However, post-war negotiations to settle all the debt were never concluded,[292]:133 and as of date, the debt issues is still on in future American-Russian summits and talks.[292]:133–4

Prof. Dr. Albert L. Weeks conclude: 'As to attempts to sum up the importance of those four-year-long shipments of Lend-Lease for the Russian victory on the Eastern Front in World War II, the jury is still out – that is, in any definitive sense of establishing exactly how crucial this aid was.'[292]:123

Nazi Germany[]

Europe under Nazi domination

Europe at the height of German military expansion, 1942

Germany's economic, scientific, research and industrial capabilities were one of the most technically advanced in the world at the time. However, access to (and control of) the resources, raw materials and production capacity required to entertain long-term goals (such as European control, German territorial expansion and the destruction of the USSR) were limited. Political demands necessitated the expansion of Germany's control of natural and human resources, industrial capacity and farmland beyond its borders (conquered territories). Germany's military production was tied to resources outside its area of control, a dynamic not found amongst the Allies.

During the war, as Germany acquired new territories (either by direct annexation or by installing puppet governments in defeated countries), these new territories were forced to sell raw materials and agricultural products to German buyers at extremely low prices. Two-thirds of all French trains in 1941 were used to carry goods to Germany. Norway lost 20% of its national income in 1940 and 40% in 1943.[295] Axis allies such as Romania and Italy, Hungary, Finland, Croatia and Bulgaria benefited from Germany's net imports. Overall, France made the largest contribution to the German war effort. In 1943–44, French payments to Germany may have risen to as much as 55% of French GDP.[296] Overall, Germany imported 20% of its food and 33% of its raw materials from conquered territories and Axis allies.[297]

On 27 May 1940, Germany signed the "Oil Pact" with Romania, by which Germany would trade arms for oil. Romania's oil production amounted to approximately 6,000,000 tons annually. This production represents 35% of the total fuel production of the Axis including the synthetic products and the substitutes and 70% of the total production of crude oil.[298] In 1941, Germany only had 18% of the oil it had in peacetime. Romania supplied Germany and its allies with roughly 13 million barrels of oil (about 4 million per year) between 1941 and 1943. Germany's peak oil production in 1944 amounted to about 12 million barrels of oil per year.[299]

Rolf Karlbom estimated that Swedish share of Germany's total consumption of iron may have amounted to 43% during the period of 1933–43. It may also be likely that 'Swedish ore formed the raw material of four out of every ten German guns' during the Hitler era'.[300]

Forced labour[]

The use of foreign and slavery in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale.[301] It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied Europe. The Nazi Germans abducted approximately 12 million foreign people from almost twenty European countries; about two-thirds came from Central Europe and Eastern Europe.[302] Counting deaths and turnover, about 15 million men and women were forced labourers at one point during the war.[303] For example, 1.5 million French soldiers were kept in POW camps in Germany as hostages and forced workers and, in 1943, 600,000 French civilians were forced to move to Germany to work in war plants.[304]

The defeat of Germany in 1945 freed approximately 11 million foreigners (categorised as "displaced persons"), most of whom were forced labourers and POWs. In wartime, the German forces had brought into the Reich 6.5 million civilians in addition to Soviet POWs for unfree labour in factories.[302] In all, 5.2 million foreign workers and POWs were repatriated to the Soviet Union, 1.6 million to Poland, 1.5 million to France, and 900,000 to Italy, along with 300,000 to 400,000 each to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Belgium.[305]

Conduct of operations[]


A map of the South Western Front (Ukrainian) at 22 June 1941

While German historians do not apply any specific periodisation to the conduct of operations on the Eastern Front, all Soviet and Russian historians divide the war against Germany and its allies into three periods, which are further subdivided into eight major campaigns of the Theatre of war:[306]

  • First period (Russian: Первый период Великой Отечественной войны) (22 June 1941 – 18 November 1942)
  1. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1941 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1941 г.) (22 June – 4 December 1941)
  2. Winter Campaign of 1941–42 (Russian: Зимняя кампания 1941/42 г.) (5 December 1941 – 30 April 1942)
  3. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1942 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1942 г.) (1 May – 18 November 1942)
  • Second period (Russian: Второй период Великой Отечественной войны) (19 November 1942 – 31 December 1943)
  1. Winter Campaign of 1942–43 (Russian: Зимняя кампания 1942–1943 гг.) (19 November 1942 – 3 March 1943)
  2. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1943 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1943 г.) (1 July – 31 December 1943)
  • Third period (Russian: Третий период Великой Отечественной войны) (1 January 1944 – 9 May 1945)
  1. Winter–Spring Campaign (Russian: Зимне-весенняя кампания 1944 г.) (1 January – 31 May 1944)
  2. Summer–Autumn Campaign of 1944 (Russian: Летне-осенняя кампания 1944 г.) (1 June – 31 December 1944)
  3. Campaign in Europe during 1945 (Russian: Кампания в Европе 1945 г.) (1 January – 9 May 1945)

Operation Barbarossa: Summer 1941[]

Eastern Front 1941-06 to 1941-12

Operation Barbarossa: the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 21 June 1941 to 5 December 1941:

  to 9 July 1941
  to 1 September 1941
  to 9 September 1941
  to 5 December 1941

Operation Barbarossa began just before dawn on 22 June 1941. The Germans cut the wire network in all Soviet western military districts to undermine the Red Army's communications.[307] Panicky transmissions from the Soviet front-line units to their command headquarters were picked up like this: "We are being fired upon. What shall we do?" The answer was just as confusing: "You must be insane. And why is your signal not in code?"[308]

At 03:15 on 22 June 1941, 99 of 190 German divisions, including fourteen panzer divisions and ten motorised, were deployed against the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Black Sea. They were accompanied by ten Romanian divisions, three Italian divisions, two Slovakian divisions and nine Romanian and four Hungarian brigades.[309] On the same day, the Baltic, Western and Kiev Special military districts were renamed the Northwestern, Western and Southwestern Fronts respectively.[307]

To establish air supremacy, the Luftwaffe began immediate attacks on Soviet airfields, destroying much of the forward-deployed Soviet Air Force airfield fleets consisting of largely obsolescent types before their pilots had a chance to leave the ground.[310] For a month the offensive conducted on three axes was completely unstoppable as the panzer forces encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in huge pockets that were then reduced by slower-moving infantry armies while the panzers continued the offensive, following the Blitzkrieg doctrine.

Army Group North's objective was Leningrad via the Baltic states. Comprising the 16th and 18th Armies and the 4th Panzer Group, this formation advanced through the Baltic states, and the Russian Pskov and Novgorod regions. Local insurgents seized the moment and controlled most of Lithuania, northern Latvia and southern Estonia prior to the arrival of the German forces.[311][312]

File:Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lvov, June 1941.jpg

Corpses of victims murdered by Stalin's NKVD in the last few days of June 1941, just after the outbreak of war

Army Group Centre's two panzer groups (the 2nd and 3rd), advanced to the north and south of Brest-Litovsk and converged east of Minsk, followed by the 2nd, 4th, and 9th Armies. The combined panzer force reached the Beresina River in just six days, 650 km (400 mi) from their start lines. The next objective was to cross the Dnieper river, which was accomplished by 11 July. Their next target was Smolensk, which fell on 16 July, but the fierce Soviet resistance in the Smolensk area and slowing of the Wehrmacht advance by the North and South Army Groups forced Hitler to halt a central thrust at Moscow and to divert the 3rd Panzer Group north. Critically, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group was ordered to move south in a giant pincer manoeuvre with Army Group South which was advancing into Ukraine. Army Group Centre's infantry divisions were left relatively unsupported by armour to continue their slow advance to Moscow.[313]

This decision caused a severe leadership crisis. The German field commanders argued for an immediate offensive towards Moscow, but Hitler over-ruled them, citing the importance of Ukrainian agricultural, mining and industrial resources, as well as the massing of Soviet reserves in the Gomel area between Army Group Centre's southern flank and the bogged-down Army Group South's northern flank. This decision, Hitler's "summer pause",[313] is believed to have had a severe impact on the Battle of Moscow's outcome, by slowing down the advance on Moscow in favour of encircling large numbers of Soviet troops around Kiev.[314]

Army Group South, with the 1st Panzer Group, the 6th, 11th and 17th Armies, was tasked with advancing through Galicia and into Ukraine. Their progress, however, was rather slow, and they took heavy casualties in a major tank battle. At the beginning of July, the Third and Fourth Romanian Armies, aided by elements of the German 11th Army, fought their way through Bessarabia towards Odessa. The 1st Panzer Group turned away from Kiev for the moment, advancing into the Dnieper bend (western Dnipropetrovsk Oblast). When it joined up with the southern elements of Army Group South at Uman, the Group captured about 100,000 Soviet prisoners in a huge encirclement. Advancing armoured divisions of the Army Group South met with Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group near Lokhvytsa in mid September, cutting off large numbers of Red Army troops in the pocket east of Kiev.[313] 400,000 Soviet prisoners were captured as Kiev was surrendered on 19 September.[313]

RIAN archive 137811 Children during air raid

Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war, June 1941, by RIA Novosti archive

As the Red Army withdrew behind the Dnieper and Dvina rivers, the Soviet Stavka (high command) turned its attention to evacuating as much of the western regions' industry as it could. Factories were dismantled and transported on flatcars away from the front line for re-establishment in more remote areas of the Ural Mountains, Caucasus, Central Asia and south-eastern Siberia. Most civilians were left to make their own way east, with only industry-related workers evacuated with the equipment; much of the population was left behind to the mercy of the invading forces.

Stalin ordered the retreating Red Army to initiate a scorched-earth policy to deny the Germans and their allies basic supplies as they advanced eastward. To carry out that order, destruction battalions were formed in front-line areas, having the authority to summarily execute any suspicious person. The destruction battalions burned down villages, schools, and public buildings.[315] As a part of this policy, the NKVD massacred thousands of anti-Soviet prisoners.[316]

Leningrad, Moscow and Rostov: Autumn 1941[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1981-149-34A, Russland, Herausziehen eines Autos

Wehrmacht soldiers pulling a car from the mud during the rasputitsa period, November 1941

Hitler then decided to resume the advance on Moscow, re-designating the panzer groups as panzer armies for the occasion. Operation Typhoon, which was set in motion on 30 September, saw the 2nd Panzer Army rush along the paved road from Oryol (captured 5 October) to the Oka River at Plavsk, while the 4th Panzer Army (transferred from Army Group North to Centre) and 3rd Panzer armies surrounded the Soviet forces in two huge pockets at Vyazma and Bryansk.[317] Army Group North positioned itself in front of Leningrad and attempted to cut the rail link at Mga to the east.[318] This began the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. North of the Arctic Circle, a German–Finnish force set out for Murmansk but could get no further than the Zapadnaya Litsa River, where they settled down.[319]

Army Group South pushed down from the Dnieper to the Sea of Azov coast, also advancing through Kharkov, Kursk, and Stalino. The combined German and Romanian forces moved into the Crimea and took control of all of the peninsula by autumn (except Sevastopol, which held out until 3 July 1942). On 21 November, the Wehrmacht took Rostov, the gateway to the Caucasus. However, the German lines were over-extended and the Soviet defenders counterattacked the 1st Panzer Army's spearhead from the north, forcing them to pull out of the city and behind the Mius River; the first significant German withdrawal of the war.[320][321]

The onset of the winter freeze saw one last German lunge that opened on 15 November, when the Wehrmacht attempted to encircle Moscow. On 27 November, the 4th Panzer Army got to within 30 km (19 mi) of the Kremlin when it reached the last tramstop of the Moscow line at Khimki. Meanwhile, the 2nd Panzer Army failed to take Tula, the last Soviet city that stood in its way to the capital. After a meeting held in Orsha between the head of the OKH (Army General Staff), General Franz Halder and the heads of three Army groups and armies, decided to push forward to Moscow since it was better, as argued by the head of Army Group Center, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, for them to try their luck on the battlefield rather than just sit and wait while their opponent gathered more strength.[322]

However, by 6 December it became clear that the Wehrmacht did not have the strength to capture Moscow, and the attack was suspended. Marshal Shaposhnikov thus began his counter-attack, employing freshly mobilised reserves,[323] as well as some well-trained Far-Eastern divisions transferred from the east following intelligence that Japan would remain neutral.[324]

Soviet counter-offensive: Winter 1941[]

Eastern Front 1941-12 to 1942-05

The Soviet winter counter-offensive, 5 December 1941 to 7 May 1942:

