Www.WorldHistory.Biz
Login *:
Password *:
     Register

 

9-08-2015, 21:58

THE ORDEAL OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR

The Second World War was the last world war to be fought with conventional weapons and the first to end with the use of the nuclear bomb, which raised the threat that any third world war could end in the destruction of the majority of the human population. The Second World War also became a new kind of total warfare with the deliberate killing of many millions of civilian non-combatants. The major technical advance was aerial warfare. That cities could be reduced to rubble from the air was first demonstrated by the Germans in Spain in 1937 with the destruction of Guernica. In 1939 it was the turn of Warsaw, and in 1940 of Rotterdam and Coventry. Britain and the US from 1942 to 1945 retaliated with mass bombing of the majority of Germany’s cities, with heavy casualties to civilian populations and widespread destruction. The Allied bombing of Dresden, crammed with refugees from the east, just before the war ended has been singled out for particular condemnation. By February 1945 the devastation of German cities no longer affected the outcome of the war. The Germans fought on in desperation. There seemed to be no alternative. Fear, especially of Russian revenge, maintained the resistance. Nor did the devastation prevent the rapid expansion of war production in Germany. Was the great loss of human life justified by the military results? Post-war official Germany estimates that 593,000 civilians were killed. Vengeance on the Allied side was a subsidiary motive for the bombing offensive. The lives of more than 50,000 aircrew and an enormous industrial war effort would not have been expended for mere vengeance. Photographic reconnaissance of the destruction of the industrial Ruhr region and other cities seemed at the time to justify these raids as crippling blows against Germany’s capacity to wage war. There can be no doubt that German resources were destroyed and wasted in reconstruction and that this weakened Germany’s war effort. But more specific strategic bombing of, for instance, synthetic fuel plants and communications was more effective and did severely impede the German war effort from 1944 to 1945. The brilliant German armaments minister, Albert Speer, could no longer make good the losses within the shrinking Reich. Furthermore, before the invasion of France in 1944 the land war waged by the Allies was minor relative to the struggle on the eastern front. The bombing offensive was the only major weapon available to wage a war whose impact would be felt by the Germans until the Allied military buildup was sufficient to defeat the German armies in the west. During the Second World War the distinction between combatants and non-combatants was not so much blurred as deliberately ignored. The factory worker was seen as a combatant. In most contemporary eyes, as the war progressed, this justified their destruction and the destruction of their home from the air. Children, women, the old and the sick were killed and maimed in this new type of warfare. The Germans, Japanese and Italians went beyond even what, in the Second World War, came to be considered legitimate warfare against all those involved in the war effort. What would have been in store for Europe, Asia and Africa if Germany and Japan had won the war can be seen from their ruthlessly brutal behaviour as occupying powers. The contrast with the First World War in this respect could not be greater. Murder and terror became deliberate acts of policy. Hitler’s Reich was no respecter of the human values of those regarded as belonging to lesser races, or of the lives of the Germans themselves. The ‘euthanasia’ programme, for example, was designed to murder ‘useless’ incurably ill or mentally handicapped German men, women and children. Many thousands of gypsies, classified as ‘non-Aryans’, were murdered in Auschwitz. Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose faith would not allow them to be subservient to Hitler’s commands, were persecuted and killed, as were countless other civilians of every nationality who were defined as opponents of the ideals of the regime. Hostages were picked off the streets in the occupied countries and shot in arbitrary multiples for the resistance’s killing of German soldiers. Offences against the occupying powers were punishable by death at the discretion of the local military authorities. To hide partisans or Jews meant the death penalty if discovered or denounced. For the Jews in Europe, who were not so much opponents as defenceless victims, a unique fate awaited: physical destruction, as foretold in Hitler’s Reichstag speech of 30 January 1939. Yet, side by side with these horrors, the German armies fighting the Allied armies in the west behaved conventionally too and took prisoners who were, with some notable exceptions, treated reasonably. In Russia, however, the German army became increasingly involved with the specially formed units attached to the army commands, which committed atrocities on a huge scale. Here, there was to be no ‘honourably’ conducted warfare. More than 3 million Russian prisoners of war in German hands died through exposure and famine. Himmler, who as head of the SS organisation wielded ever-increasing power, later in the war recognised the waste of manpower involved, and