All themes
World War II
The End of the War
D-Day and Operation Overlord
German Capitulation in Europa
Liberation of Concentration Camps
Meeting of Soviet and American Troops
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The end of the war
Survivors take down the Nazi eagle that hangs above the entrance to the SS compound in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp on the day of liberation.

Throughout Europe and the world, people celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany. A few months later, Japan was also defeated. Never before in history had so many countries and so many people taken part in a single war. For many Jews, the liberation came too late. Their loved ones had been killed and they had little to go back to. For the United States it meant that its young men could finally come home to their families.

The end looms

After the German army had been defeated in Leningrad and Stalingrad in the East, and the Allied Forces had made progress following D-day, it was clear the Allies would defeat Germany. The war in Europe could have ended after July 1944 when high ranking officers attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The bomb exploded, but Hitler only had minor burns and a concussion. Surviving the attack on his life meant another year of suffering for people throughout Europe. It also meant that beautiful German cities would be destroyed as the German forces retreated back into Germany.

Dividing up Europe

The “Big Three” allied powers – the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom met in Yalta in February 1945 to discuss the post-war world. Fighting continued in Europe, but the German armies had few supplies left and were fighting a war of desperation. Auschwitz Death camp had been liberated on January 26 of that year, yet many other concentration camps remained open. The suffering for the Jews and others in the camps continued. Many inmates were now starving to death as supplies dried up or were forced to move from one camp to another in so-called ‘death marches’.

As the Nazi camps were liberated one by one, the liberators encountered horrible scenes of human suffering. Mass graves and people reduced to little more than walking skeletons greeted them as they entered the camps. Some inmates, who had just been liberated after months or years of suffering, died the first time they ate again because their bodies could not cope with taking in food.

At Yalta, the three allied powers had other issues to address - how to govern postwar Europe at Yalta. After much discussion, the powers agreed that Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the Baltics would fall into the Soviet Sphere of influence. Greece, Yugoslavia and Austria would be split between them. France, Luxembourg, Holland, Denmark, and Norway would fall into the American and British sphere of influence.

The actual surrender

Soviet troops to the East and American, Canadian and British troops to the West gradually closed in the German seat of power in Berlin. American and Soviet troops met each other at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. Remnants of a now tattered German army were making their last stand in Berlin.

On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide rather than being captured. A week later, on May 8, the war was over. German officers signed an armistice with the Soviet Union, and Churchill and President Harry S Truman declared V-E Day, Victory in Europe. Times Square in New York was full of cheering crowds. In August, Japan also surrendered. More celebrations followed in the allied countries, while Germany and Japan started a long process of trying to understand what had led two countries with rich traditions to go down the path of violence and war.

Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Harry Saunders
Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 11 December 2018
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

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