  Soviet gains
  German gains

The Soviet counter-offensive during the Battle of Moscow had removed the immediate German threat to the city. According to Zhukov, "the success of the December counter-offensive in the central strategic direction was considerable. Having suffered a major defeat the German striking forces of Army Group Centre were retreating." Stalin's objective in January 1942 was "to deny the Germans any breathing space, to drive them westward without let-up, to make them use up their reserves before spring comes..."[325]

RIAN archive 491037 The 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War

German soldiers surrendering to the Red Army units near Vitovka village, 1941

The main blow was to be delivered by a double envelopment orchestrated by the Northwestern Front, the Kalinin Front and the Western Front. The overall objective according to Zhukov was the "subsequent encirclement and destruction of the enemy's main forces in the area of Rzhev, Vyazma and Smolensk. The Leningrad Front, the Volkhov Front and the right wing forces of the Northwestern Front were to rout the Army Group North." The Southwestern Front and Southern Front were to defeat the Army Group South. The Caucasian Front and Black Sea Fleet were to take back the Crimea.[325]:53

The 20th Army, part of the Soviet 1st Shock Army, the 22nd Tank Brigade and five ski battalions launched their attack on 10 January 1942. By 17 January, the Soviets had captured Lotoshino and Shakhovskaya. By 20 January, the 5th and 33rd armies had captured Ruza, Dorokhovo, Mozhaisk and Vereya, while the 43rd and 49th armies were at Domanovo.[325]:58–59

The Wehrmacht rallied, retaining a salient at Rzhev. A Soviet parachute drop by two battalions of the 201st Airborne Brigade and the 250th Airborne Regiment on 18 and 22 January was designed to "cut off enemy communications with the rear." Lt.-Gen. Mikhail Grigoryevich Yefremov's 33rd Army aided by Gen. Belov's 1st Cavalry Corps and Soviet Partisans attempted to seize Vyazma. This force was joined by additional paratroopers of the 8th Airborne Brigade at the end of January. However, in early February, the Germans managed to cut off this force, separating the Soviets from their main force in the rear of the Germans. They were supplied by air until April when they were given permission to regain the Soviet main lines. Only part of Belov's Cavalry Corps made it to safety however, while Yefremov's men fought "a losing battle."[325]:59–62

By April 1942, the Soviet Supreme Command agreed to assume the defensive so as to "consolidate the captured ground." According to Zhukov, "During the winter offensive, the forces of the Western Front had advanced from 70 to 100 km, which somewhat improved the overall operational and strategic situation on the Western sector."[325]:64

To the north, the Red Army surrounded a German garrison in Demyansk, which held out with air supply for four months, and established themselves in front of Kholm, Velizh, and Velikie Luki.

Further north still, the Soviet 2nd Shock Army was unleashed on the Volkhov River. Initially this made some progress; however, it was unsupported, and by June a German counterattack cut off and destroyed the army. The Soviet commander, Lieutenant General Andrey Vlasov, later defected to Germany and formed the ROA or Russian Liberation Army.

In the south the Red Army lunged over the Donets River at Izyum and drove a 100 km (62 mi) deep salient. The intent was to pin Army Group South against the Sea of Azov, but as the winter eased the Wehrmacht counter-attacked and cut off the over-extended Soviet troops in the Second Battle of Kharkov.

Don, Volga, and Caucasus: Summer 1942[]

Question book-new

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Eastern Front 1942-05 to 1942-11

Operation Blue: German advances from 7 May 1942 to 18 November 1942:

  to 7 July 1942
  to 22 July 1942
  to 1 August 1942
  to 18 November 1942

Although plans were made to attack Moscow again, on 28 June 1942, the offensive re-opened in a different direction. Army Group South took the initiative, anchoring the front with the Battle of Voronezh and then following the Don river southeastwards. The grand plan was to secure the Don and Volga first and then drive into the Caucasus towards the oil fields, but operational considerations and Hitler's vanity made him order both objectives to be attempted simultaneously. Rostov was recaptured on 24 July when the 1st Panzer Army joined in, and then that group drove south towards Maikop. As part of this, Operation Shamil was executed, a plan whereby a group of Brandenburger commandos dressed up as Soviet NKVD troops to destabilise Maikop's defences and allow the 1st Panzer Army to enter the oil town with little opposition.

Meanwhile, the 6th Army was driving towards Stalingrad, for a long period unsupported by 4th Panzer Army, which had been diverted to help 1st Panzer Army cross the Don. By the time the 4th Panzer Army had rejoined the Stalingrad offensive Soviet resistance (comprising the 62nd Army under Vasily Chuikov) had stiffened. A leap across the Don brought German troops to the Volga on 23 August but for the next three months the Wehrmacht would be fighting the Battle of Stalingrad street-by-street.

Towards the south, the 1st Panzer Army had reached the Caucasian foothills and the Malka River. At the end of August Romanian mountain troops joined the Caucasian spearhead, while the Romanian 3rd and 4th armies were redeployed from their successful task of clearing the Azov littoral. They took up position on either side of Stalingrad to free German troops for the main offensive. Mindful of the continuing antagonism between Axis allies Romania and Hungary over Transylvania, the Romanian army in the Don bend was separated from the Hungarian 2nd army by the Italian 8th Army. Thus, all of Hitler's allies were involved – including a Slovakian contingent with the 1st Panzer Army and a Croatian regiment attached to 6th Army.

The advance into the Caucasus bogged down, with the Germans unable to fight their way past Malgobek and to the main prize of Grozny. Instead, they switched the direction of their advance to approach it from the south, crossing the Malka at the end of October and entering North Ossetia. In the first week of November, on the outskirts of Ordzhonikidze, the 13th Panzer Division's spearhead was snipped off and the panzer troops had to fall back. The offensive into Russia was over.

Stalingrad: Winter 1942[]

Eastern Front 1942-11 to 1943-03

Operations Uranus, Saturn and Mars: Soviet advances on the Eastern Front, 18 November 1942 to March 1943:

  to 12 December 1942
  to 18 February 1943
  to March 1943 (Soviet gains only)

While the German 6th and 4th Panzer Armies had been fighting their way into Stalingrad, Soviet armies had congregated on either side of the city, specifically into the Don bridgeheads, and it was from these that they struck in November 1942. In Operation Uranus started on 19 November, two Soviet fronts punched through the Romanian lines and converged at Kalach on 23 November, trapping 300,000 Axis troops behind them.[326] A simultaneous offensive on the Rzhev sector known as Operation Mars was supposed to advance to Smolensk, but was a costly failure, with German tactical defences preventing any breakthrough.


A Soviet junior political officer (Politruk) urges Soviet troops forward against German positions (12 July 1942)

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B28822, Russland, Kampf um Stalingrad, Infanterie

German infantry and a supporting StuG III assault gun during the advance towards Stalingrad, September 1942

The Germans rushed to transfer troops to the Soviet Union in a desperate attempt to relieve Stalingrad, but the offensive could not get going until 12 December, by which time the 6th Army in Stalingrad was starving and too weak to break out towards it. Operation Winter Storm, with three transferred panzer divisions, got going briskly from Kotelnikovo towards the Aksai river but became bogged down 65 km (40 mi) short of its goal. To divert the rescue attempt, the Red Army decided to smash the Italians and come down behind the relief attempt if they could; that operation starting on 16 December. What it did accomplish was to destroy many of the aircraft that had been transporting relief supplies to Stalingrad. The fairly limited scope of the Soviet offensive, although still eventually targeted on Rostov, also allowed Hitler time to see sense and pull Army Group A out of the Caucasus and back over the Don.[327]

On 31 January 1943, the 90,000 survivors of the 300,000-man 6th Army surrendered. By that time the Hungarian 2nd Army had also been wiped out. The Red Army advanced from the Don 500 km (310 mi) to the west of Stalingrad, marching through Kursk (retaken on 8 February 1943) and Kharkov (retaken 16 February 1943). To save the position in the south, the Germans decided to abandon the Rzhev salient in February, freeing enough troops to make a successful riposte in eastern Ukraine. Manstein's counteroffensive, strengthened by a specially trained SS Panzer Corps equipped with Tiger tanks, opened on 20 February 1943 and fought its way from Poltava back into Kharkov in the third week of March, when the spring thaw intervened.This left a glaring Soviet bulge (salient) in the front centered on Kursk.

Kursk: Summer 1943[]

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Eastern Front 1943-02 to 1943-08

German advances at Kharkov and Kursk, 19 February 1943 to 1 August 1943:

  to 18 March 1943
  to 1 August 1943

After the failure of the attempt to capture Stalingrad, Hitler had delegated planning authority for the upcoming campaign season to the German Army High Command and reinstated Heinz Guderian to a prominent role, this time as Inspector of Panzer Troops. Debate among the General Staff was polarised, with even Hitler nervous about any attempt to pinch off the Kursk salient. He knew that in the intervening six months the Soviet position at Kursk had been reinforced heavily with anti-tank guns, tank traps, landmines, barbed wire, trenches, pillboxes, artillery and mortars.[328]

However, if one last great blitzkrieg offensive could be mounted, then attention could then be turned to the Allied threat to the Western Front. Certainly, the peace negotiations in April had gone nowhere.[328] The advance would be executed from the Orel salient to the north of Kursk and from Belgorod to the south. Both wings would converge on the area east of Kursk, and by that means restore the lines of Army Group South to the exact points that it held over the winter of 1941–1942.

RIAN archive 997 Soldiers and a gun on the road

Soviet soldiers pushing a 45 mm (1.8 in) anti-tank gun on the road, 1 August 1943

In the north, the entire German 9th Army had been redeployed from the Rzhev salient into the Orel salient and was to advance from Maloarkhangelsk to Kursk. But its forces could not even get past the first objective at Olkhovatka, just 8 km (5.0 mi) into the advance. The 9th Army blunted its spearhead against the Soviet minefields, frustratingly so considering that the high ground there was the only natural barrier between them and flat tank country all the way to Kursk. The direction of advance was then switched to Ponyri, to the west of Olkhovatka, but the 9th Army could not break through here either and went over to the defensive. The Red Army then launched a counter-offensive, Operation Kutuzov.

On 12 July the Red Army battled through the demarcation line between the 211th and 293rd divisions on the Zhizdra River and steamed towards Karachev, right behind them and behind Orel. The southern offensive, spearheaded by 4th Panzer Army, led by Gen. Col. Hoth, with three Tank Corps made more headway. Advancing on either side of the upper Donets on a narrow corridor, the II SS Panzer Corps and the Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier divisions battled their way through minefields and over comparatively high ground towards Oboyan. Stiff resistance caused a change of direction from east to west of the front, but the tanks got 25 km (16 mi) before encountering the reserves of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army outside Prokhorovka. Battle was joined on 12 July, with about one thousand tanks being engaged.

Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Merz-014-12A, Russland, Beginn Unternehmen Zitadelle, Panzer

The Battle of Prokhorovka was one of the largest tank battles ever fought. It was part of the wider Battle of Kursk.

After the war, the battle near Prochorovka was idealised by Soviet historians as the largest tank battle of all time. The meeting engagement at Prochorovka was a Soviet defensive success, albeit at heavy cost. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, with about 800 light and medium tanks, attacked elements of the II SS Panzer Corps. Tank losses on both sides have been the source of controversy ever since. Although the 5th Guards Tank Army did not attain its objectives, the German advance had been halted.

At the end of the day both sides had fought each other to a standstill, but regardless of the German failure in the north Erich von Manstein proposed he continue the attack with the 4th Panzer Army. The Red Army started the strong offensive operation in the northern Orel salient and achieved a breakthrough on the flank of the German 9th Army. Also worried by the Allies' landing in Sicily on 10 July, Hitler made the decision to halt the offensive even as the German 9th Army was rapidly giving ground in the north. The Germans' final strategic offensive in the Soviet Union ended with their defence against a major Soviet counteroffensive that lasted into August.

The Kursk offensive was the last on the scale of 1940 and 1941 that the Wehrmacht was able to launch; subsequent offensives would represent only a shadow of previous German offensive might.

Autumn and Winter 1943–44[]

BM 13 TBiU 7

Loading a Soviet "Katyusha" rocket launcher

The Soviet multi-stage summer offensive started with the advance into the Orel salient. The diversion of the well-equipped Großdeutschland Division from Belgorod to Karachev could not counteract it, and the Wehrmacht began a withdrawal from Orel (retaken by the Red Army on 5 August 1943), falling back to the Hagen line in front of Bryansk. To the south, the Red Army broke through Army Group South's Belgorod positions and headed for Kharkov once again. Although intense battles of movement throughout late July and into August 1943 saw the Tigers blunting Soviet tank attacks on one axis, they were soon outflanked on another line to the west as the Soviet forces advanced down the Psel, and Kharkov was abandoned for the final time on 22 August.