Russian prisoners of war and civilians were used as forced labour in German war industries. Many died from exhaustion. On the Allied side, some 300,000 German prisoners of war in Russian hands never returned to Germany. There was also the Soviet murder of Polish officers at Katyn, their bodies discovered by the Germans in mass graves in April 1943. The full horror of this slaughter was only revealed by Russia’s new leaders in September 1992. The orders to shoot Polish officers and civilians in prison for suspected enmity to the Soviet Union were signed in March 1940 by Stalin himself and by three Politburo comrades, Voroshilov, Molotov and Mikoyan, at the suggestion of Beria, chief of the secret police. In the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk, 4,421 Polish officers were shot. They were only a proportion of the total victims. Another 17,436 soldiers and civilians were murdered as well. All the Soviet leaders, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev, were told of the dark secret in the files, which were kept in a special safe. Brezhnev minuted, ‘Never to be opened’; Gorbachev passed on some information to the Polish government. The Yeltsin government revealed the full account of the murders. Japanese troops also became brutalised. To be taken prisoner was regarded as a disgrace. Allied prisoners of war were treated inhumanely by the Japanese military authorities, and thousands of them died. Many were employed together with forced Asian labour on such projects as the construction of the Burma–Siam railway. By the time that death line was completed in October 1943, 100,000 Asians and 16,000 Europeans had lost their lives. In China, the Japanese slaughtered civilians – tens of thousands. The horrors and ordeals, the depravity and brutality behind the battlefronts, the mass murder of millions are an inseparable part of the history of the Second World War. The atrocities cannot be set aside by the misguided argument that those on one side cancel out those on the other. In Poland, and then in Russia, the German conquerors displayed a degree of barbarism that has no parallels with Germany’s conduct during the First World War. In the 1930s, for tactical rea- sons, Hitler had been prepared to work with the Poles, and his view of them was quite favourable. The authoritarian Polish state, the Polish brand of anti-Semitism and official Poland’s anti- Bolshevism made them, in Hitler’s eyes, suitable junior partners. But Poland’s courageous resistance in 1939 changed all that. With the exception of the Jews, who were all seen as destroyers of the Aryan race, Hitler’s views of what to do with other ‘races’ such as Slavs was opportunistic. He cared nothing for their lives. In destroying the Polish intelligentsia he was not so much following a racial policy as taking what he regarded as the most efficacious practical steps to root out the strong sense of Polish nationalism. The same ‘racial’ inconsistency is noticeable in the treatment of the Ukrainian population. Vengeance for the slightest resistance to his will was a dominant element of Hitler’s character. Parts of western Poland were annexed by Germany and settled with ‘German’ farmers, mainly the so-called Volksdeutsche, ethnic Germans who for generations had lived in Eastern Europe. The greater part of the rest of Poland was organised as a colony called the General Government of the Occupied Polish Territories headed by Hans Frank, a fanatical, brutal Nazi since the earliest days of the party. In this colony the Poles were to rise to positions no higher than workers. Frank described his fief in November 1940 as ‘a gigantic labour camp in which everything that signifies power and independence rests in the hands of the Germans’. Frank, himself, typically for the strife-torn Nazi German administration, engaged in much infighting with the SS, who obeyed no one except Heinrich Himmler. The Ukraine, with Frank’s General Government, was selected by the SS for the majority of the sites of the extermination camps, such as Treblinka. Frank approved of the murder of the Jews, objecting to their settlement in the General Government. In December 1941 he declared: ‘Gentlemen, I must ask you to arm yourselves against all feelings of pity. We must destroy the Jews wherever we meet them wherever possible.’ The majority of the Polish people would survive so long as they served their German masters and lost all national consciousness. What the Nazis had in store for the Jews was so incredible that, even when the facts leaked out, most of the Jews still surviving in German-occupied Europe could not believe it, nor was the horror fully grasped abroad. Indeed, the hell the Nazis created in the death camps of the east, like hell itself, is so far removed from human experience as to be scarcely real and credible. The Holocaust forms one of the most difficult aspects of modern history to explain and understand. Hitler, in conditions of peace, that is before the outbreak of war in 1939, could not order the mass murder of German, Austrian and Czech Jews within Germany. If the German sphere was to be made judenrein, free of Jews, their forced emigration was the only option. For Hitler, the Jews had another possible value; they could be used to blackmail the West. He believed National Socialist propaganda that behind the scenes the Jews were influential in pulling the strings of policy in Washington, London and Paris. His aim was to conquer continental Europe piecemeal. The next target was Poland. In January 1939 he therefore threatened in his well-known Reichstag speech that the Jews would perish if Britain, France and the US resisted his aggression on the continent by unleashing a general war. Until Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, there seemed to be a small chance of a Western peace. Jews in Germany and conquered Europe were still allowed to live. Hitler liked to keep options open: alternative solutions to isolate the Jews and drive them out of Europe altogether were considered, such as the plan to banish them to Madagascar. That from the start he had no moral inhibition against mass murder, if that should prove the best course, cannot be doubted. During the summer and autumn of 1941, millions of ‘Bolshevik’ Jews, the mortal enemy in his eyes, were added to the millions of European Jews already under German control, and mass emigration or expulsion overseas was no longer a possibility. Nor, with so much non-Jewish slave labour falling into German hands, Hitler calculated, would Jewish slave labour be needed. The option of mass murder as the final solution now became the most desired and practical course. As Hitler’s own pep talks to the generals during the spring of 1941 show, on the eve of the attack on Russia, the ‘racial’ war was now being openly launched. That spelt doom for the Jews, the race that Hitler saw as a pestilence in human society. He could now repeat his Reichstag speech of January 1939, this time as a justification to the German people for the destruction of Jewry. In the light of this analysis Nazi policies followed a path that had, inevitably, to end in genocide. By every means available, the Nazis attempted before 1939 to ‘clear’ Germany of Jews by forcing them to emigrate. The Germans were not alone in following such policies. The Poles, too, before the war hoped to ‘solve’ their Jewish problem by promoting forced emigration of the Polish Jews. Anti-Semitism was virulent all over Europe and in the US. But discrimination was not a part of government policy in any Western country, offending as it does against basic civil rights and freedoms. Entry of Jews to settle outside Germany was restricted. Unemployment was high everywhere so any increase of labour was not welcomed, especially if caused by immigrants deprived of their money and possessions. Western governments were preoccupied with their own problems during the depression years. And it always has to be remembered that before 1942 no government in the West could conceive what ‘Final Solution’ lay in store for the Jews on the German-dominated continent. Britain, holding the League Mandate for Palestine and having promised the Jews a National Home there had a special responsibility to aid the Jews. Until German persecution became more severe, the majority of German Jews, however, did not wish to emigrate to Palestine. When they desperately sought to leave Germany after November 1938 and would have gladly escaped to Palestine, the British government was more concerned to safeguard its vital strategic interests in the Middle East. Palestine had become a cauldron of conflict between Arabs and Jews and the British occupiers. In Arab eyes both the Jews and the British authorities were European colonisers of Arab lands. The Arabs, moreover, could see that the increased Jewish immigration had its roots in European anti-Semitism, which strengthened Zionism. British governments tried to extricate themselves from these conflicting interests without satisfying either the Zionists or the Arabs. Finally, in May 1939 the British government took the decision that the Arabs would have to be appeased by promising to limit Jewish immigration to 75,000 over the next five years and, after that, the government promised the Arabs that further immigration would be subject to the consent of the Arab majority. Public opinion and voluntary organisations before 1939 gave the efforts to rescue the Jews a dynamism that governments lacked. Germany’s European neighbours, and the US and Latin America, accepted German and Austrian Jews in tens of thousands. Although the Nazis were ready at first to expedite their exit even after the war broke out, the exodus was slowed down to a trickle by the war. In all, more than half the German Jews, some 280,000, succeeded in finding refuge between 1933 and 1939, many, however, only temporarily as Hitler overran the continent. The Jews so saved came from Germany and from the countries – Austria and Czechoslovakia – occupied by Hitler before the outbreak of war in 1939. They represented only a very small proportion of Europe’s total Jewish population. In Poland in 1940 many Polish Jews were killed wantonly, and the whole Jewish population was herded into ghettos, as in the Middle Ages, by fencing off or building a wall around a part of a city and leaving the Jews to fend for themselves. The two largest were in Warsaw and Lodz. In the ghettos the Germans could secure what was practically slave labour to supply the German armies. Undernourished and overcrowded, the ghetto population was decimated by disease and exhaustion. The planned massacre designed to kill every last Jew was begun on the day, 22 June 1941, when the German armies invaded the Soviet Union. These terrible killings of men, women and children