The German forces on the Mius, now comprising the 1st Panzer Army and a reconstituted 6th Army, were by August too weak to repulse a Soviet attack on their own front, and when the Red Army hit them they retreated all the way through the Donbass industrial region to the Dnieper, losing half the farmland that Germany had invaded the Soviet Union to exploit. At this time Hitler agreed to a general withdrawal to the Dnieper line, along which was meant to be the Ostwall, a line of defence similar to the Westwall (Siegfried Line) of fortifications along the German frontier in the west.

The main problem for the Wehrmacht was that these defences had not yet been built; by the time Army Group South had evacuated eastern Ukraine and begun withdrawing across the Dnieper during September, the Soviet forces were hard behind them. Tenaciously, small units paddled their way across the 3 km (1.9 mi) wide river and established bridgeheads. A second attempt by the Red Army to gain land using parachutists, mounted at Kaniv on 24 September, proved as disappointing as at Dorogobuzh eighteen months previously. The paratroopers were soon repelled – but not until still more Red Army troops had used the cover they provided to get themselves over the Dnieper and securely dug in.

As September ended and October started, the Germans found the Dnieper line impossible to hold as the Soviet bridgeheads grew. Important Dnieper towns started to fall, with Zaporozhye the first to go, followed by Dnepropetrovsk. Finally, early in November the Red Army broke out of its bridgeheads on either side of Kiev and captured the Ukrainian capital, at that time the third largest city in the Soviet Union.

130 kilometres (80 mi) west of Kiev, the 4th Panzer Army, still convinced that the Red Army was a spent force, was able to mount a successful riposte at Zhytomyr during the middle of November, weakening the Soviet bridgehead by a daring outflanking strike mounted by the SS Panzer Corps along the river Teterev. This battle also enabled Army Group South to recapture Korosten and gain some time to rest. However, on Christmas Eve the retreat began anew when the First Ukrainian Front (renamed from the Voronezh Front) struck them in the same place. The Soviet advance continued along the railway line until the 1939 Polish–Soviet border was reached on 3 January 1944.

Снайпер Роза Егоровна Шанина

Roza Shanina was a graduate of the Central Women's Sniper Training School. About 800,000 women served in the Soviet Armed Forces during the war [329]

To the south, the Second Ukrainian Front (ex Steppe Front) had crossed the Dnieper at Kremenchug and continued westwards. In the second week of January 1944 they swung north, meeting Vatutin's tank forces which had swung south from their penetration into Poland and surrounding ten German divisions at Korsun–Shevchenkovsky, west of Cherkassy. Hitler's insistence on holding the Dnieper line, even when facing the prospect of catastrophic defeat, was compounded by his conviction that the Cherkassy pocket could break out and even advance to Kiev, but Manstein was more concerned about being able to advance to the edge of the pocket and then implore the surrounded forces to break out.

By 16 February the first stage was complete, with panzers separated from the contracting Cherkassy pocket only by the swollen Gniloy Tikich river. Under shellfire and pursued by Soviet tanks, the surrounded German troops, among whom were the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, fought their way across the river to safety, although at the cost of half their number and all their equipment. They assumed the Red Army would not attack again, with the spring approaching, but on 3 March the Soviet Ukrainian Front went over to the offensive. Having already isolated the Crimea by severing the Perekop isthmus, Malinovsky's forces advanced across the mud to the Romanian border, not stopping on the river Prut.

Eastern Front 1943-08 to 1944-12

Soviet advances from 1 August 1943 to 31 December 1944:

  to 1 December 1943
  to 30 April 1944
  to 19 August 1944
  to 31 December 1944

One final move in the south completed the 1943–44 campaigning season, which had wrapped up a Soviet advance of over 800 kilometres (500 mi). In March, 20 German divisions of Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube's 1st Panzer Army were encircled in what was to be known as Hube's Pocket near Kamenets-Podolskiy. After two weeks' of heavy fighting, the 1st Panzer managed to escape the pocket, at the cost of losing almost the entire heavy equipment. At this point, Hitler sacked several prominent generals, Manstein included. In April, the Red Army took back Odessa, followed by 4th Ukrainian Front's campaign to restore control over the Crimea, which culminated in the capture of Sevastopol on 10 May.

Along Army Group Centre's front, August 1943 saw this force pushed back from the Hagen line slowly, ceding comparatively little territory, but the loss of Bryansk, and more importantly Smolensk, on 25 September cost the Wehrmacht the keystone of the entire German defensive system. The 4th and 9th armies and 3rd Panzer Army still held their own east of the upper Dnieper, stifling Soviet attempts to reach Vitebsk. On Army Group North's front, there was barely any fighting at all until January 1944, when out of nowhere Volkhov and Second Baltic Fronts struck.[330]

In a lightning campaign, the Germans were pushed back from Leningrad and Novgorod was captured by Soviet forces. After a 120-kilometre (75 mi) advance in January and February, the Leningrad Front had reached the borders of Estonia. To Stalin, the Baltic Sea seemed the quickest way to take the battles to the German territory in East Prussia and seize control of Finland.[330] The Leningrad Front's offensives towards Tallinn, a main Baltic port, were stopped in February 1944. The German army group "Narwa" included Estonian conscripts, defending the re-establishment of Estonian independence.[331][332]

Summer 1944[]

Red Army greeted in Bucharest

The Red Army is greeted in Bucharest, Romania, August 1944

19440712 soviet and ak soldiers vilnius

Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa soldiers in Vilnius, July 1944

Wehrmacht planners were convinced that the Red Army would attack again in the south, where the front was 80 kilometres (50 mi) from Lviv and offered the most direct route to Berlin. Accordingly, they stripped troops from Army Group Centre, whose front still protruded deep into the Soviet Union. The Germans had transferred some units to France to counter the invasion of Normandy two weeks before. The Belorussian Offensive (codenamed Operation Bagration), which was agreed upon by Allies at the Tehran Conference in December 1943 and launched on 22 June 1944, was a massive Soviet attack, consisting of four Soviet army groups totalling over 120 divisions that smashed into a thinly held German line.

They focused their massive attacks on Army Group Centre, not Army Group North Ukraine as the Germans had originally expected. More than 2.3 million Soviet troops went into action against German Army Group Centre, which had a strength of fewer than 800,000 men. At the points of attack, the numerical and quality advantages of the Soviet forces were overwhelming. The Red Army achieved a ratio of ten to one in tanks and seven to one in aircraft over their enemy. The Germans crumbled. The capital of Belarus, Minsk, was taken on 3 July, trapping some 100,000 Germans. Ten days later the Red Army reached the prewar Polish border. Bagration was, by any measure, one of the largest single operations of the war.

By the end of August 1944, it had cost the Germans ~400,000 dead, wounded, missing and sick, from whom 160,000 were captured, as well as 2,000 tanks and 57,000 other vehicles. In the operation, the Red Army lost ~180,000 dead and missing (765,815 in total, including wounded and sick plus 5,073 Poles),[333] as well as 2,957 tanks and assault guns. The offensive at Estonia claimed another 480,000 Soviet soldiers, 100,000 of them classed as dead.[334][335]

The neighbouring Lvov–Sandomierz operation was launched on 17 July 1944, with the Red Army routing the German forces in Western Ukraine and retaking Lviv. The Soviet advance in the south continued into Romania and, following a coup against the Axis-allied government of Romania on 23 August, the Red Army occupied Bucharest on 31 August. Romania and the Soviet Union signed an armistice on 12 September.[336][337]

19440816 soviet soldiers attack jelgava

Soviet soldiers advance through the streets of Jelgava, Latvia, mid-1944

The rapid progress of Operation Bagration threatened to cut off and isolate the German units of Army Group North bitterly resisting the Soviet advance towards Tallinn. Despite a ferocious attack at the Sinimäed Hills, Estonia, the Soviet Leningrad Front failed to break through the defence of the smaller, well-fortified army detachment "Narwa" in terrain not suitable for large-scale operations.[338][339]

On the Karelian Isthmus, the Red Army launched a Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive against the Finnish lines on 9 June 1944, (coordinated with the Western Allied Invasion of Normandy). Three armies were pitted there against the Finns, among them several experienced guards rifle formations. The attack breached the Finnish front line of defence in Valkeasaari on 10 June and the Finnish forces retreated to their secondary defence line, the VT-line. The Soviet attack was supported by a heavy artillery barrage, air bombardments and armoured forces. The VT-line was breached on 14 June and after a failed counterattack in Kuuterselkä by the Finnish armoured division, the Finnish defence had to be pulled back to the VKT-line. After heavy fighting in the battles of Tali-Ihantala and Ilomantsi, Finnish troops finally managed to halt the Soviet attack.[citation needed]

In Poland, as the Red Army approached, the Polish Home Army (AK) launched Operation Tempest. During the Warsaw Uprising, the Red Army were ordered to halt at the Vistula River. Whether Stalin was unable or unwilling to come to the aid of the Polish resistance is disputed.[340]

In Slovakia, the Slovak National Uprising started as an armed struggle between German Wehrmacht forces and rebel Slovak troops between August and October 1944. It was centered at Banská Bystrica.[citation needed]

Autumn 1944[]

On 8 September 1944 the Red Army began an attack on the Dukla Pass on the Slovak–Polish border. Two months later, the Soviet forces won the battle and entered Slovakia. The toll was high: 20,000 Red Army soldiers died, plus several thousand Germans, Slovaks and Czechs.

Under the pressure of the Soviet Baltic Offensive, the German Army Group North were withdrawn to fight in the sieges of Saaremaa, Courland and Memel.

January–March 1945[]

Eastern Front 1945-01 to 1945-05

Soviet advances from 1 January 1945 to 11 May 1945:

  to 30 March 1945
  to 11 May 1945

The Soviet Union finally entered Warsaw on 17 January 1945, after the city was destroyed and abandoned by the Germans. Over three days, on a broad front incorporating four army fronts, the Red Army launched the Vistula–Oder Offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by 5–6:1 in troops, 6:1 in artillery, 6:1 in tanks and 4:1 in self-propelled artillery. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving thirty to forty kilometres a day, taking the Baltic states, Danzig, East Prussia, Poznań, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin along the River Oder. During the full course of the Vistula–Oder operation (23 days), the Red Army forces sustained 194,191 total casualties (killed, wounded and missing) and lost 1,267 tanks and assault guns.

On 25 January 1945, Hitler renamed three army groups. Army Group North became Army Group Courland; Army Group Centre became Army Group North and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. Army Group North (old Army Group Centre) was driven into an ever-smaller pocket around Königsberg in East Prussia.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-072-09, Ostpreußen, Flüchtlingtreck

German refugees from East Prussia, February 1945

A limited counter-attack (codenamed Operation Solstice) by the newly created Army Group Vistula, under the command of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, had failed by 24 February, and the Red Army drove on to Pomerania and cleared the right bank of the Oder River. In the south, the German attempts, in Operation Konrad, to relieve the encircled garrison at Budapest failed and the city fell on 13 February. On 6 March, the Germans launched what would be their final major offensive of the war, Operation Spring Awakening, which failed by 16 March. On 30 March the Red Army entered Austria and captured Vienna on 13 April.

OKW claim German losses of 77,000 killed, 334,000 wounded and 292,000 missing, with a total of 703,000 men, on the Eastern Front during January and February 1945.[341]

On 9 April 1945, Königsberg in East Prussia finally fell to the Red Army, although the shattered remnants of Army Group Centre continued to resist on the Vistula Spit and Hel Peninsula until the end of the war in Europe. The East Prussian operation, though often overshadowed by the Vistula–Oder operation and the later battle for Berlin, was in fact one of the largest and costliest operations fought by the Red Army throughout the war. During the period it lasted (13 January – 25 April), it cost the Red Army 584,788 casualties, and 3,525 tanks and assault guns.