in Russia, machine-gunned next to the open graves they had been forced to dig, had been deliberately worked out beforehand. Hitler’s full brutality is revealed by the record of a Führer Conference held at his headquarters on 16 July 1941 in which he spoke of his aims and referred to Russian orders to start partisan warfare behind the German front. Hitler saw in this order ‘some advantages for us; it enables us to exterminate everyone who opposes us’. The actual task for the open-air killings was assigned to special SS detachments, the Einsatzgruppen. The German army and special police units recruited in Germany, too, became heavily implicated in the mass murder. Nazi ideology had come to be widely accepted by ordinary people. Hitler and a small leadership group could not have committed such crimes without thousands of active helpers and an uncaring attitude to the victims by many more even where it was not actually hostile. The ‘Final Solution’ in the Soviet Union avoided all need for transport and special camps or ghettos. In Poland, the Jews were not perishing fast enough. Then the destruction had to be planned of the Jews remaining in German-occupied Europe, and of the Jews living in the countries of Germany’s allies. After discussions among the Nazi leaders an order to Heydrich, a subordinate of Himmler, was issued by Göring on 31 July 1941 to draw up plans for the destruction of non- Russian Jewry on a systematic basis. In accordance with these instructions Heydrich called the notorious conference on 20 January 1942 of senior administrators from the various Reich ministries who would be involved and which took its name from Wannsee, a favourite picnic area just outside Berlin, where they met. It was assumed that the Jews in the rest of Europe could not be massacred as in Russia. Though there were several concentration camps in Germany itself, these could kill only tens of thousands, not millions! The greatest concentration of Jews was already in Poland, so to Poland and the east the Jews were to be transported: ‘Europe will be combed from west to east.’ What ‘resettlement’ really meant was clear from the record of the conference: the Jews capable of work will be led into these areas in large labour columns to build roads, whereby doubtless a large part will fall away through natural reduction . . . The inevitable remainder will have to be dealt with appropriately, since it represents a natural selection which upon liberation is to be regarded as a germ cell of a new Jewish development. No one present could doubt that what was being planned was, indeed, mass murder. Adolf Eichmann of the SS, who was present and was one of the principal organisers of the Holocaust, later testified that the atmosphere was one of general agreement; no one raised difficulties or moral objections. The eastern ghettos now became transit stations as the plans were implemented. The construction of the Auschwitz extermination camp had already begun before the Wannsee Conference. Others followed, among them Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka. These camps of mass murder were specifically equipped to kill thousands every day, generally in large gas chambers. The ‘selection’ of those to be murdered as unfit to work was done on arrival from the rail transports arriving straight at the camps; the remainder, a smaller number and never the old, the sick or children, were allowed to survive some weeks longer. There were very few long-term survivors. Mass murder was so huge in extent that historians cannot tell for certain even to the nearest million how many people perished. Despite the virtual hopelessness of their situation in some ghettos and camps, a few Jews did resist, and with such weapons as could be smuggled in fought against German troops, thus at least selling their lives dearly. The whole world learnt of the Jewish rising of the Warsaw ghetto in April and May 1943 and its destruction. Less well known were risings in a number of extermination camps, in Treblinka in August 1943 and Sobibór in October of the same year, for instance. A few thousand more Jews were able to escape into the forests in Poland and the Ukraine, and operated as partisan units. They were not always welcome, and they were sometimes killed by their compatriots as well as by the Germans. Before the war was over, between 5 and 6 million Jews had been murdered. Nazi ideology was so widespread that it is unrealistic to limit responsibility for these crimes to Hitler and his henchmen. While Germans, soldiers, the SS and officials were overwhelmingly responsible, they were aided in their work of destruction by some sections of the conquered peoples of Europe in every country. In Germany knowledge was widespread, brought home by soldiers and SS on leave from the east. How much the Germans were actually told can be seen from an article written by Goebbels and published in the ‘respectable’ weekly journal Das Reich on 16 November 1941. That world Jewry started the war, he wrote, was proven beyond dispute: The Jews wanted their war, and now they have it. What is now coming true is the Führer’s prophecy of 30 January 1939, in his speech to the Reichstag, when he said that if international Finance Jewry once more succeeded in driving the peoples into a world war, the result would not be the bolshevising of the world and thereby the victory of the Jews, but the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe. We are now witnessing the fulfilment of that prophecy, and a destiny is being realised which is harsh but more than deserved. Feelings of sympathy or pity are entirely inappropriate . . . [Jewry] according to its law, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, is now perishing. The demand of the German authorities that all Jews be handed over for the terrible Final Solution being prepared for them was one of the deepest moral challenges faced by occupied Europe and Germany’s allies during the Second World War. There was not one response that was uniquely French, Polish, Dutch or Hungarian. The response was multi-faceted. There was the ‘official’ collaboration of governments – and even this was not uniform – and then there was the response of institutions, the churches above all, and of ordinary people. In every corner of Europe there were some individuals who risked their lives to shelter Jews. The Jews who survived in Germany were mainly those in mixed Jewish– Christian marriages. They, too, were on the list for incarceration, possibly murder but they came last in the plan for the ‘Final Solution’ and the war was over before they could be dealt with. Several hundred Jews were hidden from humanitarian motives or managed with forged papers to pass themselves off as Aryan. The Christians who protected Jews in Germany were heroic, their number pitifully small – far fewer than in Poland or other occupied countries. In Germany the opportunities for the non-privileged Jews (those not married to Christian spouses with offspring) to survive were so slight as to be negligible in practice. Poles and Jews had lived for centuries together, but in separate communities. Even in 1931, most of the 3 million Jews in Poland were largely unassimilated, although those who were assimilated were well represented in the professions and the middle class. Under the Nazi occupation anti- Semitism was reinforced by propaganda, but there were Poles who, though they did not like Jews, helped them because they hated the Germans more. There were also Poles who actively assisted the Germans to round up Jews. Several thousand Poles, however, out of feelings of pity, hid Jews at great risk to themselves, for the penalty was death. It has been estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 Polish Jews survived, some fighting as partisans or with the Red Army. In Warsaw 15,000 found hiding places, many more than in Berlin. Had more Germans made efforts to protest at the persecution of the Jews, Hitler would have found it far more difficult to carry out the Holocaust. In the Netherlands, Belgium, France and, above all, Italy the Jews stood a better chance of survival. Many Jews were hidden in homes, in monasteries and in villages. Official Vichy France, however, gave some aid to the Germans in rounding up the Jews, including French citizens of Jewish faith, for transportation to the death camps in the east. Uniquely, all but 500 of about 7,000 Jews living in Denmark were rescued by the Danish resistance by being ferried across to Sweden. The Danish resistance had been alerted to their imminent deportation by Dr Duckwitz, a courageous German official in Copenhagen who had learnt of their intended fate from a leak passed on by someone in the Gestapo. The fate of the Danish Jews who did not escape was extraordinary. The Nazi rulers in Berlin maintained the fiction that Denmark had remained a sovereign country and the Danes were therefore permitted to continue to protect all Danish citizens, including Danish Jews. The 500 Danish Jews were deported to the privileged ghetto of Theresienstadt, where they were housed separately in much better conditions than the other Jews. They remained in contact with the Danish authorities, who insisted on providing for them to the end of the war. None were transported to the extermination camps further east and almost all of them survived and returned to Denmark after the liberation. They were the fortunate exception. Dr Duckwitz also survived and is honoured as ‘one of the righteous’ at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Germany’s ally, Italy, on the other hand, in practice protected Jews despite Mussolini’s anti- Jewish legislation. Until Italy’s capitulation and the consequent German occupation, the Italian military authorities in their Croatian zone and in the Italian zone of France prevented both German troops and police from arresting Jews for transportation east or murder by the Croatian Ustachi on the spot. The Italian army would have nothing to do with the brutal mass murder of the Jews being instigated by the Germans and their ‘allies’ and either sabotaged orders or simply refused to carry them out. Feelings of humanity and decency were not extinct. In occupied Europe local police could be found to do the dirty work of the Germans for them. In some cases they would have been shot had they disobeyed. In others the work was done with enthusiasm. The public silence of the Pope and the Vatican and of the German Protestant churches signifies a massive moral failure. In contrast, in Holland Catholic churches and many Protestant churches read protests from the pulpit after the first Dutch transport of Jews. Priests and pastors, wherever Germany held power, suffered martyrdom for their personal protest. Bishop Galen of Münster publicly condemned the murder