The fall of Königsberg allowed Stavka to free up General Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front (2BF) to move west to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Red Army performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. General Georgy Zhukov concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front (1BF), which had been deployed along the Oder river from Frankfurt in the south to the Baltic, into an area in front of the Seelow Heights. The 2BF moved into the positions being vacated by the 1BF north of the Seelow Heights. While this redeployment was in progress, gaps were left in the lines and the remnants of the German 2nd Army, which had been bottled up in a pocket near Danzig, managed to escape across the Oder. To the south General Ivan Konev shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front (1UF) out of Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse River.[342] The three Soviet fronts had altogether some 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army); 6,250 tanks; 7,500 aircraft; 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars; 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers, (nicknamed "Stalin Organs"); and 95,383 motor vehicles, many of which were manufactured in the United States.[342]

End of the war: April–May 1945[]

Za pobedu nad germaniej

14,933,000 Soviet and Soviet-allied personnel were awarded the Medal for Victory over Germany

Soviet Znamya Pobedy

A flag of the Soviet 150th Rifle Division raised over the Reichstag (the Victory Banner)

The Soviet offensive had two objectives. Because of Stalin's suspicions about the intentions of the Western Allies to hand over territory occupied by them in the post-war Soviet sphere of influence, the offensive was to be on a broad front and was to move as rapidly as possible to the west, to meet the Western Allies as far west as possible. But the over-riding objective was to capture Berlin. The two were complementary because possession of the zone could not be won quickly unless Berlin was taken. Another consideration was that Berlin itself held strategic assets, including Adolf Hitler and part of the German atomic bomb program.[343]

The offensive to capture central Germany and Berlin started on 16 April with an assault on the German front lines on the Oder and Neisse rivers. After several days of heavy fighting the Soviet 1BF and 1UF punched holes through the German front line and were fanning out across central Germany. By 24 April, elements of the 1BF and 1UF had completed the encirclement of the German capital and the Battle of Berlin entered its final stages. On 25 April the 2BF broke through the German 3rd Panzer Army's line south of Stettin. They were now free to move west towards the British 21st Army Group and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund. The 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army near Torgau, Germany at the Elbe river.[344][345]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E0406-0022-018, Berlin, Siegesfeier der Roten Armee

Soviet soldiers celebrating the surrender of the German forces in Berlin, 2 May 1945

On 29 and 30 April, as the Soviet forces fought their way into the centre of Berlin, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun and then committed suicide by taking cyanide and shooting himself. Helmuth Weidling, defence commandant of Berlin, surrendered the city to the Soviet forces on 2 May.[346] Altogether, the Berlin operation (16 April – 2 May) cost the Red Army 361,367 casualties (dead, wounded, missing and sick) and 1,997 tanks and assault guns. German losses in this period of the war remain impossible to determine with any reliability.[347]

At 2:41 am on 7 May 1945, at SHAEF headquarters, German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies at Reims in France. It included the phrase All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945. The next day shortly before midnight, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel repeated the signing in Berlin at Zhukov's headquarters, now known as the German-Russian Museum. The war in Europe was over.[348]

In the Soviet Union the end of the war is considered to be 9 May, when the surrender took effect Moscow time. This date is celebrated as a national holidayVictory Day – in Russia (as part of a two-day 8–9 May holiday) and some other post-Soviet countries. The ceremonial Victory parade was held in Moscow on 24 June.

The German Army Group Centre initially refused to surrender and continued to fight in Czechoslovakia until about 11 May.[349]

A small German garrison on the Danish island of Bornholm refused to surrender until they were bombed and invaded by the Soviets. The island was returned to the Danish government four months later.

Soviet Far East: August 1945[]

After the German defeat, Joseph Stalin promised his allies Truman and Churchill, that he would attack the Japanese within 90 days of the German surrender. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria began on 8 August 1945, with an assault on the Japanese puppet states of Manchukuo and neighbouring Mengjiang; the greater offensive would eventually include northern Korea, southern Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands. Apart from the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, it marked the only military action of the Soviet Union against Imperial Japan; at the Yalta Conference, it had agreed to Allied pleas to terminate the neutrality pact with Japan and enter the Second World War's Pacific theatre within three months after the end of the war in Europe. While not a part of the Eastern Front operations, it is included here because the commanders and much of the forces used by the Red Army came from the European Theatre of operations and benefited from the experience gained there. In many ways this was a 'perfect' operation, delivered with the skill gained during the bitter fighting with the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe over four years.[350]


The Eastern Front was the largest and bloodiest theatre of World War II. It is generally accepted as being the deadliest conflict in human history, with over 30 million killed as a result.[246] The German armed forces suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front.[351] It involved more land combat than all other World War II theatres combined. The distinctly brutal nature of warfare on the Eastern Front was exemplified by an often wilful disregard for human life by both sides. It was also reflected in the ideological premise for the war, which also saw a momentous clash between two directly opposed ideologies.

Aside from the ideological conflict, the mindframe of the leaders of Germany and the Soviet Union, Hitler and Stalin respectively, contributed to the escalation of terror and murder on an unprecedented scale. Stalin and Hitler both disregarded human life in order to achieve their goal of victory. This included the terrorisation of their own people, as well as mass deportations of entire populations. All these factors resulted in tremendous brutality both to combatants and civilians that found no parallel on the Western Front. According to Time magazine: "By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, the Eastern Front was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front that opened with the Normandy invasion."[352] Conversely, General George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, calculated that without the Eastern Front, the United States would have had to double the number of its soldiers on the Western Front.[353]

Memorandum for the President's Special Assistant Harry Hopkins, Washington, D.C., 10 August 1943:

In War II Russia occupies a dominant position and is the decisive factor looking toward the defeat of the Axis in Europe. While in Sicily the forces of Great Britain and the United States are being opposed by 2 German divisions, the Russian front is receiving attention of approximately 200 German divisions. Whenever the Allies open a second front on the Continent, it will be decidedly a secondary front to that of Russia; theirs will continue to be the main effort. Without Russia in the war, the Axis cannot be defeated in Europe, and the position of the United Nations becomes precarious. Similarly, Russia’s post-war position in Europe will be a dominant one. With Germany crushed, there is no power in Europe to oppose her tremendous military forces.[354]

RIAN archive 2153 After bombing

Citizens of Leningrad during the 872-day siege, in which about one million civilians died

The war inflicted huge losses and suffering upon the civilian populations of the affected countries. Behind the front lines, atrocities against civilians in German-occupied areas were routine, including those carried out as part of the Holocaust. German and German-allied forces treated civilian populations with exceptional brutality, massacring whole village populations and routinely killing civilian hostages (see German war crimes). Both sides practised widespread scorched earth tactics, but the loss of civilian lives in the case of Germany was incomparably smaller than that of the Soviet Union, in which at least 20 million were killed. According to British historian Geoffrey Hosking, "The full demographic loss to the Soviet peoples was even greater: since a high proportion of those killed were young men of child-begetting age, the postwar Soviet population was 45 to 50 million smaller than post-1939 projections would have led one to expect."[355]

When the Red Army invaded Germany in 1944, many German civilians suffered from reprisals by Red Army soldiers (see Soviet war crimes). After the war, following the Yalta conference agreements between the Allies, the German populations of East Prussia and Silesia were displaced to the west of the Oder–Neisse line, in what became one of the largest forced migrations of people in world history.

The Soviet Union came out of World War II militarily victorious but economically and structurally devastated. Much of the combat took place in or close to populated areas, and the actions of both sides contributed to massive loss of civilian life and tremendous material damage. According to a summary, presented by Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, the property damage in the Soviet Union inflicted by the Axis invasion was estimated to a value of 679 billion rubles. The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.2 million citizens dead during the Siege of Leningrad.[356]

The combined damage consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, 2,508 church buildings, 31,850 industrial establishments, 64,000 kilometres (40,000 mi) of railroad, 4,100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries; leaving 25 million homeless. Seven million horses, 17 million cattle, 20 million pigs, 27 million sheep were also slaughtered or driven off.[356] Wild fauna were also affected. Wolves and foxes fleeing westward from the killing zone, as the Soviet army advanced between 1943 and 1945, were responsible for a rabies epidemic that spread slowly westwards, reaching the coast of the English Channel by 1968.[357]


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This article does not contain any citations or references. Please improve this article by adding a reference. For information about how to add references, see Template:Citation.

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were both ideologically driven states (by Soviet communism and by Nazism respectively), in which the foremost political leaders had near-absolute power. The character of the war was thus determined by the political leaders and their ideology to a much greater extent than in any other theatre of World War II.[citation needed]

Adolf Hitler[]

Adolf Hitler cropped restored

Adolf Hitler led Germany during World War II

Adolf Hitler exercised tight control over the German war-effort, spending much of his time in his command bunkers (most notably at Rastenburg in East Prussia, at Vinnitsa in Ukraine, and under the garden of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin). At crucial periods in the war he held daily situation-conferences at which he used his remarkable talent for public speaking to overwhelm opposition from his generals and from the OKW staff with rhetoric.

In part because of the unexpected degree of German success in the Battle of France (despite the warnings of the professional military) Hitler believed himself a military genius, with a grasp of the total war-effort that eluded his generals. In August 1941, when Walther von Brauchitsch (commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht) and Fedor von Bock appealed for an attack on Moscow, Hitler instead ordered the encirclement and capture of Ukraine, in order to acquire the farmland, industry, and natural resources of that country. Some historians like Bevin Alexander in How Hitler Could Have Won regard this decision as a missed opportunity to win the war.

In the winter of 1941–1942 Hitler believed that his obstinate refusal to allow the German armies to retreat had saved Army Group Centre from collapse. He later told Erhard Milch:

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B24543, Hauptquartier Heeresgruppe Süd, Lagebesprechung

Hitler with generals Friedrich Paulus, Adolf Heusinger and Fedor von Bock in Poltava, German-occupied Ukraine, June 1942

I had to act ruthlessly. I had to send even my closest generals packing, two army generals, for example … I could only tell these gentlemen, "Get yourself back to Germany as rapidly as you can – but leave the army in my charge. And the army is staying at the front."

The success of this hedgehog defence outside Moscow led Hitler to insist on the holding of territory when it made no military sense, and to sack generals who retreated without orders. Officers with initiative were replaced with yes-men or with fanatical Nazis. The disastrous encirclements later in the war – at Stalingrad, Korsun and many other places – resulted directly from Hitler's orders. This idea of holding territory led to another failed plan, dubbed[by whom?] "Heaven-bound Missions", which involved fortifying even the most unimportant or insignificant of cities and the holding of these "fortresses" at all costs. Many divisions became cut off in "fortress" cities, or wasted uselessly in secondary theatres, because Hitler would not sanction retreat or voluntarily abandon any of his conquests.

Frustration at Hitler's leadership in the war was one of the factors in the attempted coup d'etat of 1944, but after the failure of the 20 July Plot Hitler considered the army and its officer corps suspect and came to rely on the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Nazi party members to prosecute the war.

Hitler's direction of the war ultimately proved disastrous for the German Army, though the skill, loyalty, professionalism and endurance of officers and soldiers enabled him to keep Germany fighting to the end. F. W. Winterbotham wrote of Hitler's signal to Gerd von Rundstedt to continue the attack to the west during the Battle of the Bulge:

From experience we had learned that when Hitler started refusing to do what the generals recommended, things started to go wrong, and this was to be no exception.

Joseph Stalin[]


Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union during World War II.

Joseph Stalin bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war (for example, the Battle of Kiev (1941)), but equally deserves praise for the subsequent success of the Soviet Red Army, which depended on the unprecedentedly rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union, which Stalin's internal policy had made the first priority throughout the 1930s. Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in the late 1930s involved the legal prosecution of many of the senior command, many of whom the courts convicted and sentenced to death or to imprisonment.

The executed included Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a proponent of armoured blitzkrieg. Stalin promoted some obscurantists like Grigory Kulik who opposed the mechanisation of the army and the production of tanks, but on the other hand purged the older commanders who had held their positions since the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922, and who had experience, but were deemed "politically unreliable". This opened up their places to the promotion of many younger officers that Stalin and the NKVD regarded as in line with Stalinist politics. Many[quantify] of these newly promoted commanders proved terribly inexperienced, but some later became very successful. Soviet tank-output remained the largest in the world.

From the foundation of the Red Army in 1918, political distrust of the military had led to a system of "dual command", with every commander paired with a political commissar, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Larger units had military councils consisting of the commander, commissar and chief of staff – commissars ensured the loyalty of the commanding officers and implemented Party orders.

Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, of the Baltic states and of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in 1939–1940, Stalin insisted on the occupation of every fold of the newly Sovietized territories; this move westward positioned troops far from their depots, in salients that left them vulnerable to encirclement. As tension heightened in spring, 1941, Stalin desperately tried not to give Hitler any provocation that Berlin could use as an excuse for a German attack; Stalin refused to allow the military to go on the alert – even as German troops gathered on the borders and German reconnaissance planes overflew installations. This refusal to take necessary action was instrumental in the destruction of major portions of the Red Air Force, lined up on its airfields, in the first days of the German-Soviet war.