of some 60,000 to 80,000 feeble-minded and incurably ill Germans in the so-called ‘euthanasia’ programme but failed to raise his voice for the Jews. Hitler feared that the people’s war effort might be undermined by an open onslaught on religious beliefs. A strong public movement by the German churches and military, might have saved countless Jewish lives. Hitler and his regime were sensitive to, and watched, the reactions of the German people. There was no such public movement. The importance and nature of resistance to the Nazis within Germany itself and in Nazidominated Europe varied enormously. Conspiratorial by necessity, it came into the open in acts of violent sabotage and several attempts on Hitler’s life, the most spectacular – the 20 July 1944 plot – almost succeeding when an explosive charge went off a few feet from Hitler at his headquarters in East Prussia. The composition of the resistance ranged from members of the pre-Nazi Weimar political parties to individuals moved by moral considerations. Thus in Munich a small group of students and teachers who called themselves the White Rose distributed, until they were caught and executed, thousands of leaflets condemning the barbarities of the Nazis. But the only resistance that had the power actually to remove Hitler came from within the army and culminated in the bomb plot of 20 July 1944. The officers involved saw clearly that the war was lost and hoped by removing Hitler to be able to make peace with the Western allies while keeping the Russians out of Germany. Others were less materialistically motivated. Had Hitler been killed, the plot might have succeeded, though Britain and America would certainly have refused to make peace on any terms other than unconditional surrender. Successful armed resistance, tying down considerable numbers of German troops, was carried out by Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. And in France, while Pétain and the Vichy regime enjoyed overwhelming support, a sizeable minority joined the French resistance, undertaking sabotage and supplying a ‘secret army’ which returned aircrew shot down in France and Belgium on an escape route back to England by way of neutral Spain. In the east, Russian partisans acted as auxiliaries of the Red Army and interrupted the supply routes of the Wehrmacht. But in occupied Europe there was not one simple struggle against Nazi Germany. Among the resistance fighters themselves there was conflict after the communists joined the resistance after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The struggle in Yugoslavia between the royalist Colonel Mihailovic and the communist leader, Tito, led to civil war between them as well as war against the Germans. In Poland, the Home Army was as bitterly opposed to the Polish communist partisans as to the common German enemy. Here Stalin had the last word. The Polish government in exile in London, and the Home Army, which took its orders from London, attempted to frustrate or at least impede Stalin’s plans to bring Poland under communist control. In August 1944, as the Red Army reached the River Vistula, the Home Army began to rise in Warsaw against the Germans. Their intention was to prove to the world that Poles, not the Russians, had liberated the Polish capital. The Poles seized half the city and fought bitterly for two months until their capitulation to the Germans on 2 October. Warsaw was entirely destroyed. Soviet help was cynically withheld by Stalin. Only during the last stages were Russian supplies dropped; they could only prolong the doomed struggle, resulting in the deaths of still more Polish Home Army fighters holding out in the sewers of the city. The Soviet command had even prevented Polish units fighting with the Red Army from battling their way to the city. Soviet airfields were closed to relief flights from the West. Surrender terms were finally agreed by the Home Army with the Germans on 2 October 1944 and three days later General Bor-Komorowski, with the exhausted remnants of the fighters, gave up the struggle. Surprisingly the Home Army were well treated as prisoners of war, probably in order to increase hatred between the Poles and the Russians. During the early stages of the rising auxiliary SS units committed terrible atrocities against the civilian population, until regulars were brought in to crush resistance. The total (mainly civilian) casualties in Warsaw reached about 200,000. The Germans lost some 2,000 killed and 9,000 wounded. Polish military casualties were far higher: 17,000 killed or missing and 9,000 wounded. Politically and militarily the anticommunist Polish underground had been destroyed, leaving a vacuum which Stalin was able to fill with communists ready to follow Soviet orders. The Warsaw rising marked one more milestone in the tragedy of Poland and signalled to the rest of the world the ruthlessness of which Stalin was capable in furtherance of the Soviet Union’s post-war plans. In the West this conflict between the communist and anti-communist resistance did not flare into civil war but a similar pattern emerges. As the defeat of Nazi Germany drew close, the resistance was as concerned with questions of post-war political power as with fighting the Germans. The Nazi answer to all resistance from whatever quarter was terror. Houses were burnt to the ground in reprisals and people not involved in the resistance were killed wholesale. The destruction of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France and of Lidice in Czechoslovakia, and the massacres that took place there, are among the best known of such barbarities. But these were just two of the thousands of atrocities that became a common occurrence in German-occupied Europe. The terrible reprisals taken by the German occupiers raise the question whether the Allies should have actively encouraged resistance and parachuted agents into the occupied countries, many of whom lost their lives. All over Europe, from northern Italy to Norway, large German forces were tied down. The Nazi new order could not be imposed anywhere unchallenged, and the German forces could not relax their vigilance amid populations of which significant sections were hostile. Even though the active resistance was a minority, it made an impact out of proportion to its numbers. The Japanese had been at war since 1937. They sought to justify their wars of expansion at home and abroad both as self-defence and as fulfilling a mission of liberating Asia from Western imperialism. In its place Japan would build a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese, to emphasise the solidarity of eastern Asia against the West, chose to call the war they had launched the Greater East Asian War. The real intentions of the Japanese leaders can be deduced from the decisions taken at secret conferences in Tokyo rather than from the rhetoric of their propaganda. First consideration in all the conquered regions was to be given to military needs. Local economies were to be strictly controlled and independence movements discouraged. No industry was to be developed in the southern region, which was to become the empire’s source of raw materials and a market for its goods. The Japanese saw themselves as the superior people who possessed the right to subordinate and exploit the conquered peoples. Everywhere propaganda and indoctrination sought to reinforce the superiority of everything Japanese. For the indigenous peoples, foreign Western rule was replaced by more brutal foreign Japanese rule. To compete with America’s resources the Japanese mercilessly extorted all they could from the occupied lands. Even before the war had been launched a secret conference in Tokyo on 20 November 1941 settled the general principle of Japanese occupations. Local administrations were to be utilised as far as possible, but each territory was placed under military government and subordinated to Japan’s needs. The Japanese government never worked out any really coherent plan for the future of eastern Asia. Some territories of particular strategic importance, such as Malaya, would remain under direct Japanese control; others, the Philippines and Burma, were promised eventual ‘independence’ but only if they became cooperative satellite states. Japanese attempts to win over the mass of Asian peoples to support the war against their former colonial masters were almost totally a failure. The great majority of the ordinary people did not see the conflict as their war. Equally, there was little active support for the departed Westerners against the Japanese, except in the Philippines. In Burma, and especially in the Philippines, sections of the population became vehemently anti-Japanese. But on the whole the peoples saw themselves as suffering from a war between two foreign masters struggling for ultimate control over them. In India, as has been seen, the political leaders sought to make use of the situation to promote genuine independence. Of all the peoples under Japanese rule, the Chinese suffered the most – both in China and wherever Chinese communities had settled in south-eastern Asia. In Singapore after its fall, there was a terrible bloodbath of Chinese and at least 5,000 were massacred. Japanese barbarities against the Chinese population, which constituted about a third of the total population of Malaya, drove them into armed resistance. Japanese terror tactics thus proved counterproductive. With the Japanese as masters instead of the Europeans, local administrations continued to function, with the indigenous junior administrators carrying out the orders of their new masters. With the need to fight the war, the Japanese left the social order intact and tried to preserve the status quo. To win over the population and channel nationalist feelings, they set up Japanese-controlled mass movements. The constant emphasis on Japanese superiority, however, alienated the local populations. Some nationalist leaders, because of their popularity, such as Sukarno in Indonesia, were able to gain a degree of genuine independence in return for promising to rally the people to cooperate with the Japanese war effort. More concessions were promised to the Burmese and Filipinos in 1943 as the war began to go badly for the Japanese. In August 1943 Burma was proclaimed independent, but in alliance with Japan and at war with the Allies. In October the Japanese sponsored an independent Philippine republic and in the same month Bose proclaimed a provisional Indian government in exile. In mainland China puppet governments had been set up from the first; Manchuria had been transformed into Manchukuo in 1932 with its own emperor, Pu-yi; another Japanese-controlled government of China was set up in Nanking in 1938. But plunder, rape and massacre were routinely