At the crisis of the war, in the autumn of 1942, Stalin made many concessions to the army: the government restored unitary command by removing the Commissars from the chain of command. Order 25 of 15 January 1943 introduced shoulderboards for all ranks; this represented a significant symbolic step, since after the Russian Revolution of 1917 shoulderboards had connotations as a symbol of the old Tsarist régime. Beginning in autumn 1941, units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given the traditional "Guards" title.[358]

These concessions were combined with ruthless discipline: Order No. 227, issued on 28 July 1942, threatened commanders who retreated without orders with punishment by court-martial. Infractions by military and politruks were punished with transferral to penal battalions and to penal companies which carried out especially hazardous duties, such as serving as tramplers to clear Nazi minefields.[359] The order stipulated to capture or shoot "cowards" and fleeing panicked troops at the rear the blocking detachments in the first three months shot 1,000 penal troops and sent 24,993 to penal battalions.[360] By October 1942 the idea of regular blocking detachments was quietly dropped, By 29 October 1944 the units were officially disbanded.[361][362]

As it became clear that the Soviet Union would win the war, Stalin ensured that propaganda always mentioned his leadership of the war; he sidelined the victorious generals and never allowed them to develop into political rivals. After the war the Soviets once again purged the Red Army (though not as brutally as in the 1930s) and demoted many successful officers (including Zhukov, Malinovsky and Koniev) to unimportant positions.[citation needed]

Repression and genocide in occupied territories[]

Massacre of Jews in Lietūkis garage

Kaunas pogrom in German-occupied Lithuania, June 1941

The enormous territorial gains of 1941 presented Germany with vast areas to pacify and administer. For the majority of people of the Soviet Union, the Nazi invasion was viewed as a brutal act of unprovoked aggression. While it is important to note that not all parts of Soviet society viewed the German advance in this way, the majority of the Soviet population viewed German forces as occupiers. In areas such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940) the Wehrmacht was tolerated by a relatively more significant part of the native population.

This was particularly true for the territories of Western Ukraine, recently rejoined to the Soviet Union, where the anti-Polish and anti-Soviet Ukrainian nationalist underground hoped in vain to establish the "independent state", relying on German armed force. However, Soviet society as a whole was hostile to the invading Nazis from the very start. The nascent national liberation movements among Ukrainians and Cossacks, and others were viewed by Hitler with suspicion; some, especially those from the Baltic States, were co-opted into the Axis armies and others brutally suppressed. None of the conquered territories gained any measure of self-rule.

Instead, the Nazi ideologues saw the future of the East as one of settlement by German colonists, with the natives killed, expelled, or reduced to slave labour. The cruel and brutally inhumane treatment of Soviet civilians, women, children and elderly, the daily bombings of civilian cities and towns, Nazi pillaging of Soviet villages and hamlets and unprecedented harsh punishment and treatment of civilians in general were some of the primary reasons for Soviet resistance to Nazi Germany's invasion. Indeed, the Soviets viewed Germany's invasion as an act of aggression and an attempt to conquer and enslave the local population.

Einsatzgruppen murder Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942

Einsatzgruppen murdering Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942

Regions closer to the front were managed by military powers of the region, in other areas such as the Baltic states annexed by the USSR in 1940, Reichscommissariats were established. As a rule, the maximum in loot was extracted. In September 1941, Erich Koch was appointed to the Ukrainian Commissariat. His opening speech was clear about German policy: "I am known as a brutal dog ... Our job is to suck from Ukraine all the goods we can get hold of ... I am expecting from you the utmost severity towards the native population."

Atrocities against the Jewish population in the conquered areas began almost immediately, with the dispatch of Einsatzgruppen (task groups) to round up Jews and shoot them.[363]

The massacres of Jews and other ethnic minorities were only a part of the deaths from the Nazi occupation. Many hundreds of thousands of Soviet civilians were executed, and millions more died from starvation as the Germans requisitioned food for their armies and fodder for their draft horses. As they retreated from Ukraine and Belarus in 1943–44, the German occupiers systematically applied a scorched earth policy, burning towns and cities, destroying infrastructure, and leaving civilians to starve or die of exposure.[364] In many towns, the battles were fought within towns and cities with trapped civilians caught in the middle. Estimates of total civilian dead in the Soviet Union in the war range from seven million (Encyclopædia Britannica) to seventeen million (Richard Overy).

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-031-2436-03A, Russland, Hinrichtung von Partisanen

Soviet partisans hanged by German forces in January 1943

The Nazi ideology and the maltreatment of the local population and Soviet POWs encouraged partisans fighting behind the front; it motivated even anti-communists or non-Russian nationalists to ally with the Soviets and greatly delayed the formation of German-allied divisions consisting of Soviet POWs (see Ostlegionen). These results and missed opportunities contributed to the defeat of the Wehrmacht.

Vadim Erlikman has detailed Soviet losses totalling 26.5 million war related deaths. Military losses of 10.6 million include six million killed or missing in action and 3.6 million POW dead, plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan losses. Civilian deaths totalled 15.9 million, which included 1.5 million from military actions; 7.1 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 1.8 million deported to Germany for forced labour; and 5.5 million famine and disease deaths. Additional famine deaths, which totalled one million during 1946–47, are not included here. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR including territories annexed in 1939–40.[citation needed]

Lost children russia about 1942

Homeless Russian children in occupied territory (about 1942)

Belarus lost a quarter of its pre-war population, including practically all its intellectual elite. Following bloody encirclement battles, all of the present-day Belarus territory was occupied by the Germans by the end of August 1941. The Nazis imposed a brutal regime, deporting some 380,000 young people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands (civilians) more.[365] More than 600 villages like Khatyn were burned with their entire population.[366] More than 209 cities and towns (out of 270 total) and 9,000 villages were destroyed. Himmler pronounced a plan according to which 34 of the Belarusian population was designated for "eradication" and 14 of the racially 'cleaner' population (blue eyes, light hair) would be allowed to serve Germans as slaves.

Some recent reports raise the number of Belarusians who perished in the war to "3 million 650 thousand people, unlike the former 2.2 million. That is to say not every fourth inhabitant but almost 40% of the pre-war Belarusian population perished (considering the present-day borders of Belarus)."[367]

Soviet soldiers mass grave, German war prisoners concentration camp in Deblin, German-occupied Poland

Mass grave of Soviet POWs, killed by Germans in a prisoner-of-war camp in Dęblin, German-occupied Poland

Sixty percent of Soviet POWs died during the war. By its end, large numbers of Soviet POWs, forced labourers and Nazi collaborators (including those who were forcefully repatriated by the Western Allies) went to special NKVD "filtration" camps. By 1946, 80 per cent of civilians and 20 per cent of POWs were freed, others were re-drafted, or sent to labour battalions. Two per cent of civilians and 14 per cent of the POWs were sent to the Gulag.[368][369]

The official Polish government report of war losses prepared in 1947 reported 6,028,000 victims out of a population of 27,007,000 ethnic Poles and Jews; this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian and Belarusian losses.

Although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929), it is generally accepted that it considered itself bound by the provisions of the Hague convention.[370] A month after the German invasion in 1941, an offer was made for a reciprocal adherence to Hague convention. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials.[371]

Soviet repressions also contributed into the Eastern Front's death toll. Mass repression occurred in the occupied portions of Poland as well as in the Baltic states and Bessarabia. Immediately after the start of the German invasion, the NKVD massacred large numbers of inmates in most of their prisons in Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, while the remainder was to be evacuated in death marches.[372]

Industrial output[]

The Soviet victory owed a great deal to the ability of its war industry to outperform the German economy, despite the enormous loss of population and land. Stalin's five-year plans of the 1930s had resulted in the industrialisation of the Urals and central Asia. In 1941, thousands of trains evacuated critical factories and workers from Belarus and Ukraine to safe areas far from the front lines. Once these facilities were reassembled east of the Urals, production could be resumed without fear of German bombing.

As the Soviet Union's manpower reserves ran low from 1943 onwards, the great Soviet offensives had to depend more on equipment and less on the expenditure of lives.[citation needed] The increases in production of materiel were achieved at the expense of civilian living standards – the most thorough application of the principle of total war – and with the help of Lend-Lease supplies from the United Kingdom and the United States. The Germans, on the other hand, could rely on a large slave workforce from the conquered countries and Soviet POWs. American exports and technical expertise also enabled the Soviets to produce goods that they wouldn't have been able to on their own. For example, while the USSR was able to produce fuel of octane numbers from 70 to 74, Soviet industry only met 4% of demand for fuel of octane numbers from 90+; all aircraft produced after 1939 required fuel of the latter category. To fulfill demands, the USSR depended on American assistance, both in finished products and TEL.[373]

Germany had far greater resources than did the USSR, and dwarfed its production in every matrix except for oil, having over five times the USSR's coal production, over three times its iron production, three times its steel production, twice its electricity production, and about 2/3 of its oil production.[374]

German production of explosives from 1940 to 1944 was 1.595 million tons, along with 829,970 tons of powder. Consumption on all fronts during the same period was 1.493 million tons of explosives and 626,887 tons of powder.[375] From 1941 to 1945, the USSR produced only 505,000 tons of explosives and received 105,000 tons of Lend-Lease imports.[294] Germany outproduced the Soviet Union 3.16 to 1 in explosives tonnage.

Soviet armoured fighting vehicle production was greater than the Germans (in 1943, the Soviet Union manufactured 24,089 tanks and self-propelled guns to Germany's 19,800). The Soviets incrementally upgraded existing designs, and simplified and refined manufacturing processes to increase production, and were helped by a mass infusion of harder to produce goods such as aviation fuel, machine tools, trucks, and high-explosives from Lend-Lease, allowing them to concentrate on a few key industries. Meanwhile, Germany had been cut off from foreign trade for years by the time it invaded the USSR, was in the middle of two extended and costly theatres at air and sea that further limited production (Battle of the Atlantic and Defence of the Reich), and was forced to devote a large segment of its expenditures to goods the Soviets could cut back on (such as trucks) or which would never even be used against the Soviets (such as ships). Naval vessels alone constituted 10–15% of Germany's war expenditures from 1940 to 1944 depending on the year, while armoured vehicles by comparison were only 5–8%.[376]

Summary of German and Soviet raw material production during the war[377]
Year Coal
(million tonnes, Germany includes lignite and bituminous types)
(million tonnes)
(thousand tonnes)
(million tonnes)
German Soviet German Soviet German Soviet German Soviet Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 483.4 151.4 31.8 17.9 233.6 5.7 33.0 0.12 0.4 5.5
1942 513.1 75.5 32.1 8.1 264.0 51.7 6.6 22.0 0.01 0.7 5.7 1.8
1943 521.4 93.1 34.6 8.5 250.0 62.3 7.6 18.0 0.01 0.8 5.3 2.3
1944 509.8 121.5 28.5 10.9 245.3 82.7 5.5 18.2 1 3.5 1
1945[378] 149.3 12.3 86.3 1.3 19.4 0.1
Summary of Axis and Soviet tank and self-
propelled gun production during the war[377]
Year Tanks and self-
propelled guns
Soviet German Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 6,590 5,200[379] 595 595
1942 24,446 9,300[379] 1,252 500 557
1943 24,089 19,800 336 105 558
1944 28,963 27,300 353
1945[378] 15,400 137
Summary of Axis and Soviet aircraft production during the war[377]
Year Aircraft
Soviet German Italian Hungarian Romanian Japanese
1941 15,735 11,776 3,503 1,000 5,088
1942 25,436 15,556 2,818 6 8,861
1943 34,845 25,527 967 267 16,693
1944 40,246 39,807 773 28,180
1945[378] 20,052 7,544 8,263
Summary of German and Soviet industrial labour (including those classified as handworkers), and summary of foreign, voluntary, coerced and POW labour[380]
Year Industrial labour Foreign labour Total labour
Soviet German Soviet German Total Soviet Total German
1941 11,000,000 12,900,000 3,500,000 11,000,000 16,400,000
1942 7,200,000 11,600,000 50,000 4,600,000 7,250,000 16,200,000
1943 7,500,000 11,100,000 200,000 5,700,000 7,700,000 16,800,000
1944 8,200,000 10,400,000 800,000 7,600,000 9,000,000 18,000,000
1945[378] 9,500,000 2,900,000 12,400,000

Soviet production and upkeep was assisted by the Lend-Lease program from the United States and the United Kingdom. In the course of the war the US supplied $11 billion of materiel through Lend-Lease. This included 400,000 trucks, 12,000 armoured vehicles (including 7,000 tanks), 11,400 aircraft and 1.75 million tons of food.[381] The British supplied aircraft including 3,000 Hurricanes and 4,000 other aircraft during the war. Five thousand tanks were provided by the British and Canada. Total British supplies were about four million tons.[382] Germany on the other hand had the resources of conquered Europe at its disposal; those numbers are however not included into the tables above, such as production in France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and so on.

After the defeat at Stalingrad, Germany geared completely towards a war economy, as expounded in a speech given by Joseph Goebbels, (the Nazi propaganda minister), in the Berlin Sportpalast, increasing production in subsequent years under Albert Speer's (the Reich armaments minister) direction, despite the intensifying Allied bombing campaign.


Russians bury their fallen. Kollaanjoki 15.-16.7. 1944. Kollaanjoki 15 to 16.7. 1944.

Soviets bury their fallen, July 1944


World War II military deaths in Europe by theatre, year

The fighting involved millions of Axis and Soviet troops along the broadest land front in military history. It was by far the deadliest single theatre of the European portion of World War II with up to 8.7 - 10 million military deaths on the Soviet side (although, depending on the criteria used, casualties in the Far East theatre may have been similar in number).[383][384][385] Axis military deaths were 5 million of which around 4,000,000 were German deaths.[386][387]

Included in this figure of German losses is the majority of the 2 million German military personnel listed as missing or unaccounted for after the war. Rüdiger Overmans states that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one half of these men were killed in action and the other half died in Soviet custody.[388] Official OKW Casualty Figures list 65% of Heer killed/missing/captured as being lost on the Eastern Front from 1 September 1939, to 1 January 1945 (four months and a week before the conclusion of the war), with front not specified for losses of the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.[389]

Estimated civilian deaths range from about 14 to 17 million. Over 11.4 million Soviet civilians within pre-1939 Soviet borders were killed, and another estimated 3.5 million civilians were killed in the annexed territories.[390] The Nazis exterminated one to two million Soviet Jews (including the annexed territories) as part of the Holocaust.[391] Soviet and Russian historiography often uses the term "irretrievable casualties". According to the Narkomat of Defence order (No. 023, 4 February 1944), the irretrievable casualties include killed, missing, those who died due to war-time or subsequent wounds, maladies and chilblains and those who were captured.

The huge death toll was attributed to several factors, including brutal mistreatment of POWs and captured partisans, the large deficiency of food and medical supplies in Soviet territories, and atrocities committed mostly by the Germans against the civilian population. The multiple battles and the use of scorched earth tactics destroyed agricultural land, infrastructure, and whole towns, leaving much of the population homeless and without food.

Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II[392]
Forces fighting with the Axis
Total Dead KIA/DOW/MIA Prisoners taken by the Soviets Prisoners who died in Captivity WIA (not including DOW)
Greater Germany est 4,137,000[393] est 3,637,000 2,733,739–3,000,060 500,000[394] Unknown
Soviet residents who joined German army 215,000 215,000 400,000+ Unknown 118,127
Romania 281,000 226,000 500,000 55,000
Hungary 300,000 245,000 500,000 55,000 89,313
Italy 82,000 55,000 70,000 27,000
Finland[395] 63,204 62,731 3,500 473 158,000
Total est 5,078,000 est 4,437,400 4,264,497–4,530,818 est 637,000 Unknown
Military losses on the Eastern Front during World War II[396]
Forces fighting with the Soviet Union
Total Dead KIA/DOW/MIA Prisoners taken by the Axis Prisoners who died in captivity WIA (not including DOW)
Soviet 8,668,400–10,000,000 6,829,600 4,059,000 (military personnel only)–5,700,000 2,250,000–3,300,000[397][398] of which 1,283,200 confirmed[399] 13,581,483[400]
Poland 24,000 24,000 Unknown Unknown
Romania 17,000 17,000 80,000 Unknown
Bulgaria 10,000 10,000 Unknown Unknown
Total Up to ~8,719,000 – 10,000,000 6,880,600 4,139,000–5,780,000 2,250,000–3,300,000 13,581,483
Cemetery of German soldiers in Toila 24

A German war cemetery in Estonia

Based on Soviet sources Krivosheev put German losses on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945 at 6,923,700 men: including killed in action, died of wounds or disease and reported missing and presumed dead – 4,137,100, taken prisoner 2,571,600 and 215,000 dead among Soviet volunteers in the Wehrmacht. Deaths of POW were 450,600 including 356,700 in NKVD camps and 93,900 in transit.[393]

According to a report prepared by the General Staff of the Army issued in December 1944, materiel losses in the East from the period of 22 June 1941 until November 1944 stood at 33,324 armoured vehicles of all types (tanks, assault guns, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and others). Paul Winter, Defeating Hitler, states "these figures are undoubtedly too low".[401] According to Soviet claims, the Germans lost 42,700 tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and assault guns on the Eastern front.[402] Overall, Nazi Germany produced 3,024 reconnaissance vehicles,[unreliable source?] 2,450 other armoured vehicles, 21,880 armoured personnel carriers, 36,703 semi-tracked tractors and 87,329 semi-tracked trucks,[403] estimated 2/3 were lost on the Eastern front.[citation needed]

The Soviets lost 96,500 tanks, tank destroyers, self-propelled guns and assault guns, as well as 37,600 other armoured vehicles (such as armoured cars and semi-tracked trucks) for a total of 134,100 armoured vehicles lost.[404]

The Soviets also lost 102,600 aircraft (combat and non-combat causes), including 46,100 in combat.[405] According to Soviet claims, the Germans lost 75,700 aircraft on the Eastern front.[406]

Polish Armed Forces in the East, initially consisting of Poles from Eastern Poland or otherwise in the Soviet Union in 1939–1941, began fighting alongside the Red Army in 1943, and grew steadily as more Polish territory was liberated from the Nazis in 1944–1945.

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-004-3633-30A, Russland, Cholm, gefallene Rotarmisten

Dead Soviet soldiers in Kholm, January 1942

When the Axis countries of Central Europe were occupied by the Soviets, they changed sides and declared war on Germany (see Allied Commissions).

Some Soviet citizens would side with the Germans and join Andrey Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army, Ukrainian Liberation Army, Georgian Legion and other Ostlegionen units. Most of those who joined were Soviet POWs. These foreign volunteers in the Wermacht were primarily used in the Eastern Front but some were assigned to guard the beaches of Normandy.[407] The other main group of men joining the German army were citizens of the Baltic countries annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 or from Western Ukraine. They fought in their own Waffen-SS units, including the Latvian Legion and the Galicia Division.[408]

Hitler's notorious Commissar Order called for Soviet political commissars, who were responsible for ensuring that Red Army units remained politically reliable, to be summarily shot when identified amongst captured troops. Axis troops who captured Red Army soldiers frequently shot them in the field or shipped them to concentration camps to be used as forced labourers or killed.[409] Additionally, millions of Soviet civilians were captured as POWs and treated in the same manner. It is estimated that between 2.25 and 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody, out of 5.25–5.7 million. This figure represents a total of 45–57% of all Soviet POWs and may be contrasted with 8,300 out of 231,000 British and U.S. prisoners, or 3.6%.[398][410] About 5% of the Soviet prisoners who died were of Jewish ethnicity.[citation needed]

Wartime economy and forced labour[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0074, IG-Farbenwerke Auschwitz

Woman with OST-Arbeiter badge at the IG Farben plant in Auschwitz concentration camp

The Nazi war economy was a mixed economy that combined a free market with central planning; historian Richard Overy described it as being somewhere in between the command economy of the Soviet Union and the capitalist system of the United States.[411]

In 1942, after the death of Armaments Minister Fritz Todt, Hitler appointed Albert Speer as his replacement.[412] Speer improved production via streamlined organisation, the use of single-purpose machines operated by unskilled workers, rationalisation of production methods, and better co-ordination between the many different firms that made tens of thousands of components. Factories were relocated away from rail yards, which were bombing targets.[413][414] By 1944, the war was consuming 75 percent of Germany's gross domestic product, compared to 60 percent in the Soviet Union and 55 percent in Britain.[415]

The wartime economy relied heavily upon the large-scale employment of forced labourers. Germany imported and enslaved some 12 million people from 20 European countries to work in factories and on farms; approximately 75 percent were Eastern European.[416] Many were casualties of Allied bombing, as they received poor air raid protection. Poor living conditions led to high rates of sickness, injury, and death, as well as sabotage and criminal activity.[417]

Foreign workers brought into Germany were put into four different classifications; guest workers, military internees, civilian workers, and Eastern workers. Different regulations were placed upon the worker depending on their classification. To separate Germans and foreign workers, the Nazis issued a ban on sexual relations between Germans and foreign workers.[418][419]

Women played an increasingly large role. By 1944 over a half million served as auxiliaries in the German armed forces, especially in anti-aircraft units of the Luftwaffe; a half million worked in civil aerial defence; and 400,000 were volunteer nurses. They also replaced men in the wartime economy, especially on farms and in small family-owned shops.[420]

Very heavy strategic bombing by the Allies targeted refineries producing synthetic oil and gasoline as well as the German transportation system, especially rail yards and canals.[421] The armaments industry began to break down by September 1944. By November fuel coal was no longer reaching its destinations, and the production of new armaments was no longer possible.[422] Overy argues that the bombing strained the German war economy and forced it to divert up to one-fourth of its manpower and industry into anti-aircraft resources, which very likely shortened the war.[423]

Racial policy[]

Racism and antisemitism were basic tenets of the NSDAP and the Nazi regime. Nazi Germany's racial policy was based on their belief in the existence of a superior master race. The Nazis postulated the existence of a racial conflict between the Aryan master race and inferior races, particularly Jews, who were viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated society and were responsible for the exploitation and repression of the Aryan race.[424]

Persecution of Jews[]

Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power; following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses, synagogues, and members of the legal profession, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses.[425] The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April, forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service.[426] Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of their right to practise. On 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan. As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May.[427]

Violence and economic pressure were used by the regime to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country.[428] Jewish businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of access to government contracts. Citizens were harassed and subjected to violent attacks.[429] Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews.[430]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-083-42, Magdeburg, zerstörtes jüdisches Geschäft

Damage caused during Kristallnacht. 9 November 1938

In November 1938, a young Jewish man requested an interview with the German ambassador in Paris. He met with a legation secretary, whom he shot and killed to protest his family's treatment in Germany. This incident provided the pretext for a pogrom the NSDAP incited against the Jews on 9 November 1938. Members of the SA damaged or destroyed synagogues and Jewish property throughout Germany. At least 91 German Jews were killed during this pogrom, later called Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.[431][432] Further restrictions were imposed on Jews in the coming months – they were forbidden to own businesses or work in retail shops, drive cars, go to the cinema, visit the library, or own weapons. Jewish pupils were removed from schools. The Jewish community was fined one billion marks to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht and told that any money received via insurance claims would be confiscated.[433] By 1939 around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews emigrated to the United States, Argentina, Great Britain, Palestine, and other countries.[434][435] Many chose to stay in continental Europe. Emigrants to Palestine were allowed to transfer property there under the terms of the Haavara Agreement, but those moving to other countries had to leave virtually all their property behind, and it was seized by the government.[435]

Persecution of Roma and other groups[]

Like the Jews, the Romani people were subjected to persecution from the early days of the regime. As a non-Aryan race, they were forbidden to marry people of German extraction. Romani were shipped to concentration camps starting in 1935 and were killed in large numbers.[159][160] Action T4 was a programme of systematic murder of the physically and mentally handicapped and patients in psychiatric hospitals that mainly took place from 1939 to 1941 and continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims were shot by the Einsatzgruppen and others; in addition gas chambers and gas vans using carbon monoxide were used by early 1940.[436][437] Under the provisions of a law promulgated 14 July 1933, the Nazi regime carried out the compulsory sterilisation of over 400,000 individuals labelled as having hereditary defects.[438] More than half the people sterilised were those considered mentally deficient, which included not only people who scored poorly on intelligence tests, but those who deviated from expected standards of behaviour regarding thrift, sexual behaviour, and cleanliness. Mentally and physically ill people were also targeted. The majority of the victims came from disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes, the poor, the homeless, and criminals.[439] Other groups persecuted and killed included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, social misfits, and members of the political and religious opposition.[160][440]

The Holocaust[]

Germany's war in the East was based on Hitler's long-standing view that Jews were the great enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. Hitler focused his attention on Eastern Europe, aiming to defeat Poland, the Soviet Union and remove or kill the resident Jews and Slavs in the process.[156][157] After the occupation of Poland, all Jews living in the General Government were confined to ghettos, and those who were physically fit were required to perform compulsory labour.[441] In 1941 Hitler decided to destroy the Polish nation completely. He planned that within 10 to 20 years the section of Poland under German occupation would be cleared of ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists.[442] About 3.8 to 4 million Poles would remain as slaves,[443] part of a slave labour force of 14 million the Nazis intended to create using citizens of conquered nations in the East.[157][444]

Crematorium at Auschwitz I 2012

Crematorium at Auschwitz I

The Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.[445] To determine who should be killed, Himmler created the Volksliste, a system of classification of people deemed to be of German blood.[446] He ordered that those of Germanic descent who refused to be classified as ethnic Germans should be deported to concentration camps, have their children taken away, or be assigned to forced labour.[447][448] The plan also included the kidnapping of children deemed to have Aryan-Nordic traits, who were presumed to be of German descent.[449] The goal was to implement Generalplan Ost after the conquest of the Soviet Union, but when the invasion failed, Hitler had to consider other options.[445][450] One suggestion was a mass forced deportation of Jews to Poland, Palestine, or Madagascar.[441]