perpetrated by the Japanese troops in China. Despite a veneer of local autonomy in some regions under Japanese occupation, the reality of the coprosperity sphere was not liberation but Japanese domination and imperial exploitation. In 1942 the Japanese had won large territories in Asia at small cost. The Americans prepared their counter-offensive across the Pacific, straight at the Japanese heartland. This is how Japan was defeated while its armies still occupied the greater part of what had been conquered at the outset of the war. The fall of the Japanese-held island of Saipan, in July 1944, placed American bombers within range of Tokyo. The Americans hoped to bomb the Japanese into submission. The massive raids brought huge destruction on the flimsily constructed Japanese houses. On 10 March 1945 one of the most devastating air raids of the whole war was launched against Tokyo. The fire storm created destroyed close on half the city and caused 125,000 casualties. In May and June 1945 the bomber offensive spread to sixty other major towns throughout Japan. On 6 August 1945, for the first time, a new weapon was used, the atom bomb that devastated Hiroshima. The destruction and suffering were appalling. Most of the city was destroyed, 66,000 people were killed in an instant and even more succumbed to a new man-made illness, radiation sickness. For decades the atom bomb claimed victims from among the survivors. The casualties from the spring raid on Tokyo by fleets of Super- Flying Fortresses were greater, but what filled the world with awe and horror was that a single plane dropping just one bomb from out of the blue sky could produce such suffering and destruction. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, again causing great loss of life. In the face of such a war the Japanese surrendered. The Second World War was waged simultaneously in Asia, Europe and North Africa by huge armed forces on all sides, backed by tanks and aircraft in numbers hitherto unknown and, in its closing stages, with a new weapon releasing the devastating power of nuclear fission. The destruction and maiming on a global scale exceeded anything known before. The war caused not only many millions of dead and wounded, but also inflicted on millions more forcible population migrations and wholesale destruction of towns and villages – a sum total of virtually unimaginable human misery. As the tide of the war turned, the German people increasingly suffered the ravages of war. The losses on the eastern front alone matched the bloodbath of the First World War on all fronts. The great majority of the German war dead died fighting in Russia. The bomber commands of the Allies inflicted devastation as city after city was laid to waste during the last months of the war. Above all else, the German people feared the Russians, bent on revenge. Ethnic Germans and German colonisers fled from the advancing Russian armies, retreating into Germany. The Sudeten Germans, who had lived in Czechoslovakia before 1938, were driven out. Most of the Germans living in Polish-occupied eastern German regions from East Prussia to Silesia – assigned to the Poles for administration in compensation for territorial losses to the Soviet Union – were driven out or fled in terror from the Poles and Russians. ‘Orderly and humane’ population transfers were sanctioned by the Allied Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. But the mass exodus of 15 million people immediately after the war was certainly not orderly and was frequently inhumane. Pent-up hatreds against the Germans burst out and were vented not only on the guilty supporters of Hitler’s regime but also, indiscriminately, on tens of thousands of innocent people, on children and the sick. The exodus from Eastern and central Europe began during the last months of the war and continued after the war was over. Although relatively few were deliberately murdered, in all as many as 2 million Germans are estimated to have died as a result of the privations they suffered. Mere statistics cannot convey the tragedies that befell almost every family in Europe. The 4.5 and 5 million. Proportionately to their population, the Jews suffered the most; only a minority of those in Europe at the outbreak of the war survived to its end. For Britain, France and Italy, however, the Second World War casualties did not repeat the bloodbath of the First World War. British military and civilian deaths totalled 450,000, to which must be added those of the empire: 120,000. The French figures are approximately 450,000 dead; the Italians lost 410,000 dead. Yugoslav, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian losses were heavy. In central Europe, the Poles suffered far more even than their neighbours. American deaths on the European and Pacific fronts numbered 290,000. No one knows how many million Chinese died in the war; the figure may well be in excess of 10 million; about 2 million Japanese are estimated to have lost their lives in the war. The physical destruction has largely been made good in the years since the war. But the loss of lives will continue to be mourned as long as the generations that experienced the war are still alive. The ordeal of the Second World War also serves as a lasting warning to future generations of what national aggression, evil leaders and the intolerance of peoples can lead to.

 

 

html-Link
BB-Link