Somewhere around the time of the failed offensive against Moscow in December 1941, Hitler resolved that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated immediately.[451] Plans for the total eradication of the Jewish population of Europe—eleven million people—were formalised at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Some would be worked to death and the rest would be killed in the implementation of Die Endlösung der Judenfrage (the Final Solution of the Jewish question).[452] Initially the victims were killed with gas vans or by Einsatzgruppen firing squads, but these methods proved impracticable for an operation of this scale.[453] By 1941, killing centres at Auschwitz concentration camp, Sobibor, Treblinka, and other Nazi extermination camps replaced Einsatzgruppen as the primary method of mass killing.[454] The total number of Jews murdered during the war is estimated at 5.5 to six million people,[222] including over a million children.[455] Twelve million people were put into forced labour.[416]

German citizens (despite much of the later denial) had access to information about what was happening, as soldiers returning from the occupied territories would report on what they had seen and done.[456] Evans states that most German citizens disapproved of the genocide.[457][lower-alpha 4] Some Polish citizens tried to rescue or hide the remaining Jews, and members of the Polish underground got word to their government in exile in London as to what was happening.[458]

In addition to eliminating Jews, the Nazis also planned to reduce the population of the conquered territories by 30 million people through starvation in an action called the Hunger Plan. Food supplies would be diverted to the German army and German civilians. Cities would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists.[459] Together, the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union.[460] These partially fulfilled plans resulted in the democidal deaths of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.[461]

Oppression of ethnic Poles[]

The Bochnia massacre German-occupied Poland 1939

Execution of Polish citizens in Bochnia, during the German occupation of Poland, 18 December 1939

During the German occupation of Poland, 2.7 million ethnic Poles were killed by the Axis powers.[462] Polish civilians were subject to forced labour in German industry, internment, wholesale expulsions to make way for German colonists and mass executions. The German authorities engaged in a systematic effort to destroy Polish culture and national identity. During operation AB-Aktion, many university professors and members of the Polish intelligentsia were arrested and executed, or transported to concentration camps. During the war, Poland lost an estimated 39 to 45 percent of its physicians and dentists, 26 to 57 percent of its lawyers, 15 to 30 percent of its teachers, 30 to 40 percent of its scientists and university professors, and 18 to 28 percent of its clergy.[463] Further, 43 percent of Poland's educational and research institutions and 14 percent of its museums had been destroyed.[464]

Mistreatment of Soviet POWs[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 192-208, KZ Mauthausen, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene

Naked Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp

During the war between June 1941 and January 1942, the Axis powers killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet prisoners of war.[465] Many starved to death while being held in open-air pens at Auschwitz and elsewhere.[466] The Soviet Union lost 27 million people during the war; less than nine million of these were combat deaths.[467] One in four of the population were killed or wounded.[468]




A Nazi book burning on 10 May 1933 in Berlin. Books by Jewish and leftist authors were burned.[469]

Antisemitic legislation passed in 1933 led to the removal all of Jewish teachers, professors, and officials from the education system. Most teachers were required to belong to the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund (National Socialist Teachers League; NSLB), and university professors were required to join the National Socialist German Lecturers.[470][471] Teachers had to take an oath of loyalty and obedience to Hitler, and those who failed to show sufficient conformity to party ideals were often reported by students or fellow teachers and dismissed.[472][473] Lack of funding for salaries led to many teachers leaving the profession. The average class size increased from 37 in 1927 to 43 in 1938 due to the resulting teacher shortage.[474]

Frequent and often contradictory directives were issued by Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, Bernhard Rust of the Reichserziehungsministerium (Ministry of Education), and various other agencies regarding content of lessons and acceptable textbooks for use in primary and secondary schools.[475] Books deemed unacceptable to the regime were removed from school libraries.[476] Indoctrination in National Socialist thought was made compulsory in January 1934.[476] Students selected as future members of the party elite were indoctrinated from the age of 12 at Adolf Hitler Schools for primary education and National Political Institutes of Education for secondary education. Detailed National Socialist indoctrination of future holders of elite military rank was undertaken at Order Castles.[477]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2007-0329-501, Reichsgründungsfeier, Schulklasse

The Nazi salute in school (1934). Children were indoctrinated at an early age.

Primary and secondary education focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography, and especially physical fitness.[478] The curriculum in most subjects, including biology, geography, and even arithmetic, was altered to change the focus to race.[479] Military education became the central component of physical education, and education in physics was oriented toward subjects with military applications, such as ballistics and aerodynamics.[480][481] Students were required to watch all films prepared by the school division of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.[476]

At universities, appointments to top posts were the subject of power struggles between the education ministry, the university boards, and the National Socialist German Students' League.[482] In spite of pressure from the League and various government ministries, most university professors did not make changes to their lectures or syllabus during the Nazi period.[483] This was especially true of universities located in predominately Catholic regions.[484] Enrolment at German universities declined from 104,000 students in 1931 to 41,000 in 1939. But enrolment in medical schools rose sharply; Jewish doctors had been forced to leave the profession, so medical graduates had good job prospects.[485] From 1934, university students were required to attend frequent and time-consuming military training sessions run by the SA.[486] First-year students also had to serve six months in a labour camp for the Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labour Service); an additional ten weeks service were required of second-year students.[487]

Oppression of churches[]

67 percent of the population of Germany was Protestant, 33 percent was Roman Catholic, while Jews made up less than 1 percent when the Nazis seized power in 1933.[488][489] According to 1939 census, 54 percent considered themselves Protestant, 40 percent Roman Catholic, 3.5 percent Gottgläubig (God-believing), and 1.5 percent nonreligious.[490]

Under the Gleichschaltung process, Hitler attempted to create a unified Protestant Reich Church from Germany's 28 existing Protestant state churches,[491] with the ultimate goal of eradication of the churches in Germany.[492] Ludwig Müller, a pro-Nazi, was installed as Reich Bishop, and the German Christians, a pro-Nazi pressure group, gained control of the new church.[493] They objected to the Old Testament because of its Jewish origins, and demanded that converted Jews be barred from their church.[494] Pastor Martin Niemöller responded with the formation of the Confessing Church, from which some clergymen opposed the Nazi regime.[495] When in 1935 the Confessing Church synod protested the Nazi policy on religion, 700 of their pastors were arrested.[496] Müller resigned and Hitler appointed Hanns Kerrl as Minister for Church Affairs, to continue efforts to control Protestantism.[497] In 1936, a Confessing Church envoy protested to Hitler against the religious persecutions and human rights abuses.[496] Hundreds more pastors were arrested.[497] The church continued to resist, and by early 1937 Hitler abandoned his hope of uniting the Protestant churches.[496] The Confessing Church was banned on 1 July 1937. Niemöller was arrested and confined, first in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and then at Dachau.[498] Theological universities were closed and more pastors and theologians were arrested.[496]

Prisoner's barracks dachau

Prisoner barracks at Dachau Concentration Camp, where the Nazis established a dedicated clergy barracks for clerical opponents of the regime in 1940[499]

Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover.[500] Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism, rounding up functionaries of the Catholic-aligned Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party, which, along with all other non-Nazi political parties, ceased to exist by July.[501] The Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, amid continuing harassment of the church in Germany.[438] The treaty required the regime to honour the independence of Catholic institutions and prohibited clergy from involvement in politics.[502] Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious.[503] Clergy, nuns, and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped-up charges of currency smuggling or immorality.[504] Several high-profile Catholic lay leaders were targeted in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives assassinations.[505][506][507] Most Catholic youth groups refused to dissolve themselves and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach encouraged members to attack Catholic boys in the streets.[508] Propaganda campaigns claimed the church was corrupt, restrictions were placed on public meetings, and Catholic publications faced censorship. Catholic schools were required to reduce religious instruction and crucifixes were removed from state buildings.[509]

Pope Pius XI had the "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") Encyclical smuggled into Germany for Passion Sunday 1937 and read from every pulpit. It denounced the systematic hostility of the regime toward the church.[504][510] In response, Goebbels renewed the regime's crackdown and propaganda against Catholics. Enrolment in denominational schools dropped sharply, and by 1939 all such schools were disbanded or converted to public facilities.[511] Later Catholic protests included the 22 March 1942 pastoral letter by the German bishops on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church".[512] About 30 percent of Catholic priests were disciplined by police during the Nazi era.[513][514] A vast security network spied on the activities of clergy, and priests were frequently denounced, arrested, or sent to concentration camps – many to the dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau.[515] In the areas of Poland annexed in 1939, the Nazis instigated a brutal suppression and systematic dismantling of the Catholic Church.[516][517]


Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P017100, Berlin, Olympiade, Pariser Platz bei Nacht

Statues representing the ideal body were erected in the streets of Berlin for the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Nazi Germany had a strong anti-tobacco movement. Pioneering research by Franz H. Müller in 1939 demonstrated a causal link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer.[518] The Reich Health Office took measures to try to limit smoking, including producing lectures and pamphlets.[519] Smoking was banned in many workplaces, on trains, and among on-duty members of the military.[520] Government agencies also worked to control other carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and pesticides.[521] As part of a general public health campaign, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.[522]

Government-run health care insurance plans were available, but Jews were denied coverage starting in 1933. That same year, Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat government-insured patients. In 1937 Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jewish patients, and in 1938 their right to practice medicine was removed entirely.[523]

Medical experiments, many of them pseudoscientific, were performed on concentration camp inmates beginning in 1941.[524] The most notorious doctor to perform medical experiments was SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr Josef Mengele, camp doctor at Auschwitz.[525] Many of his victims died or were intentionally killed.[526] Concentration camp inmates were made available for purchase by pharmaceutical companies for drug testing and other experiments.[527]

Role of women and family[]

Women were a cornerstone of Nazi social policy. The Nazis opposed the feminist movement, claiming that it was the creation of Jewish intellectuals, and instead advocated a patriarchal society in which the German woman would recognise that her "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home."[234] Soon after the seizure of power, feminist groups were shut down or incorporated into the National Socialist Women's League. This organisation coordinated groups throughout the country to promote motherhood and household activities. Courses were offered on childrearing, sewing, and cooking.[528] The League published the NS-Frauen-Warte, the only NSDAP-approved women's magazine in Nazi Germany.[529] Despite some propaganda aspects, it was predominantly an ordinary woman's magazine.[530]

Women were encouraged to leave the workforce, and the creation of large families by racially suitable women was promoted through a propaganda campaign. Women received a bronze award—known as the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother)—for giving birth to four children, silver for six, and gold for eight or more.[528] Large families received subsidies to help with their utilities, school fees, and household expenses. Though the measures led to increases in the birth rate, the number of families having four or more children declined by five percent between 1935 and 1940.[531] Removing women from the workforce did not have the intended effect of freeing up jobs for men. Women were for the most part employed as domestic servants, weavers, or in the food and drink industries—jobs that were not of interest to men.[532] Nazi philosophy prevented large numbers of women from being hired to work in munitions factories in the build-up to the war, so foreign labourers were brought in. After the war started, slave labourers were extensively used.[533] In January 1943 Hitler signed a decree requiring all women under the age of fifty to report for work assignments to help the war effort.[534] Thereafter, women were funnelled into agricultural and industrial jobs. By September 1944, 14.9 million women were working in munitions production.[535]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2000-0110-500, BDM, Gymnastikvorführung

Young women of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) practising gymnastics in 1941

The Nazi regime discouraged women from seeking higher education. Nazi leaders held conservative views about women and endorsed the idea that rational and theoretical work was alien to a woman's nature since they were considered inherently emotional and instinctive – as such, engaging in academics and careerism would only "divert them from motherhood."[536] The number of women allowed to enrol in universities dropped drastically, as a law passed in April 1933 limited the number of females admitted to university to ten percent of the number of male attendees.[537] Female enrolment in secondary schools dropped from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. The number of women enrolled in post-secondary schools dropped from 128,000 in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. However, with the requirement that men be enlisted into the armed forces during the war, women comprised half of the enrolment in the post-secondary system by 1944.[538]

Women were expected to be strong, healthy, and vital.[539] The sturdy peasant woman who worked the land and bore strong children was considered ideal, and athletic women were praised for being tanned from working outdoors.[540] Organisations were created for the indoctrination of Nazi values. From 25 March 1939, membership in the Hitler Youth became compulsory for all children over the age of ten.[541] The Jungmädelbund (Young Girls League) section of the Hitler Youth was for girls age 10 to 14, and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM; League of German Girls) was for young women age 14 to 18. The BDM's activities focused on physical education, with activities such as running, long jumping, somersaulting, tightrope walking, marching, and swimming.[542]

The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct regarding sexual matters, and was sympathetic to women who bore children out of wedlock.[543] Promiscuity increased as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often intimately involved with several women simultaneously. The same was the case for married women, who liaised with soldiers, civilians, or slave labourers. Sex was sometimes used as a commodity to obtain, for example, better work from a foreign labourer.[543] Pamphlets enjoined German women to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers as a danger to their blood.[544]

With Hitler's approval, Himmler intended that the new society of the Nazi regime should de-stigmatise illegitimate births, particularly of children fathered by members of the SS, who were vetted for racial purity.[545] His hope was that each SS family would have between four and six children.[545] The Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) association, founded by Himmler in 1935, created a series of maternity homes where single mothers could be accommodated during their pregnancies.[546] Both parents were examined for racial suitability before acceptance.[546] The resulting children were often adopted into SS families.[546] The homes were also made available to the wives of SS and NSDAP members, who quickly filled over half the available spots.[547]

Existing laws banning abortion except for medical reasons were strictly enforced by the Nazi regime. The number of abortions declined from 35,000 per year at the start of the 1930s to fewer than 2,000 per year at the end of the decade. In 1935 a law was passed allowing abortions for eugenics reasons.[548]


Nazi society had elements supportive of animal rights, and many people were fond of zoos and wildlife.[549] The government took several measures to ensure the protection of animals and the environment. In 1933, the Nazis enacted a stringent animal-protection law that affected what was allowed for medical research.[550] But the law was only loosely enforced. In spite of a ban on vivisection, the Ministry of the Interior readily handed out permits for experiments on animals.[551]

The Reich Forestry Office, under Göring, enforced regulations that required foresters to plant a wide variety of trees to ensure suitable habitat for wildlife. A new Reich Animal Protection Act became law in 1933.[552] The regime enacted the Reich Nature Protection Act in 1935 to protect the natural landscape from excessive economic development. The act allowed for the expropriation of privately owned land to create nature preserves and aided in long-range planning.[553] Perfunctory efforts were made to curb air pollution, but little enforcement of existing legislation was undertaken once the war began.[554]


The regime promoted the concept of Volksgemeinschaft, a national German ethnic community. The goal was to build a classless society based on racial purity and the perceived need to prepare for warfare, conquest, and a struggle against Marxism.[555][556] The German Labour Front founded the Kraft durch Freude (KdF; Strength Through Joy) organisation in 1933. In addition to taking control of tens of thousands of previously privately run recreational clubs, it offered highly regimented holidays and entertainment experiences such as cruises, vacation destinations, and concerts.[557][558]

The Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) was organised under the control of the Propaganda Ministry in September 1933. Sub-chambers were set up to control various aspects of cultural life, such as films, radio, newspapers, fine arts, music, theatre, and literature. All members of these professions were required to join their respective organisation. Jews and people considered politically unreliable were prevented from working in the arts, and many emigrated. Books and scripts had to be approved by the Propaganda Ministry prior to publication. Standards deteriorated as the regime sought to use cultural outlets exclusively as propaganda media.[559]

Radio became very popular in Germany during the 1930s, with over 70 percent of households owning a receiver by 1939, more than any other country. Radio station staffs were purged of leftists and others deemed undesirable by July 1933.[560] Propaganda and speeches were typical radio fare immediately after the seizure of power, but as time went on Goebbels insisted that more music be played so that people would not turn to foreign broadcasters for entertainment.[561]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-373, Modell der Neugestaltung Berlins ("Germania")

Plans for Berlin called for the Volkshalle (People's Hall) and a triumphal arch to be built at either end of a wide boulevard.

As with other media, newspapers were controlled by the state, with the Reich Press Chamber shutting down or buying newspapers and publishing houses. By 1939 over two-thirds of the newspapers and magazines were directly owned by the Propaganda Ministry.[562] The NSDAP daily newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter (Ethnic Observer), was edited by Alfred Rosenberg, author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a book of racial theories espousing Nordic superiority.[563] Goebbels controlled the wire services and insisted that all newspapers in Germany should only publish content favourable to the regime. His propaganda ministry issued two dozen directives every week on exactly what news should be published and what angles to use; the typical newspaper followed the directives very closely.[564] Newspaper readership plummeted, partly because of the decreased quality of the content, and partly because of the surge in popularity of radio.[565]

Authors of books left the country in droves, and some wrote material highly critical of the regime while in exile. Goebbels recommended that the remaining authors should concentrate on books themed on Germanic myths and the concept of blood and soil. By the end of 1933 over a thousand books, most of them by Jewish authors or featuring Jewish characters, had been banned by the Nazi regime.[566]

Hitler took a personal interest in architecture, and worked closely with state architects Paul Troost and Albert Speer to create public buildings in a neoclassical style based on Roman architecture.[567][568] Speer constructed imposing structures such as the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and a new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin.[569] Hitler's plans for rebuilding Berlin included a gigantic dome based on the Pantheon in Rome and a triumphal arch more than double the height of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Neither of these structures were ever built.[570]

Hitler felt that abstract, Dadaist, expressionist, and modern art were decadent, an opinion that became the basis for policy.[571] Many art museum directors lost their posts in 1933 and were replaced by party members.[572] Some 6,500 modern works of art were removed from museums and replaced with works chosen by a Nazi jury.[573] Exhibitions of the rejected pieces, under titles such as "Decadence in Art", were launched in sixteen different cities by 1935. The Degenerate Art Exhibition, organised by Goebbels, ran in Munich from July to November 1937. The exhibition proved wildly popular, attracting over two million visitors.[574]

Composer Richard Strauss was appointed president of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) on its founding in November 1933.[575] As was the case with other art forms, the Nazis ostracised musicians who were not deemed racially acceptable, and for the most part did not approve of music that was too modern or atonal.[576] Jazz music was singled out as being especially inappropriate, and foreign musicians of this genre left the country or were expelled.[577] Hitler favoured the music of Richard Wagner, especially pieces based on Germanic myths and heroic stories, and attended the Bayreuth Festival each year from 1933.[576]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1988-106-29, Leni Riefenstahl bei Dreharbeiten

Leni Riefenstahl (behind cameraman) at the 1936 Summer Olympics

Movies were popular in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, with admissions of over a billion people in 1942, 1943, and 1944.[578][579] By 1934 German regulations restricting currency exports made it impossible for American film makers to take their profits back to America, so the major film studios closed their German branches. Exports of German films plummeted, as their heavily antisemitic content made them impossible to show in other countries. The two largest film companies, Universum Film AG and Tobis, were purchased by the Propaganda Ministry, which by 1939 was producing most German films. The productions were not always overtly propagandistic, but generally had a political subtext and followed party lines regarding themes and content. Scripts were pre-censored.[580]

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and Olympia (1938), covering the 1936 Summer Olympics, pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of National Socialist ideals.[581][582]


Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg Trials

Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials

The Allied powers organised war crimes trials, beginning with the Nuremberg trials, held from November 1945 to October 1946, of 23 top Nazi officials. They were charged with four counts—conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity—in violation of international laws governing warfare.[583] All but three of the defendants were found guilty; twelve were sentenced to death.[584] The victorious Allies outlawed the NSDAP and its subsidiary organisations. The display or use of Nazi symbolism such as flags, swastikas, or greetings, is illegal in Germany and Austria,[585][586] and other restrictions, mainly on public display, apply in various countries. See Swastika § Post-WWII stigmatization for details.

Nazi ideology and the actions taken by the regime are almost universally regarded as gravely immoral.[587] Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust have become symbols of evil in the modern world.[588] Interest in Nazi Germany continues in the media and the academic world. Historian Sir Richard J. Evans remarks that the era "exerts an almost universal appeal because its murderous racism stands as a warning to the whole of humanity."[589]

The Nazi era continues to inform how Germans view themselves and their country. Virtually every family suffered losses during the war or has a story to tell. For many years Germans kept quiet about their experiences and felt a sense of communal guilt, even if they were not directly involved in war crimes. Once study of Nazi Germany was introduced into the school curriculum starting in the 1970s, people began researching the experiences of their family members. Study of the era and a willingness to critically examine its mistakes has led to the development of a strong democracy in today's Germany, but with lingering undercurrents of antisemitism and neo-Nazi thought.[590]

See also[]


  1. The party's name in German was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.
  2. On 29 November 2006 State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior Christoph Bergner said the reason the statistics do not match is because Haar only includes people who were directly killed. The figure of 2 to 2.5 million also includes people who died of disease, hunger, cold, air raids, and other causes. Koldehoff 2006. The German Red Cross still maintains that the death toll from the expulsions is 2.2 million. Kammerer & Kammerer 2005, p. 12.
  3. More such districts, such as the Reichskommissariat Moskowien (Moscow), Reichskommissariat Kaukasus (Caucasus), and Reichskommissariat Turkestan (Turkestan) were proposed in the event that these areas were brought under German rule.
  4. "Nevertheless, the available evidence suggests that, on the whole, ordinary Germans did not approve. Goebbel's propaganda campaigns carried out in the second half of 1941 and again in 1943 had failed to convert them." Evans 2008, p. 561.

Cite error: <ref> tag with name "annexed" defined in <references> is not used in prior text.
Cite error: <ref> tag with name "statistics" defined in <references> is not used in prior text.

Cite error: <ref> tag with name "vacant" defined in <references> is not used in prior text.



  1. Lauryssens 1999, p. 102.
  2. Childers 2017, pp. 22–23, 35, 48, 124–130, 152, 168–169, 203–204, 225–226.
  3. Evans 2003, pp. 103–108.
  4. Evans 2003, pp. 186–187.
  5. Evans 2003, pp. 170–171.
  6. Goldhagen 1996, p. 85.
  7. Evans 2003, pp. 179–180.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Kershaw 2008, p. 81.
  9. Shirer 1960, pp. 136–137.
  10. Goldhagen 1996, p. 87.
  11. Evans 2003, pp. 293, 302.
  12. Shirer 1960, pp. 183–184.
  13. McNab 2009, p. 14.
  14. Evans 2005, p. 14.
  15. Evans 2003, pp. 329–334.
  16. Evans 2003, p. 354.
  17. Evans 2003, p. 351.
  18. Shirer 1960, p. 196.
  19. Evans 2003, p. 336.
  20. Evans 2003, pp. 358–359.
  21. Shirer 1960, p. 201.
  22. Evans 2005, pp. 109, 637.
  23. Evans 2005, p. 109.
  24. Cuomo 1995, p. 231.
  25. 25.0 25.1 McNab 2009, p. 54.
  26. McNab 2009, p. 56.
  27. Kershaw 2008, pp. 309–314.
  28. Evans 2005, pp. 31–34.
  29. Overy 2005, p. 63.
  30. Shirer 1960, pp. 226–227.
  31. Kershaw 2008, p. 317.
  32. Shirer 1960, p. 230.
  33. Kershaw 2001, pp. 50–59.
  34. Evans 2003, p. 344.
  35. Evans 2008, map, p. 366.
  36. Walk 1996, pp. 1–128.
  37. Friedländer 2009, pp. 44–53.
  38. Fritzsche 2008, pp. 76–142.
  39. Hildebrand 1984, pp. 20–21.
  40. Evans 2005, pp. 338–339.
  41. Evans 2005, p. 618.
  42. Evans 2005, p. 623.
  43. Kitchen 2006, p. 271.
  44. Evans 2005, p. 629.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Evans 2005, pp. 632–637.
  46. Evans 2005, p. 641.
  47. Steiner 2011, pp. 181–251.
  48. Evans 2005, pp. 646–652.
  49. Evans 2005, p. 667.
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  246. 246.0 246.1 According to G. I. Krivosheev. (Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses. Greenhill 1997 ISBN 1-85367-280-7), in the Eastern Front, Axis countries and German co-belligerents sustained 1,468,145 irrecoverable losses (668,163 KIA/MIA), Germany itself– 7,181,100 (3,604,800 KIA/MIA), and 579,900 PoWs died in Soviet captivity. So the Axis KIA/MIA amounted to 4.8 million in the East during the period of 1941–1945. This is more than a half of all Axis losses (including the Asia/Pacific theatre). The USSR sustained 10.5 million military losses (including PoWs who died in German captivity, according to Vadim Erlikman. Poteri narodonaseleniia v XX veke : spravochnik. Moscow 2004. ISBN 5-93165-107-1), so the number of military deaths (the USSR and the Axis) amounted to 15 million, far greater than in all other World War II theatres. According to the same source, total Soviet civilian deaths within post-war borders amounted to 15.7 million. The numbers for other Central European and German civilian casualties are not included here.
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